Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Uncharted Waters

I love the smell of chlorine in the evening. It smells like...victory.
--Me, just now

I still can't believe I did this.

I actually swam--swam, I say, across the deep end of the pool tonight.

This was the culmination of eight weeks of training in my adult swimming class and while most people would think nothing of this little jaunt across the pool, for me it had all the suspense of an Indiana Jones cliffhanger.

I've been enjoying this class tremendously; it has made me do something that I thought I would never be able to do: namely, swim.

My form is from hunger and if I were moving any slower I'd be going backwards, but every week I would get in the pool at Park Slope YMCA and actually swim. However, this was always in the shallow end, the kiddie portion where the waters are all of four feet high.

"We're going on a field trip," the teacher announced toward the end of tonight's class.

Field trip? Where, pray tell?

"To the deep end of the pool."

Oh, hell, no!

Now, to her credit, the teacher started us off easy. First we went over to the deep side by holding on to the side of the pool. When we reached the opposite end, we stood on a little ledge about four feet down.

Then she had us drop down to the bottom on the pool and come back up while still holding on to the side.

I thought this was it, we had reached the summit and now it was time to hit the showers. Oy, did I call that one wrong.

The teacher had half of us go to one side of the pool, the other half go to the opposing side and, yes, you got it, then had us swim across the pool.

Now I've been doing this for weeks. Back and forth, back and forth--it was cut and dried, even though I was all wet.

But while the distance was still the same, the depth was a hell of a lot depthier.

Now, I'm going to be honest: I froze. I panicked, I freaked. It was like being back in Catholic school and I thank God that nuns can't float.

I stood there holding on to the edge of the pool while my classmates made the journey to the other side one after the other.

"C'mon," AJ, the assistant instructor said. "You can do it."

But I couldn't. I couldn't let go of the ledge and go into the deep water. I was convinced I would drown. Every time I made the move to swim, my left hand kept pulling me back.

My classmates--who should canonized for their kindness--all rallied around me, encouraging me.

"If I can do it," one young man said, "you can do it."

"Just relax," another said, "take your time."

"I'm not going to let you drown," AJ said. "I'm an experienced lifeguard."

Swim Said the Mommy Fishy

I knew he wouldn't let me drown, but bad luck has a sneaky way of showing up and ruining the party. I knew how badly, how depressed I would feel if I ended the class by not taking this step.

I had come this far, how could I turn back now?

I thought of my mother and how proud she would be if she were still alive. I thought of my aunt and my sister and how supportive they had been. And I still couldn't do it.

"Who hasn't gone across yet?" the instructor asked.

I raised my soggy hand and she swam over to me.

"Do you want to try it by the end of the pool?"

I quickly agreed. With the wall on one side and my teacher on the other, plus two other lifeguards in the room, the odds were in my favor.

I put my arms out in front of me, took a deep breath, and...swam.

I was churning through the water like a lovesick manatee during mating season. I was not stopping, I was not quitting, and I sure was hell not drowning, not tonight, anyway.

When I got to the other side of the pool, all my classmates broke out into wild applause. I blew them all kisses and took a watery bow. I still can't believe I did it.

I overcame my fear, but I also saw the goodness in people. They were my classmates, yes, but we only saw each other one night a week.

They didn't know me from a can of paint and yet they were all pulling for me. Brace yourself for a shock, but I get a little teary-eyed when I think about it. (No, really?!?)

And I have to take that goodness out into the world with me. I had to spread it around, help people when they need it because we all wind up in the deep end of the pool at one time or another.

I also took on that voice inside my head, Mr. Negative, Mr. No-Way-in-Hell, the same son-of-a-bitch who has been holding me back for most of my life.

You are not your thoughts. That's a line from one of my self-help books and I learned tonight just how true that is.

The voice that tells you that you are unworthy or incapable, that's not you, just a lot of bad stuff from your life trying to sound like you.

I saw this rather crappy movie over the weekend called Revolver. It had all the slow-motion shooting and tough guy wannabe lingo, but the best moment occurs at the end when the hero, who has a fear of elevators, takes on his worst enemy in a stuck elevator.

The enemy is himself, of course, and the scene cuts from the actor, Jason Statham, looking normal, to a screaming, bug-eyed doppleganger who rants about how he's the hero's best friend and how Statham can't live without him.

But he can. And when Statham finally rejects this negative nutbag, the elevator starts up again and our hero walks out alone.

I had the same scene tonight, only in a swimming pool, instead of an elevator. I told my negative self to take a hike, to go jump in the lake. I went swimming and left him on the shore.

Now, I still have a lot of work to do in the swimming department, and I intend to do it.

And I'm also going to keep an eye out for Mr. Negative because he doesn't give up easily.

Fortunately, neither do I.


Marsha said...

Congrats Rob!

Rob K said...

Thanks, Marsha!

Brooklyn Beat said...

Rob--What a suspenseful post with a happy ending...Congratulations on this and all good wishes !

Rob K said...

Oh, thank you so much. It was touch and go there, but I pulled through.


Calamity Jen said...

Awesome awesome awesome! I hope you're as proud of yourself as all of us in blogland are.

Rob K said...

I was feeling great before, but after reading your comment, I'm feeling 100 times better.


Brenda from Flatbush said...

Wow, proud of you. Spouse learned to swim as an adult, it was a revelation watching how deep that fear was and how much hard work was involved. Awesome accomplishment.

Rob K said...

Thanks, Brenda. It's nice to know there are other adult novices out there.