Swimming Lessons

My father told me once, and I believed him,
that if I would just open my eyes underwater
one time, just defy instinct and force my lids apart,
allowing salty tears to connect with chlorinated waters
just once, that I would never want to shut them again.
His eyes smiled as he spoke of enchanting light patterns
that are burned deep into cool waves by the summer sun,
and how they dance and glide along the bottom of our pool,
visible only to those brave souls who dare to see
in depth. He promised it wouldn’t even sting.
He was right, of course. He was always right.

Like, the time he told me I could swim, “just fine”
even without my orange life-jacket. But that time,
I didn’t believe him. That time, my doubts drove him
to bribery and he tried to entice me with candy
when his encouraging words failed. But,
I didn’t want candy. I wanted to live.

So, I screamed bloody murder, drawing neighbors out
from their glass houses and into adjoining backyards
where they stared from a safe distance. I remember
turning up my volume, aiming to embarrass,
hoping he would give up, and give in
and just let me win. Just this once, but no,

“You are going to swim
out to your brother in the middle
and back. Candy or not”. It wasn’t a question,
and I knew then that no noise, or tears, or life-jacket
would save me now. I remember
my fate sinking in as I scanned my worthless neighbor’s faces
before going back to his face.  “If I make it”, I whispered,
“can I still have the candy?”
A nod, and then –

I swam. Sniffling, shaking, dog-paddling,
chin-first, life-jacketless, out to my gloating brother
in the middle and back –  I swam. I remember
swallowing down a lump of resentment with a big swig
of relief, just before my pride kicked in.  And, as I reached out
and took the candy from my father’s hand I wondered why
did he always have to be right? And, still I wonder why
did I always need him to be?

~ smj

10 Comments to “Swimming Lessons”

  1. it’s cool when you think your parents are the best ones ever, isn’t it?

    very nicely done.

    • well, I’m sure it beats thinking they are the worst… although, I know we sometimes have a hard time deciding or can even change our minds as we go along…

      But, yes… I do think my dad was the best. My brothers thinks so too… even though my oldest brother always complains when he remembers this story… he says my dad just told him “Swim!” and threw him in. LOL But, I was the youngest… and only girl… so, I guess I got candy and some slack.. ;)

  2. believing.
    having faith,
    being willing to endure
    and persevere
    despite the fear
    to step forward
    with nothing
    but blind determination.

    your message is priceless!

    • Well, blind determination, and the knowledge that my father and brother were only a few feet away and being fairly certain they wouldn’t let me drown… LOL ;)

      You know… it’s funny…. the message (which you summed up so beautifully) was almost lost on me all these years… I always loved this story… memory… but, never really thought about the last two lines of it that much until I wrote this… at least not consciously (which is why I say, “almost lost”)… and, it’s so true, isn’t it? How many people to we trust like that… really trust… and it made me think about my own kids… and how I want/hope to be like that for them… when they need me to be, and even if they don’t necessarily want me to be…

      Thank you for always giving me such nice and thought-provoking comments… =)

  3. I cannot tell you how delightful I found this…for many personal reasons it struck a chord that was most harmonic. ;-)

    • Thanks Charles. =) This was a fav memory of my childhood that my father and I both use to like to re-live and re-tell every so often. I miss his rendition… and the way he laughed when he told it… but, hope he would have liked this poem…

      I actually started writing it for my class.. but, then didn’t even use it for the assignment. I sort of felt like it was too long… more like a story, than a poem… or just not something I wanted to “workshop”… ? But, I’m glad I shared it here, and that you enjoyed it. =)

  4. we always need them to be… this brought a sadness and a joy to my heart and spirit. very nicely done.

  5. such a beautiful piece, smj, taken me back to my own memories, lovely thank you x

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