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I Can’t Swim


I love this underwater photo. The quote even more. It’s not the falling in, it’s the staying under that drowns us. Drowns our spirit and will, prevents us from living.

I like pictures of water, I like the smell and sound of the ocean. That’s about as far as I go. I used to swim and I used to enjoy the beach. As any self-respecting Jersey Girl should.

I’m now terrified of the water and shun all things nautical.  I live near a marina (can you say…irony?), and there is no fence or barrier of any kind at the edge of the bulkhead. The sloping yard leads right to open water, straight drop into the muck. I don’t go there, about five feet away is the best I can do. I’m so terrified that as my then two-year old granddaughter decided to make a run for the lagoon behind our house, I froze. As out of shape as I am, I think I could have caught up to her and grabbed her, but I froze. A dozen horrible images went through my mind and all I could do was scream her name. Finally after I yelled “STOP”,  she did.

After years of not realizing why I was so afraid, I can think of only one incident. It was one of the images that came to me that afternoon with my granddaughter.

I’m the youngest of four in my family, five years younger than the next oldest sibling. The other three were all close in age. Which left me the outcast, the annoying baby of the family (in some ways, I still am). My oldest brother was ten years older than me and got an unusual amount of pleasure from tormenting me.

We spent a lot of time at the lake as children. We had a rowboat and enjoyed taking it out into the water. I remember being very excited about it when we first got it.

My brother and I were out on the boat one morning and he thought it would be fun to scare me. I was five at the time. We were in the middle of the lake and although I could swim, I never swam out that far before and was unsure if I could swim back to shore from there. He stood up in the boat and started rocking it back and forth. I asked him to stop and he told me I was going to fall in and drown. I started crying and calling my mother, who was not responding. I can still see her lying on the beach, oblivious. My brother laughed and continued taunting me, “You’re gonna drown, Mommy can’t hear you”, over and over.

I don’t remember how it ended, how I got out of the boat or back on the beach. Perhaps he got bored and just stopped or maybe one of my siblings intervened, though I don’t think so. I’m not sure what my mother did, if anything.

Not really that major of an event in the scheme of things, but at the time I was terrified. My grown up self can reason that, I was not going to drown and of course the old standard saying comes to mind, boys will be boys. But “the boating incident” as I call it, was the only thing I can reference that would have instilled in me such a strong fear of the water.

Interesting to me, that no matter how minor an event or how mature we become, we still can remember those five-year olds thoughts and feel those five-year olds fears.


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