My childhood friends learnt to swim very young; in primary school terms, the four years it took me to catch up were as good as an eternity. One July day at the beach, the story goes, I up and decided I was ready: tired of being left behind when they raced to the water, I plucked up my courage and joined in, suddenly raring to practice all the moves I’d refused to learn before. There was no telling whether I’d stay afloat or cry for help, no expectation I’d find myself at ease. And yet I did: to this day, there are few moments I await as eagerly as my first swim every year.
I don’t remember seeing my parents venture far into the sea. Most of the time they watched me from a distance, masking apprehension with tight smiles. I never wondered why: I was a child, wanting nothing more than to keep playing. I dared them to give chase as I paddled off, or practiced underwater handstands, leaving them with strict instructions to check that my legs stayed straight. On the rough days, I launched myself at waves as tall as me without a trace of fear, never really believing any of those could be strong enough to snatch me away.
It was only years later that it hit me: the very thing that scared them was the same that drew me in. The water has no rules. It doesn’t care who I am, who I’ve been, who I’m trying to become. It has no place for the clouds in my head or the weights on my chest. Every stroke makes me feel lighter, in a way nothing else does; untroubled, untethered, free.
Just like the girl I once was, I like to swim until I can no longer touch the ground. There, in the deep blue expanse, I challenge myself to lie still, tune out the echoes from the shore, resist the pull of gravity for as long as I can. I trust me to keep me safe from the currents, to catch the early signs of a sinking feeling, to know when enough is enough. In the last moments of stillness before heading back, I turn to the sun, close my eyes and let the light flood my face. More often than not, this song is playing in my head.
(Song recommendation by Iris)