20 Lines on Fear and Swimming

I have always sought out bodies of water. I have always taken pride in jumping in first. The ocean has always drawn me in and made me want to swim out further. Swimming has always made me feel bigger, not smaller. 

The two summers I spent lifeguarding in Gloucester, Massachusetts, before college, reinforced those feelings. The ocean was something to understand and to respect, but not to fear. At night, we swam in a quarry, mostly, but once we played hide and go seek in the moonlit ocean. I remember every swim from those summers as invigorating. 

I have never been afraid of the ocean. On Sunday night, when my friend was still here and the town was dead, a swim seemed the logical choice of entertainment. We threw our bikes on the sand and walked to the water.  It opened up, black and endless, under the stars. Something grabbed at my throat, my ankles, and my stomach. I had my feet in the water and they didn’t want to take me any farther. It was a calm ocean- sleepy, even - but I was so afraid. Lucy teased me. I dunked and practically ran out. I felt shrunken, not invigorated. 

This isn’t a wild ocean. It's family-friendly. If I think about it, it’s the same as the Gloucester beach where I lifeguarded, the Rhode Island beach where I grew up. But I feel myself pulling back from what I don’t know. I came south to throw myself back in. Yesterday, I stood waist-deep in the waves. Today, I swam out past the first break, showing myself there’s no pull. Tomorrow, I’m going to take a surf lesson, and let myself float a little.