Aware that Rev. Scott (Gene Hackman) is looking unsure about her abilities, Belle says, “You see Mr. Scott? In the water, I am a very skinny lady.”
Postscript: She does the swim. She saves the day … and then she dies of a heart attack.
So, OK. I was replaying that clip in my head a few weeks back as I stood early on a Saturday morning on the deck of the Shapiro Natatorium at Wooster High School. Like Belle, I’m packing on some extra pounds. Unlike Belle, I can’t swim a stroke.
This, I decreed in my head, was all about to change.
When the subject of swimming comes up, as it tends to this time of year, friends and family are aghast that I STILL haven’t learned to swim. I like to think I have some good reasons behind my fear, which at this point is fairly ingrained:
1. In fourth-grade swimming class at the Massillon Y, I accidentally got it the Super Sharks group, when I should have been in Remedial Tadpoles. When the instructor commanded, “Swim to me,” I – ever the obedient child – tried. Epic fail.
2. In eighth grade, a classmate of mine – a strong swimmer – went in the water too soon after eating. He got a cramp. The lifeguard – not much older than my friend – panicked. My friend drowned.
3. My non-swimming uncle (from whom I inherit my sense of grace and common sense), accidentally walked off a pool deck and into the deep end. To this day, he says he remembers seeing the bright white light as he lay at the bottom, shortly before being rescued and revived by paramedics.
So you can understand I have no desire to be in water higher than waist level. Still, Husband swims and now Nipper swims and goes off the diving board with nary a second thought. My brother-in-law offered to show me the family swim lesson: he throws me into the deep end and my need to survive forces me to start swimming. Other friends have offered variations on that theme.
And I always meant to learn – as soon as I dropped 10, then 20, then more pounds. At that point, my fear of water was second only to my fear of wearing a swimsuit in public.
For some reason, I recently caught myself wondering how much longer I was going to wait. In addition to not getting any thinner, I am also not getting any younger (evidenced by The Poseidon Adventure illustration at the top of this column).
Back to the pool. Not only did I wear the suit, I went make-up free. The same wonderful woman who got Nipper into the water several years ago stood next to me as I attempted my first float. As I felt her move her hand from my back, I didn’t flinch. Victory! You would have thought I crested the peak of Mt. Everest, I was so excited.
Of course, there have been a few setbacks. I inhaled when I should have exhaled – resulting in the noseful of water I’d always dreaded. I have found I can kick like crazy and go nowhere. And the whole “head underwater” still is a sticking point. Back to the movie – I also convinced myself I was having a heart attack.
But hey, I’m on my way! Last week, there was a newbie in the water – we’re sort of like soul nymphs. She was just as afraid as me and yet, there she went all afloat. As I touched the side, I smiled at her.
“How many lessons have you had?” she asked. “This is my second,” said I.
“I hope I’m doing that well by next week,” she said.
“It’s not so bad,” I said – obviously now an expert in all things aquatic. “I’m glad I didn’t wait any longer.”
Published: June 12, 2012