Undertow

I never was a strong swimmer. 

Once upon a summer day, at a creek running cold in the hills of Oregon, my mother tried to teach me to swim. 

I was eight or ten years old, and terrified. She spoke reassuringly and calmly, telling me, just relax and push the water away, just go with the natural impulse of your body, feel the water and know that you are able to live in it, don’t be afraid, don’t fight against it. 

A few years before I had been in a canoe with my friend Kerri when she fell out. She didn’t swim. She sank. 

I watched. 

I froze. 

She was a few feet away and I couldn’t do anything. I watched silently, a part of my mind screaming but my throat closing with fear, she was dying and I was watching. 

Someone saw, the men came and saved her, and I say, not saying a word. Nobody ever said anything about it to me. Nobody tried to talk to me about that day, and to this day I have never stopped seeing the fearful look on her face as I watched her sinking. 

My mother’s words hit my mind and I tried to relax, tried to feel natural in the water. I was able to manage a few clumsy breast-strokes, enough to satisfy my mother, enough to get her to let me stop. 

I’ve never felt comfortable in the water. The stones in my heart pull me to the bottom, the weight of my soul drags me down and I freeze, cold and silent. Others tell me it’s fun, swimming and dancing in the water, and I, 

I watch. 

I have dreams where I’m swimming, faster and more strongly than a dolphin, flying under water as though it were my home, as though it was natural. 

In waking nightmares I feel my feet dangling in the water and I know, 

I just know, 

Something down there wants to grab me. Something is waiting to welcome me to silent oblivion, to the end of struggles, something wants me to sink. 

But I kick against it, I push it away. 

I may not ever feel natural in this life, or normal, or comfortable. I may never relax, always waiting for the next drowning in the darkness. I may not ever feel safe, or truly welcome in my life. 

I have never been a strong swimmer. 

I may not ever find my place, but…

I will not give in to the pull, the gravity calling me down to the darkness. 

I will reach out my arms, and sweep the water behind me, and kick hard against the weights behind me. 

I will make it to shore. 

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