Monday, July 21, 2008

Over My Head

The cool water was in sharp contrast to the hot stabs of pain that shot through my feet from the hidden rocks below.
"Come on, Dad. Don't be a Pansy!"
I'm not a Pansy.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm comin'."
I watched as my daughter waded out into the middle of the river. Slowly, cautiously, I followed along. "Be careful," I yelled.
We were swimming in a river that flows through South Royalton, VT. We had parked the car along the side of the road and entered into a small, meandering tributary of the larger river twenty or thirty yards downstream. The day was hot; the water was cool. A perfect combination.
We passed a young couple playing fetch with their nine-month old bloodhound - a beautiful dog with a deep, baying sound. I had just dunked below the surface of the water. I ran my fingers through my wet hair when I realized that Jenna was now ahead of me wading in the middle of the river.
"Are you kneeling down?" I asked.
"No, the water's over my head here."
"Is it over MY head there?"
"Yeah. Probably."
Great. Just great.
I followed Jenna and Bridget through the slow-moving water and, sure enough, the water was VERY over my head. I swam for an outcropping of rocks, sure that the water level must be lower there. It was. Standing next to the rocks I watched as Jenna and Bridget caught up with Jim (Bridget's dad) who had made it to the main waterway. I watched as a family on inner-tubes came down the river. Jim had mentioned that there was a place to rent inner-tubes somewhere along the river. Clearly he was right. It looked like fun.
Finally we all caught up with each other and surveyed the river before us. The current was strong; not too strong, but it was moving at a good clip. Jim decided that he was going to swim over to an eddy among the huge rocks that jutted up from beneath the river. Jenna's eyes were wide with excitement. I knew that she would soon be joining him.
A Brief discussion later and Jenna and Bridget were going to ride the current down to the next outcropping of rocks. "Be careful" I said again.
"I will, Dad."
With a whoop and a holler they were off. I watched silently as Jenna and Bridget were pulled downstream. Arms were in motion the whole time as they bobbed and weaved their way through the current. They both grabbed onto the boulders and pulled themselves up close to it. When she emerged from the water the smile on Jenna's face was huge. Both of them seemed very pleased with themselves.
Jenna looked back upstream. "Come on, Dad! It's fun."
Fun, she says.
"I'm coming," I said as my fear of water was bubbling just below the surface of my demeanor.
I hate swimming over my head. I can't do it. Well, I can do it but it is with a very liberal dose of fear. Swimming in a current just added to my anxiety - because I have never, ever done it.
Still, there up ahead was my daughter. Smiling and laughing, waiting for her old man to join her at the rocks.
I pushed off from the shallows into the current. I was swept along quickly and I laughed for a second at the watery ride. Then the bottom of the river fell out from beneath me. I was in free fall down the river.
Panic grabbed me by the throat and shook hard.
Suddenly I was wading and swimming just to keep myself on course. I desperately wanted to feel the riverbed underneath me again, rocks and all. Just something, anything, to keep me from going under. I bumped against the first outcropping of rock beneath the water's surface. The rocks jutted out deeper and farther than I first thought. I maneuvered myself out a little further away from them. I was looking for something to grab onto. Bridget's hand appeared before me. "I've got you," she said as she grabbed my hand and pulled my to the rocks. Once perched on the damp boulders I felt the fear drain away somewhat.
"Isn't that great?" Jenna asked, smiling broadly.
"Oh, yeah. Absolutely."
"We should swim over there," she said gesturing to the main rock encampment along the roadway. Two families were also enjoying the water from these rocks. It was a serene spot. It was situated directly across the most powerful part of the current.
"Sure. We can do that." I said, gearing up for the next swim.
Bridget went first, then Jenna. They made it easily. For me, it was the same problem. I put my head down and swam hard for the rocks. Halfway across I could feel the current moving me away from the boulders. Fear's icy grip tickled at my brain as I redoubled my efforts. By the time I made landfall I was exhausted and out of breath.
And scared. I held onto that rock for dear life.
It was decided that one more ride down the current was in order. I knew (hoped) that I had one more swim in me so we jockeyed back into position and repeated the run.
Once back at the boulders Bridget and I watched as Jenna soared through the water - across the current - back to the rock encampment. Thanks to many summers in Cohasset waters my daughter has become an excellent swimmer. She LOVES the water.
As we watched Jenna clamber up onto the rocks on the opposite shore Bridget asked me, "Are you okay?"
I wanted to say "yes" and leave it at that.
"I'm afraid of the water; of being out over my head." I've never said that out loud before.
"Yeah. Absolutely. When Vic, Nick and Ben used to swim across Stetson Pond I was the one who stayed behind on shore. I can swim, but I don't like being out over my head."
The memory embarrassed me.
"Bridget smiled and said "It'll be okay." She offered to follow behind me in case I got into trouble. I agreed, thankful for her reassurance.
I looked out over the water. It was angry. The water churned and boiled, as if it defied any of us to risk crossing the current. Jenna had defied it twice. Now it was my turn to try it again. Fear percolated inside of me.
I hate being afraid. Today I wasn't going to be. Jenna had triumphed over the angry river god. Now it was my turn.
I turned to Bridget - "The things I do for my daughter" - as I plunged ahead into the cold, swirling and bottomless abyss.


Blogger Fox In Detox said...

Wow... that must have been tough for you to do. I know what that panic feels usually happens when there's 200 feet of water over my head, and I'm all alone at the bottom. Yea, I'm a pansy too. :o)

(ps...great post)

9:23 AM, July 21, 2008  
Blogger 1st Lady said...

My goodness Andy, that took some courage! Great story. I love your new profile photo too, its superb!

11:02 AM, July 21, 2008  

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