After watching Lisa once again gracefully descend to the dock and then into the water, I decide. My fear of open water, a product of my survival instincts coupled with the remembered terror of not being able to catch my breath during a long-ago swim in the Columbia River, has kept me away all week. I say it is too cold outside and in the water but I’m covering for that fact that I am simply afraid.
I pull on the borrowed swim bottoms and one of my yoga bras, an improvised suit to make up for the one I left in a drawer at home. I think back to my sunscreen application earlier and decide it will be sufficient. I grab a towel, slide my feet into plastic flip flops, and walk toward the door. “I’m going in; anyone want to join?” I say as I make my way down the steps. From her spot on the deck, perched above the shoreline, Sarah says she will and I contemplate waiting until she is done changing. The brave may not last, however, so I power forward.
The steps on the first set of stairs are wide but shallow, the kind that seem like every other should be skipped, but I won’t risk a tumble. After all, I’m going into the water. I reach the dock just as a series of waves, created by a motoring boat, roll through. Lisa is relaxing in the sun after a dip and encourages me as I drop my towel and walk down the dock to the ladder. I nearly lose my footing as the waves continue to push against the dock. I keep going.
I squat and swipe away the spider’s web blocking my way, turn, place my feet on the first step, and then the second, and then I squat down into the water, holding onto the ladder as I attempt to override the panic I already feel.
I feel my stomach contract and expand quickly. I think about how I am safe. My feet are resting on the bottom rung of the ladder and I am still holding on. There is no danger. Lisa stands, smiles with invitation, and bends her body in a beautiful arc as she dives into the water. “I’m… getting… used… to it,” I say. And then I realize my voice is tiny and she can’t hear me.
Without a conscious thought, I let go of the ladder and push myself back and away from the dock. My rapid breathing continues yet I push my arms forward and kick my legs in a rusty breaststroke. And another. Then another. I’m swimming in a lake! I turn myself in tight circles, culling the water like Grandma Sharon taught me in the pool at the Elks Club in Hood River. I kick my foot and my leg up, above the water and joke I might be the next Esther Williams. Lisa floats on her back and we delight in the water.
Wanting to stretch my little-used muscles after spending time writing all week while everyone else hiked, walked, explored, and biked, I begin to swim south. Muscle memory takes over and my strokes become slightly less rusty. I am not strong as a swimmer but I am steady. I make my way to one dock south of us and then two. I contemplate continuing but decide I’m satisfied with my distance. I turn and kick, glide, kick, glide slowly toward our dock.
Sarah walks down the stairs to the dock and paces back and forth a few times. She looks toward me and then curves her body and gorgeously dives in with barely a splash. I decide a woman diving into the water is always an exquisite display. I continue to kick, glide along.
Lisa and Sarah are now relaxing in the sun on the deck. I’m starting to feel the chill of the water but I’m not quite ready to retreat. I tilt myself onto my back and, as always, I feel my feet sink. Family lore says I have lead feet just like Grandma Sharon and floating is not something that happens for me.
I splay my arms out from my sides and relax. I stare at the summer sky and notice how little I hear while my ears are under water. I inhale a deep breath, arching my back ever-so-slightly.
My feet rise.
Double-checking, I take a shallow breath and feel my feet sink, again. With another deep breath, they rise. I am floating. I feel the pinprick of tears in my eyes and I smile so big it hurts.
I can float.
There is a lesson of some sort about what I miss out on when I let fear rule the day, a lesson I know I need to learn. Clearly, relaxing my body and focusing on my breathing is also a trick I should utilize more often. I’ll contemplate these ideas and also think about other places in my life where fear may be getting in the way. For now, though, I’m just going to float. Oh, and skinny-dip later tonight. But that's a story for another day.