My late husband, Richard, taught me how to float in the summer of 2002. Even though I have been able to swim since childhood, I had somehow lost the ability to float. I couldn’t relax the right way in the water so my long legs sank like marble pillars as soon as I tried to float. I had lost that limber trust in the water. I didn’t want to rely on it to hold me up.
One afternoon at his parents’ place, we went down to the pool. They live in a very nice condominium complex, not exactly a starter home kind of joint, so we were the youngest people at the pool by a good 30 years. We waded out into the shallow end for my lesson.
“Just relax your body,” he said. Oh, OK. Gosh, I didn’t know it was that simple. I stretched out my legs and stuck out my arms but as soon as I dipped my head back towards the surface of the water, my legs dropped like a lever.
Richard was a born teacher–he taught skiing to tourists, he taught canoeing to campers, he taught finance to business majors. He tried to break it down into pieces. I held the side of the pool and let my legs float. No problem. Then he held my legs–not in a racy fashion since we were being observed by about 30 Nanas, Bubbies, and Pop Pops. I tried to tip my head into the water but began to thrash as soon as the water touched my head.
Clearly, my head was the problem (this is where my therapist would probably raise her eyebrow and say, “AS USUAL!”). So he promised that he wouldn’t let my head sink. He held me under the shoulders and I stretched out into the cool blue water.
“Now take a breath in. See how you float up?” It worked!
“Now let that breath out and feel your body sink.” I exhaled and felt the water climb higher around me. I started to wiggle in panic. Quickly, Richard said, “Breathe in!”
I floated right back up to the top of the water with a triumphant grin. And a little knot in my neck dissolved. I had learned that I could loosen up a little and the water would catch me. “Now let it out…” He held me while I practiced letting go of my breath and slowly taking it back in. My head still lay on the valley of his forearms, high and dry.
“You’re going to have to let the water get in your ears if you want to float. It will be OK.” He let his hands drop slowly from beneath my shoulders. I felt the cold water tingle up the back of my scalp and pour into my ears. I took a deep breath to bob back to the surface. It wasn’t so bad. I let the breath go and just like that…I was floating. On my own.
Straight above me stretched the clear blue sky. To my right, the open stretch of the Potomac River, with a jet following the path of the water on its descent to National. I floated in a perfectly round and perfectly blue and perfectly cool pool next to a man who loved to show me all I could do. If I just let my brain get out of the way.
I stood up to see the world from vertical again. I gave him a chaste little kiss and said, “Thank you. I’m proud of myself.”
He grinned and said, “Next I’ll show you how to do THIS!” He curled up into a tight ball, squeezing his knees to his chest, and with a long slow exhale of bubbles, he sank to the bottom of the pool. It was one of his favorite tricks.
As I stood there waiting for him to bob back up when he got tired of holding his breath, one of the residents joined us in the pool. Well, she came as far as the third step. In her black maillot and swim cap, she stood in the water up to her thighs, splashing a little water up onto her arms.
And she farted.
I don’t mean “toot toot” like you think a Nana might fart. I mean “BRAAAAAAAAPPPPPHHH!” Like someone stepped on a duck.
Since I had been raised right, I pretended not to notice. We all suffer a little slip now and then and pools can make for confusing acoustics. Who am I to judge?
Richard erupted from the water with a splash and a gasp. “I’m losing my form. I used to be able to stay down a lot longer.”
At that very moment, the woman beside us let fly again. “BUH-WONK!” Richard’s eyebrows shot up and he–having also been raised right–looked ever so casually around to see who had stepped on a duck. It was just us and her in the water. Everyone else chatted on lounge chairs in the shade of the pergola. He turned back to me and gave the straight face double eyebrow raise.
We tried to be nonchalant about it, but we started making our way to the deep end as she continued to toot her own horn. Once we were a safe distance away, I said, “Do you think she thinks she under water and no one can hear?”
Richard said, “No, I think she’s lived long enough that she just doesn’t give a shit.”