Learning to Swim
While living on the island, we were exposed to the new concept of beaches and swimming, which was something we would never do if we stayed in Vietnam. The ocean, the rocks, and the woods became our playground.
My first experience with the saltwater was fairly uneventful. The water tasted salty and yucky. I found myself constantly spitting so that I won’t swallow the saltwater. After a short while, I finally adapted and remembered to close my mouth.
My siblings and I would swim naked in the shallow part of the ocean and pretended that we were mermaids and mermen. When people approached, we swallowed ourselves under the sand. There were minimal waves. The gentle waves would slide our little bodies up and down the sand. The warm salt water was crystal clear and clean. We could see directly to the bottom.
My cousins, Anh Huy and Chú Thưởng tried to teach us to swim. They took us out to the deep end. They wanted to teach us how to tread water in the deep end. Before that, they taught us how to do the doggy paddle and float on our back. I learned to hold my breath in the water. I also learned that I could open my eyes to the water. That was cool. Anh Huy also taught me how to swim like a frog. Best of all, I learned how to float on my back. I didn’t have to do too much to stay afloat. I can do this all day long.
At one point, my devious little mind thought “hmm, perhaps, I can float on my back until I reach Vietnam. I can come home to Mẹ Ðức.” Then the thoughts of sharks and other ocean predators quickly shifted my naïve judgment.
Anh Huy introduced us to a spot where we could swim from one shallow side to another shallow side and in the middle was the deep part. My sister, Hanh, went first. In the middle of crossing from one shallow side to another, Hanh panicked. She started to take in water and fought feverishly to stay afloat. Anh Huy quickly pulled her over to the shallow end. After witnessing her episode, I got wigged out. I froze when it was my turn. My legs turned into jello mush.
“I can’t do it!” I told Anh Huy. “Let someone else do it.”
I chickened out and waded myself back to the shallow part of the water and gave up learning how to swim in the deep part. I wanted to continue to be a mermaid in the shallow where I can touch the sand.
Because of my stubbornness, I did not learn how to tread water. I did not face my fear so the fear of swimming in the deep end is still with me today.