I do not like swimming in the ocean. There are too many things that live in the ocean that could eat me or maim me. I don’t always like swimming in the lake, either. I often can’t see my feet, so who knows what is lingering underneath in the great deep? When I was young, maybe six years old, we went camping on Lake Huron. The lake is filled with big round boulders. I held onto an intertube, and when I kicked my feet to propel myself forward in the water, my toes would touch the smooth cold slab of rock. I believed I was kicking whales, sharks, underwater dinosaurs that would chomp off my feet as payment for disturbing them. I floated all alone, far away from my family, too scared to kick my feet in order to make it back to shore.
I much prefer the comfort of a swimming pool, where I can see my feet at all times. In our backyard, we had a large round above-ground pool with a bright blue liner. I put on my googles, held my breath, and investigated every inch of the pool. My mother called me a waterbug and said I had webbed feet. I belonged in the water.
While on a tour of Italy with my travel agent mother and 40 strangers, I was feeling queasy from riding the bus all day through the countryside. When we returned to the hotel, my mother went to church, but I went up to the rooftop terrace to the pool. I slid myself into the cool water from the edge until it covered my head. Like a baptism, whatever evil plagued my system was cast out and I was cured.
Water has always had healing powers for me. And in that way, my interactions with it are somewhat religious. It frightens me but it can also soothe me. It absolves me from my earthly life and transforms me into something new. If humans evolved from fish, it’s no wonder I wish to return to the place whence I came.