mrs. larson was renowned for being able to teach anyone to swim. she had a vast resume of success with paraplegics. but she couldn't teach me to swim. one iron-willed toddler who hated putting her head under water. i'd bump along in the back seat of a pontiac, down the gravel road to the private pool at her house in the woods building a stomach ache and hoping it was contageous via water particals.
she would have us sit on the top step of the pool, just our laps under water, and cup handfuls of water of our head.
"what color of shampoo do you want?" she'd ask each tot, then pretend like the water in her hands had actually turned red.
that may work on a pool full of paraplegics, but that shit didn't fool me.
i'd be up and out of the pool, pattering along the stones and away from mrs. larson. lather, rinse, repeat ... every day for two straight weeks.
eventually my parents stopped taking me to class. maybe they were embarrassed. my main recourse was to complain that i had to go to the bathroom -- the kind that cannot be anonymously spilled into chlorine. the kind that leaves a mark.
so. i didn't learn to swim.
when i was in junior high, my mom decided i was going to learn. that summer. i'd not be the bikini clad high school student with her fingernails dug into the cement, clinging to the side of the pool. i'd not be the urban legend: the woman who drowns in a cup of water.
as we didn't really have a word to describe my water proficiency when i was signed up, my mom stuck me in a class with the "beginners."
it was obvious i was not going to make friends here, next to my peers who were exhausted from treading in 3-feet of water next to me. i was a giantess compared to the beginners. i mean, i almost had boobs and concerns about the water ruining my hair. they all thought they were ariel from "the little mermaid."
it soon became obvious that i was not a beginner, i was an "advanced beginner." this meant a lot of things i didn't like: putting my face in the water, the complicated breathing involved with the crawl, the dead man's float or the parallel parking of the advanced beginners final exam: jumping into the water fully clothed and saving yourself by turning your flourecent pink t'shirt and jams into a life preserver. kicking off your keds. they're weighing you down.
i did not pass advanced beginner. this was fine with me. there was nothing i wanted to know in intermediates and between my pastey blue skin and the fact that it takes about an hour to coax myself shoulders deep even luke warm water, i suspected i'd never be a lifeguard.
i can swim. when my mom and i went to hayward, wis., two summers ago, i took to the pool nightly, swimming laps and competing in handstand contests with a resort employee. mostly i did this because after spending 24/7 with my mom, the middle of the pool was one place where i could not be bombarded with incessant cooing over knick knacks.
last summer i went to a bonfire on superior point and, as the sun came up, i ran toward lake superior stripping off clothes and plunged into the water. but last summer was an anomoly. last summer lake superior was as warm as gazpacho.
it has been hot here in duluth, minn. on monday chuck and i walked down to canal park well after midnight, under the guise of maybe potentially getting into the water. "are you going to stand on the edge and splash your palms in the water," he joked. "make sure not to get your wrists wet?"
"so?" i said.
he wore swim trunks. i wore little boy shorts underwear and a bra. i got in to about my ankles and chuckers did mini laps in front of me. it looked fun, so i went in up to my knees. it was a little foggy over the water. four men stumbled along.
"that doesn't look like a swim suit," chuck said of my attire.
i got in to about my lower thighs. i really wanted to go in. he looked like he was having so much fun. and i knew that when he got out of the water, he'd be all jacked up with cold water, wet head energy. 20 more minutes and 10 degrees warmer, i might have.
"can we come back so i can try again?" i asked.
then we went to papa dons in superior for breakfast food. i had an omelet. chuck sureveyed a drunk group in the smoking section and said: in about 20 minuts, that is going to break out into a very ugly orge.