Sometimes you go through life, and it's perfectly fine, except people keep asking you if you can do that one great big thing everyone masters in childhood. When you say you can't, they look at you like you're an idiot. For me, that happens fairly often, especially during the summer. When people find out that I don't know how to swim they look at me like I just confessed that I didn't know how to read. It's simple enough. I simply refused to learn how to swim.
When I was four, I accidentally watched a Lifetime movie with my mom where the adorable little kid with blonde ringlets and red overalls disobeys his parents, goes to the neighbor's pool and promptly drowns. The grief-stricken parents then sue the neighbors who owned the pool, even though there wasn't much they could have done to prevent the kid, who as I recall, was running away from his dad. Knowing Lifetime there was probably a macabre reason that didn't quite sink into my consciousness, but it doesn't matter, because the fact that the kid was the same age as me and slipped and fell into a pool was imprinted into my brain. From that moment on I had an healthy fear of pools.
When I was seven my mom tried to help me conquer this fear by enrolling me in swimming classes. Unfortunately that was the year I watched Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken. If you haven't had the pleasure of seeing this gem of a family film, it tells the story of a girl who hopped on the back of a running horse and then dove, horse and all, fifty feet down into a swimming pool. This was what people did for entertainment in the 1920s. The heroine was not my age, and did not drown, but after a bad dive she did go blind. Something in my seven year old brain clicked and said that the reason the girl lost her sight was because she opened her eyes underwater. From that moment on I was terrified of the water touching my eyes, and refused to go to the rest of the swimming lessons.
Since my family wasn't really into swimming and boating all that much, it didn't really bother me, and I never picked it back up. I managed to stay in the shallow end and have enjoyed trips to the pool. I've also gone boating with family friends and am quite happy to bob along in my orange life jacket. I really don't see the need to worry myself over swimming when the jacket is happy enough to do all the work for me. I know the basic principles by heart, I just have no desire to master them, and what's more, don't really like the idea of trusting the water. I know now that I won't go blind if I get it in my eyes, but I also don't particularly like the whole letting go and floating business. I'm okay with this. But that's not good enough for everyone else.
Every guy I've ever dated has sworn that he'd be the one to magically teach me how to swim. Every friend I've ever had has sworn they had the secret of swimming that would unlock the mysteries of the aquatic world for me. But none of them did, because my stubborn nature is stronger than their unique swimming mantra. It's easy to tell me to relax in the water and let myself float, but how can I relax when I'm doing something that stresses me out? Still others have suggested I pretend to be a mermaid. Unfortunately I have never really liked mermaids, and I didn't grow up watching the Little Mermaid because my mom was a snob when it came to cartoons. We were too busy watching Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken. Maybe someday I'll take it into my head to learn how to swim, and when I do, nothing will stop me. I'll buy a pair of waterwings and conquer the water. But until then I'm happy enough living the landlocked life of a nonmermaid.
(This post originally appeared at The Penny Ledger)