It was A.J.’s own voice that taunted her while watching Kato swim effortless laps in the pool. How could she plan to live on a sailboat, so terrified of the water? Sure it would be fine to swim fearless the way Kato does with his head dipped low in the water, barely coming up for air, or so it seemed. His arms moved in perfect cadence, with each stroke timed like a metronome. Even the way he kicked those small splashes propelling him great distances across the surface didn’t seem to tire him one bit, and the water barely rippled from behind. The other swimmers in their individual lanes, kicking and splashing, some with too much effort creating miniature tsunamis, at least they looked that way to her, and not one swimmer seeming to care that the pool water raged like rapids.
He stopped at the end of the pool, not even out of breath, not choking or gagging on any inhaled water, never sinking even for a moment as surely she would, and even smiling if one could imagine. She could have been happy or certainly comfortable watching from the edge never actually getting wet. But she had to find a way to go beyond that edge. The ‘day plan’, as she called it, into 3 feet of water where she would hope for a miracle or at least hope not to drown.
“Come on A.J. you can do it,” Kato said. “It’s only three feet of water. You can stand – see?”
She duly noted his keen observation of depth. “I’ll get there when I’m ready,” she replied gripping the railing, and moving her toes ever so slowly to the edge of each step that lead to deeper waters, inspecting the ridge as if it were a cliff.
He has no idea that three feet of water is her ‘giant leap for mankind’, or so that expression went for those who walked on the moon. She knew he didn’t understand what went on in her head, and often there was too much going on in her head, but he will just need to be patient or maybe let her face her demons at her own speed.
She had made it past the first step, and water that might look inviting in a curious way from a distance, reeked of bleach close up and she was already up to her knees in cleaning liquid. Still clutching the handrail, if she bent her knees just a bit she could let go with one hand and touch the water so lightly, making the tiniest of waves, and moving it in circles making it appear as if she was edging deeper toward Kato.
“C’mon,” he said, reaching out his hand and coaxing her.
“Go swim another lap and I’ll be ready when you get back.”
“Then I’ll just wait for you,” he said.
“Great,” she mumbled, but it wasn’t great.
She hoped to buy time to get her wits or even a hint of bravery, or maybe direct the voices in her head to sing in harmony for a change. He thought she was silly thinking the boat would sink, but offered to teach her to swim if that would help move the process along or at least get on with sailing, and she wasn’t sure anymore this was the help she needed.
She stepped off that cliff into water now above her knees, and why was he pretending to be so patient? She had two more steps before she reached the bottom of the pool, and that might be plenty accomplished for the first day, she reasoned. She wished it made sense to wear two life jackets at all times on the sailboat. If the boat went sinking, then at least she would bob on the ocean surface wearing two, not one life jacket waiting for rescue. She visualized herself as the Michelin man, and she smiled for a moment half knowing living on a boat in the Michelin man’s buoyant bodysuit would be ridiculous and half admitting she wouldn’t mind.
Straining, she stretched one leg with her toes pointed, feeling for the pool floor and deciding for no other reason than it was time, she let go of the handrail, grabbed the edge of the pool and found herself in water up to her waist.
“You did it!” Kato whooped, with arms overhead hoping she would give him a high ten, which she didn’t.
“That’s it for today.”
“Noooo,” Kato begged. “You need to get your face wet. You’ve gotten this far. It’s easy.”
“NO!” she blurted with a good stern look expecting he would back down, but before she realized what was happening he had both hands on top of her head and pushed her head down into the water. He must have gone mad she thought before she realized this was drowning, underwater for minutes, though it was likely seconds, and she fought hard to get back to the surface but not that hard because Kato wasn’t holding her down. Like a missile she shot out of the water, gasping.
Before she could beat Kato with both fists he pushed her down again and she fought like an animal, the water churning into frenzied bubbles and her arms flapping erratically. She was sure this was torture, if she even knew how torture felt, and after reaching the surface, Kato stopped, backing away. She sputtered, too winded to speak.
“Wow! You did great. It’s instinctive, right? All you have to do is breathe, ” Kato said with a wide grin.
Still spitting water, mouthfuls blocking her windpipe, she wanted to let her rage jump out of her throat and strangle this man who likely has a past working in Guantanamo. Though he did get her to put her head underwater she preferred to be mad and wonder if this is the right person to be captaining her sailboat. Still gasping, unable to speak, though when she could, they would be fighting words.
~~Fiction by J Wadsworth