I am staring at the water, which comes almost to my knees. Little waves shimmer, reflecting light from the high windows of the natatorium. Way above me, bright fluorescent lights seem to hover like UFOs. The screams and shouts of other children playing in the big pool goad me on, echoing off the tiled walls and the water. My brother and cousins can jump in like cannon balls. They can splash and tread water in the deep end. I am so jealous I could spit. I continue to stare at my enemy, my best friend, the water.
I have loved water with a passion since I realized its scarcity in my desert home. For every two-minute downpour, I am running outside with my umbrella, just to feel the wet of the air, and to splash in the puddles before they soak into the sand. But I have feared this wet stuff since I was last in a swimming pool, at an EconoLodge on a road trip, when my father’s swift push of an inner tube displaced me, and I went down and down and down. Months later, that fear was compounded by a terrifying midnight trip on an over-populated, rickety old boat through stormy waters.
But I am seven years old now. It is time to face my fear, or I will never be able to take advantage of these rare dips into water that are the highlights of my life. Here I am at my aunt’s community pool, not even knee-deep, and I am shaking.
Slowly, I sink to my knees, letting the water buoy my body slightly as I sit on my heels. I play with the water in my hands, letting it flow through my fingers, pushing it aside like tall grass. If I push hard enough, I scoot forward on my knees. This excites me. It could almost be called swimming. I scoot like this to the edge of the kiddie pool and grab the edge hanging on with my finger tips. Like I have been doing in the bathtub, I push myself down, face first into the water, and blow bubbles, then pull myself up and take a deep breath. More bubbles, more breath. I discover then that my hands can touch the bottom of the pool and I can keep my head out of the water with my legs extended behind me. I begin my alligator crawl across the pool, placing my hands on the cobalt blue tiles that decorate the concrete bottom. What if…? I think. What if….? I close my eyes, and put my face back in the water, blowing bubbles while I pull myself along. My right hand slips and pushes the water, propelling me forward and to the left. Breathlessly, I sit back on my knees again, and stare again at the water, amazed. I try it again, hands flat on the pool bottom, legs behind me, face down. This time without a slip, but on purpose, I lift my hands, push them back and shoot forward, swimming!
Not even toddlers use this pool. No one else has seen my miracle. I did this on my own, without even encouragement from a grown up. I swim back and forth across this kiddie pool, for hours it seems. Another day I will tackle the big pool.