BEYOND THE SEA OR HOW I LEARNED TO SWIM SOLO
"She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted."
Mitch McConnell on the floor of the United States Senate 2/08/2017
I’m afraid of open water. Black, inscrutable, dead-eye still or churning, I am afraid of open water. I grew up in California and have been swimming joyously, exuberantly ever since my brother threw me into the deep end of the neighborhood pool and I broke the surface, triumphant. That is until…JAWS: the movie.
I am afraid of open water, but I am also afraid of being afraid and cheating myself out of transformative experiences. I have forced myself to do things which terrify me such as turning down a lucrative job with the Ford Motor Company at 21 and moving to New York to try and make it as a writer, riding on the back of a moped as my friend Jen navigated the narrow, winding roads with minimal visibility and NO guardrails to cushion our plunge into the Aegean, and…swimming in open water by myself.
Such was the case in Greece where I tried to time my dips in the Aegean with that of my friends, but being white Jen and Allie didn’t just come to swim or be gently buoyed by the gorgeous aquamarine water, they came to sunbathe. Being black---a nice nutty milk chocolate and tattooed (extended time in the sun causes ink to bleed and fade), I didn’t feel the need to soak up a whole lot of rays. I’d come to drift and luxuriate in the heavily salted sea.
The Magic of Greece
So what’s a girl to do when her friends aren’t ready to take a dip but she yearns to undulated on the tranquil waves but is afraid to go into the water by herself because she is fully invested in her theory that where there’s a little fish, there is a bigger fish, and then a bigger fish, and so on and so on until…you guessed it JAWS?
Again, I ask, what’s a girl to do? Well if she is me, she puts on her big girl panties and wades in. After all, I didn’t fly all that way to sit on the hot sand and beret myself for being a coward! Deciding to wade into the Mediterranean solo was perhaps the third time I consciously realized I had a choice to make that would set the tone for the way I approached/lived my life. I either had to acknowledge the fear and give in or acknowledge the fear and do it anyway.
A revolving joke I am known for among my friends is where I explain my fear of open water, JAWS, and sharks in general. The joke goes that I understand that when they “logically” argue that sharks aren’t really interested in people, I counter that you can’t out swim one when they suddenly express an interest. On land, even though you know the lion is going to catch you, you can fool yourself into believing you have a fighting chance---like the lottery. Or simply put, you can’t run underwater!
So there I was halfway through my first trip out of the country, a lover of all things water---true to my Pisces’ nature---the sea glistening, beckoning and my friends also glistening but with suntan lotion and no intention of breaking a wave until they had achieved another tawny base coat. Well, dear reader, as savvy, sophisticated people, you know what choice I made. I cinched my panties and ran screaming into the surf like a crazy person, determined to scare any lurking sharks and go deep enough that I couldn’t chicken out. And then suddenly there I was, swimming by myself in the Aegean Sea. And guess what…it was glorious.
So glorious in fact that when my friends and I parted ways---I was staying two more nights before heading to London---I couldn’t resist the rippling bay spread out in front of the hotel I was staying in. As I cautiously floated and drifted, praising my courage as I resisted the urge to check for peckish fish, an actual dog, an Irish Setter (yes, I have a theme), bounded into the water splashing me in the face as he swam out to the break. I laughed at his doggy antics as he literally dog paddled around me. I patted him and made kissy noises and he grinned and swam. I looked around to share my wonder and delight, to inquire who this magnificent free spirit belonged to but there was only him and his beautiful, shiny red coat and me, swimming in the sea. After about fifteen minutes, he jumped out and ran back across the road. I got out myself a few minutes later and headed back to my hotel where I told the desk clerk about my lovely sojourn with the dog. Apparently, he did his Esther Williams routine every day at dusk. I had been fortunate enough to be there at the right time and place to bear witness. But only because I’d braved open water!
Grace & Determination
I hope you come back in April when I jet off to London for the second half of my first trip outside of the US. Find out why I hooked up with a lovely Australian man and then reject him.
Thanks for taking the journey with me! Be Safe. Be Feminist AF.
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