H2 No

As I sat in a dank and humid public recreation center, on a rickety bench 20 yards away from the pool, where my three year old son began drowning out of sight of the instructor approximately 30 seconds into his first swimming lesson, I knew that I was fully justified in my life-long hatred of swimming.

In my opinion, there is no reason for man to swim unless his only food source is on an island other than the one he is living on. There is a reason that evolution goes in the direction it does—out of the water and onto sweet, inviting, solid dry land. Or, for those of the creationist ilk, God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Evelina—a scaley fish-human hybrid with massive gills. Yet, humans continue to defy the natural order of the universe by skirting across the destructive waves of oceans, diving haphazardly into lakes, and discretely urinating in chlorinated swimming pools.

Though I believe the logic stated in the previous paragraph is sufficient to prove my point, I also have a handful of personal experiences to further clarify my theory. The first came when I was around 6 or 7 years old. My aunt and uncle had planned for my cousin and I to have a fun outing at the local waterslide park; the aptly and horrifyingly named Raging Waters. I went with the excitement of a young, innocent boy whose familiarity with water never went deeper than the shallows of his own bathtub. After plastering my plaster-white skin with an SPF 7 sun-block (it was the 80s, after all), my cousin and I climbed to a medium-range slide for our first attempt. He went down, screaming with a mixture of joy and the fear of death, and into the arms of his mother below. I stared down the plastic tube, familiar with the playground variety of slides, but not one with thousands of gallons of water forcing you into vertigo just before slamming you into the depths of the abyss. The only thing I was more scared of than lunging myself down this slide was apologizing as I worked my way past the throngs of people in line behind me. So I entered the death canal and let the water take me to an unknown future.

Within seconds, I felt myself skirting along the open waters of the pool and then immediately sinking into its murky depths. My arms flailed and groped desperately for something, anything to save my young life. My fingers grasped at something, though when I pulled, it sunk down in the water with me. Just as I was ready to abandon myself to a watery grave, the arms of my aunt lifted my head above the water. No sooner had my lungs taken in the sweet breath of life than I was plunged below once more, though with my eyes opened I understood why. My aunt had to let go of me in order to pull up the top of her bathing suit, which I had used as a life-line of hope, over her exposed breasts. It is a wonder that she chose to rescue me again, after rescuing her modesty, in order to drag my cousin and I out of the pool and drive us home without a word being spoken.

Four years after this incident, my mother decided that it was time for me to take swimming lessons. I was dropped off at a high school pool where I changed my clothes and entered the pool area to meet my beginner class composed of children, none of whom had yet graduated from kindergarten. I stood in the shallow end of the pool, with the water scarcely rising to my knees, as the instructor taught us how to swim like a turtle, a dolphin, and a doggy. Though I cried secretly in my room before class, I went to each and every one. By the end of the course, I had learned to blow bubbles in the water and sit on the inflatable seahorse, while my kiddie compatriots were Mark Spitz-ing their way around the length of the pool. “Swimming isn’t for everyone,” my failed instructor told me. “Swimming isn’t for no one!” I sobbed back as I fled the pool, too embarrassed to manage proper grammar construction.

Danny, the 5-year-old class champion. He got his mustache and armpit hair early.

As puberty roared into my life shortly afterwards, with it came body issues that prevented me from seeking out the pool as a place of recreation. Though I wasn’t really that fat, I was too big to be comfortably shirtless among the increasingly attractive opposite sex. I briefly experimented with being the kid who swims with an oversized Ocean Pacific shirt on, but found that to be equally worthy of ridicule. I would go to the pool with friends occasionally, only after convincing myself that, if I kept my body underwater, I could blame my portly appearance on refraction. However, even this became unbearable as standing motionless in the shallow end of the pool is not conducive to fun nor to flirting. Also, the necessity of a pubescent boy changing his clothes in a locker room full of grown men, strutting pridefully and disgustingly naked, was something I felt I didn’t need in my life.

Today, even if I wanted to, I wouldn’t be able to swim. This is not only because of my failure to learn the skill, but it is because the body issues I had as a teenager have been multiplied a hundredfold. I am now much larger and, though the hair on my chest might resemble a whiter, chubbier version of Tom Selleck, that on my back might resemble a wild, ursine creature of Mexican folklore. And so I had to surrender the perceived fatherly duty of teaching my son to swim into the hands of a 16-year-old, inattentive, rec center swimming instructor.

As we walked into the building yesterday, the smell of chlorine triggered all of the horrible memories I had stored and filed in the “never again” folder of my psyche. I changed my excited son into his swimming trunks and sat him on the steps of the pool next to his cousin for their first swimming lessons. Four other children joined the group as my wife and I sat 20 feet away on a barricaded bench. The Michael Phelps wannabe entered the pool and poured a few beach toys into the water in front of the children. The other kids, who had all obviously been in a pool more than once in their lives, unlike my child, walked down the steps and bobbed their way to the toys. Zachary walked down as well to join in the fun. However, the fun ended soon after the slanting 3-foot-deep floor slanted slightly lower than my son’s unimpressive 3 foot 4 inch stature. With the instructor’s back turned to the children whose lives were entrusted in his pimply care, my son’s head went under water and his arms flailed in vain for some sense of security.

I stood up as my shout of “Hey!” echoed throughout the building, but did not phase the instructor who continued to dream of the pizza and Mountain Dew waiting for him back at home. I began to scale the barricade and a mother, passing by with her own child, dropped to her knees and readied herself to dive in after my drowning child. Just before I flung myself into the area, the teacher turned around and lifted Zach’s head above the water and led him over to the stairs where his gasping for air eventually turned into the heart-wrenching sobs of a tender three-year-old who has had his first brush death. The rest of the lesson was spent with Zach wading his feet in the pool from the steps and the other taller, braver and less drowned children bobbing unsupervised as the hapless instructor lazily led one child after another into the deeper waters.

An angry call is forthcoming and a return for a second lesson is doubtful, but along with sympathy for my child’s tragedy, I also feel some sense of guilt. If I had taken more initiative to learn to swim as a child, or if I had paid for a membership at a combo fitness/hair-removal center, I would have been able to help him learn a little about swimming before this point. But the truth is, despite my guilt, I am glad that we live in a landlocked state where the only large body of water has enough salt in it to completely prevent any drowning of swimmers that can get past the offensive, sulfuric odor. And there is a reason, several in fact, for my harboring animosity towards the deep blue. Hopefully you can all see that and now sympathize with me. Well, me and my aunt.

Here comes the show.

4 comments:

Marsha said...

I don't believe you were "dropped off" at the high school, as I clearly remember being so proud of you as you conquered your fears and dove off the diving board. Hey, you earned your swimming merit badge, didn't you? Hopefully, Zachary and Isaac can break the chain of water-phobic Smiths!

The Doutts said...

I do recall you did'nt mind swimmimg in the giant hole we dug in my parents backyard filled with mud water. Can I have the rights to your ragging waters story, Im putting it in my movie.

Cameron said...

Consider the rights yours, Nathan. The only stipulation that I have is that I get to help pick the actress who plays my aunt.

And we really should rebuild the mudhole. And shoot GI Joes with your BB gun. And move trampolines between trees in the backyard.

the b in subtle said...

See, I LOVE the water and I can swim, but I kinda suck at it, unfortunately. Your poor son! I would have suckerpunched that 16 year old (and been arrested, I'm sure). I think at 16, you do not quite comprehend the terror some kids can have towards an unknown as big and frightening as something you can die from if you drown. But it would be a good idea for him to know the basics, of course. So he knows how to swim if ever he needs to. Maybe someday he'll even WANT to...good luck with it all.