I could feel the scent of lake water. It was inside me and I felt submerged before I even stuck in one baby toe. The lake. I liked how it carefully extended its fingers, wanting to know what the sand on the shore felt like. With the change in seasons, though, the lake was always on the verge of being a distant memory. I was always thinking, what about tomorrow?
I shook the water out of my braids, being mindful of other people around me, Eeeee!” a baby squealed. Let’s see; a mother and her baby were nearby. Did I mention that? There are one of those pairs in every lake in the country, forcing other bathers to send them quick smiles before they looked away. The mother dipped the child in and out of the water with as much fanfare as she could muster. I guess she was trying to assure that the baby would love the water as it grew older. The child clumsily brought its hand up to its face for close inspection and cooed. I wondered if I was ever that happy that my hand was wet.
There was also a pair of young lovers loosely embracing. Though they were obviously in love, they weren’t very good looking, leaving me with the hope that one day even I’d find somebody. Cause I hated to say, but at least my bathing suit wasn’t in danger of falling off. They kept whispering to the side of each other’s faces and then coming up to share a smile. I guess it didn’t matter where the lovers were… mall, lake, or forest, they would still have their arms around each other and fixed upon each other’s glimmering eyes.
I wondered if the other bathers were glad that they weren’t me, twelve years old and taking swimming lessons yet again. My instructor, Terry Cole, from the list of certified instructors was wearing a lanyard around his neck with his photo ID. He was demonstrating the crawl for me. I didn’t know why this man tried so hard. I mean, who doesn’t get the concept of swimming? It would be like lessons for the lovers in caressing or for the mother on how to play with her own child.
Yet, here he was demonstrating in earnest. Sheets of water fell from his muscled arms like sunlight reflecting off a well-polished trumpet. An instrument for sounding an alarm. “Now you do it,” he challenged. I could tell he didn’t like me. He didn’t like me because I was older and couldn’t swim. I made a pathetic attempt to mimic his arm movements.
I understood how to swim; I just… I just wasn’t ready. And I’m not sure I wanted to learn from a guy who was paid by my mother. She had visited the Crestview Aquatics Center one day in the spring and wrote a check that she took out of her oversized purse. Then she snapped the purse shut. So, I guess it was decided.
Next, the underwater segment of the lesson started. This was the part where the instructor, didn’t participate. He simply inhaled and slowly exhaled above water, then expected me to copy him, only underwater. That works out for you, doesn’t it, Terry? You get paid and your average man’s haircut stays dry.
I did it, though. I inhaled above water, then submerged and exhaled. Suddenly, I spied a sparkling piece of granite on the bottom of the lake. It was so luminous I don’t know why no one else found it before me. I picked it up with no oxygen in my lungs and brought it to the surface. I gasped for air. “Look what I found!” I screamed. The instructor kept his eyes, with their scrunched eyebrows, on me. Suddenly, my treasure was just a rock. I looked down. I let go and the piece of granite returned to its place on the lake’s floor in sorrowful slow motion. I wondered if anyone would lift it to the surface ever again.
I pulled on the straps of my one-piece bathing suit. They were thick and uncomfortable. The instructor didn’t tell me to, but I took another deep inhale, a big one. I filled my cheeks like I was about to blow a horn. Then I submerged underwater again. I watched out for the legs and feet of the other bathers. I kept holding my breath, kicked my legs like I’d been told a thousand times, made sweeping motions with my arms, and then, for the first time, I swam.
Minutes later, when I ran out of breath, I rose gracefully to the surface. Surprisingly, when I looked back, Terry Cole and the other bathers were much smaller. What a delight! Then I realized that not only had I swum, but I’d swum away. I would never need another lesson at the Crestview Aquatics Center.
Cyndi Cresswell Cook has previously submitted work to the Raven’s Perch Literary Magazine with her short stories, Birth Control and Neapolitan Street. She is working on a memoir.