Guest Post: My Fear is Not of Water

The following post was written by Alyssa Hillary of Yes, That Too and is published here with express permission. 
I know my mother took me to the JCC when I was a baby,
Held my head above the water and let me bounce and splash.
But that’s not what I remember.
You shall teach your child the ten commandments and how to swim
They wrote above the door.
She taught me how to swim, a little.
Watched me in the pool as I bounced and splashed and swam underwater.
But that’s not what I remember.
My first distinct memory of water, I am in a lake.
Swimming lessons, I am three,
Too strong a swimmer for the pre-school classes and placed with the kindergartners.
We sit in a circle in the lake.
Suddenly, it matters that I am smaller than my classmates.
I am not tall enough to sit and keep my head above water.
I gasp. I stand. I cry and leave.
My fear is not of water, but of adults telling me it is safe for me to sit,
Then discovering, gasping, that they are wrong.
I don’t return to the lesson.
I do drag my mother back to the water with me.
My fear is not of water.
My next distinct memory of water, I am at my grandfather’s pool. I think I am eight.
We splash each other, shoot each other with water guns.
I pull myself up on the floating mattress, laughing.
He sits. On my head. He doesn’t know I’m there.
I stare up at him, trying not to panic.
I can hold my breath for one minute.
That’s one minute to get out.
I can reach the edges of the mattress with my arms.
I pull with my arms and my neck.
My head pops free. I can breathe.
My fear is not of water, but of adults who want only the best for me,
Hurting me because of what they do not know.
I still join swim team, in high school,
Pass out into the pool the first time I swim the 200 medley.
Swim the medley again at league championships, repeating to myself:
Butter, back, breast, free, don’t pass out.
My fear is not of water.
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