The depths of the water, its glossy background, reflected the sun’s rays. I tried to pretend that lily pads were below me, and I was a frog leaping through my fear, keeping my dread away. I pictured myself falling without a care through the dense leaves. But in the end, their strength couldn’t hold my anxiety.
I am not a big fan of bodies of water. I’ve never been much of a swimmer. My feet become heavy, as if tied with fifty pounds of cement, and I can’t paddle due to the sick feeling I develop in my gut. My heart tenses with each kick. My body is a brick, unable to float.
On this particular day, in the shallow end of a pool, my friend Stephanie carelessly threw her scrunchy between the barriers of safety. “Daniella, pass me my scrunchie,” she said, goading me. Stephanie recognized I was a stiff dancer underwater. I wouldn’t follow her swimming lesson – my legs always stuck to the pool’s floor. Like others, she believed risking myself would be the only way.
“I’m not going to get it,” I said nervously. I looked down and the pool was a mirror, reflecting how sweat dressed my forehead. My arms were shaking like I was riding a bulky tractor.
“Well, you have to,” Stephanie said, convinced that I would do it. In truth, I was easily manipulated by the people I care about. So I began to walk slowly from three feet to four feet. By five feet, the firm tile wall was a floaty. “I don’t want to get it. Why can’t you do it?” My heart wanted to stop, yet the scrunchie was only a few strokes away.
“Please,” Stephanie said, staring at me eagerly. I remember letting go of protection and swinging my arms in rapid movements. And then, gravity overpowered me. My vision blurred. “He--” My voice couldn’t swim either. I could not talk anymore. I couldn’t hear the laughter in my memories. My body sang, “This is the end.”
Suddenly, I was carried towards my floaty. I was a fish moving nervously in a freshly oxygenated home. I clung to the wall while Stephanie questioned me. “Are you okay?”
I wasn’t. From that day I was afraid to swim.
Summer 2013: After many attempts with my boyfriend David, I have failed to be that mermaid.
“Lay on your back and just relax.” David spoke in a soft tone. It was quite surprising, actually. I would have expected him to give up on me already. Yet he somehow sensed I had a chance. “Like that. Perfect,” he said, holding my resting body. “I’m going to let go now.
Immediately, my heart screamed in fear and I knotted my body around him. “Baby, please, you were doing fine.”
“I’m scared, babe,” I confessed as my watery eyes stretched up to meet his.
“One more time,” he said, laying me on the pool’s top. “All you have to do is let your body go. Pretend you are as light as a feather and breathe.”
He made it sound so easy. But once he released me, I was a sinking boat. “Babe, I can’t do it,” I sobbed.
“You have to try. You’re not a failure, Daniella. One more time.” He re-set me, then let go. My body stayed afloat. Everything that had been weighing me down seemed to vanish into the water instead of my body.
“You did it!” screamed David. I stood up. “I’m so proud of you!” I was proud of myself. I was no longer a brick, but I was a fish in the deep Pacific Ocean, miles away from my fear. “You’re swimming!” David said, the excitement reflected in his expression.
“I know, I know!” I was swimming. It was like all the lessons he had given me had gathered in my subconscious like pieces of metal, and I finally found a magnet to put them all together. My brain released its resentment and in that moment I realized that being able to swim was euphoria, one that I had been missing in my sixteen years of life.