i used to be afraid of the water. when i was a kid, i would stay by the beach shore, scoop water from the wavelets with my toy pail and wet my hair. we would arrive at the house, my yaya resigned to rinsing sand off my hair.
in high school, i got a D in swimming, while most of my friends got high grades. i was pressuring myself to perfect the freestyle that i got cramps during our P.E. finals. that, plus the fact that my friends and classmates were either fast learners or have gotten past the basics in swimming in their younger years.
now, i totally love to swim. i so suck at swimming that i enrolled in swimming lessons. i spend my sunday afternoons with my very patient instructor. it took me several sessions to finally have the rhythm for freestyle. i also found out that the breaststroke was easy to learn. i got so giddy, too, when i finally learned to do the back float. what helped me relaxed while doing the back float was my repeating this line: lie back and the sea will hold you. and it did.
my instructor also taught me to do the dog paddle. this is where i truly suck, and this was where i got amazed over my instructor’s brimming-with-love teaching technique. he wouldl lead me towards the deeper part of the pool (gulp, 7 feet, i think) where i’d find myself clinging for life onto the tiles. then he’d have me let go of my hold, and he’d let me sink. when i hit the floor, that’s when i have to kick against it, and do the arm and leg motions. he would count how many times i would resurface, and when he reaches five, he’d let me rest. this is one of the times i realized that pool water in that place is potable (ugh), and this is one of the times i truly thank god for not letting me have leg cramps.
now that i got myself tattooed, i am not allowed to swim for a month. oh me oh my, it’s worst than being grounded.
my struggle with swimming is excruciating. the waters seem to want me to fight for their love, especially when i began the lessons. now, i’m starting to think i’ve won them over.
i can’t wait to swim again.
Lie back, daughter, let your head
be tipped back in the cup of my hand.
Gently, and I will hold you. Spread
your arms wide, lie out on the stream
and look high at the gulls. A dead-
man’s-float is face down. You will dive
and swim soon enough where this tidewater
ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe
me, when you tire on the long thrash
to your island, lie up, and survive.
As you float now, where I held you
and let go, remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you:
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.