Swimming Lessons

Photo by Tim Stief on Unsplash

Growing up with two siblings — a twin and an older brother a couple of years older than us — was like being on a forever summer break. The games that were reserved for mornings never stopped, unless it was time to change into our school uniforms. Nor did the ice cream nights (thanks universe, for parents who don’t care for school nights). Every study break included milkshakes along with games we had made up or been passed on by others. But mostly it was the games we had invented and the new ones we were always making up using objects we lived with, and back then, there were a lot of objects in the house that was home.

A memory (or more) of the three of us and the days we shared, the days we fought, the days we cried for each other, flashes in front of my eyes almost on a daily basis. I wonder whether the memory is painful or bittersweet or a treat, depending on how my day is going. I wonder how I can call any memory with two people who my life revolved around painful. And then I look at the two of us standing next to each other, not three but two.

Not three but two. Which always reminds me of some of the fondest days of my life: swimming lessons. Except, back then, I was not one of the two. We used to go to this vast swimming pool with our parents every weekend, where we would float in the shallow end and look at teenagers conquering the diving board, dreaming our own dreams of becoming something like our mutual favourite Olympic medalist.

While two of three dared to achieve this dream and climbed the stairs leading to the diving board, there I was, sitting by the deep end — never having ventured beyond the four-feet marker — looking up, both literally and otherwise at these two. They looked nothing less than my idols, standing at the edge in red swimsuits, smiling and waving down at us, ready to jump in any second. And jump they did.

It was until much later, maybe a couple of months after this magnificent dive, that our father caught me unawares and threw me in the deep end after I had packed my float and was ready to go home. Until then, it had been me by myself and them by, well, them by each other’s side.

While I curse father for relying on the age-old tradition of throwing kids in the deep end to teach them how to swim, I will always be grateful for this mutual hobby (if swimming was just that for us) that we developed. Evenings shifted to going to the pool followed by cheese sandwiches by the poolside. Swimming meant new games to be invented but they would be underwater now! And with more challenges! Our lives changed and the three became three.

On school nights, we spent almost every evening in the pool, and on holidays, mornings and even afternoons, despite our burning, peeling skin. When I think of our days in the pool and the difficulties that swimming lessons brought for us, I can remember the exhilaration in our exhaustion after spending two hours, more on weekends, in the pool. I remember our hunger to perform well in the pool, even though no one was watching and we wanted someone to watch, but I remember the hunger — this one very physical — that we felt in our stomachs after we exited the shower rooms. I don’t remember much about the meals we had after our swimming sessions but I do remember the amount of food we consumed in no time at the dinner table. Those were the days we brought life to the words ‘living life to the fullest’.

While these days stay vivid in my mind at all times, the swimming lessons are what I remember more and what impacted me inside, as well as outside, of the swimming pool. It was through these lessons that I learnt about my body, my stronger limbs, how much breath I can hold, how weak I am against so many others but the fact that I keep going is splendid.

Back then, I was physically weaker than my two siblings, a skinny girl with the body of someone three years younger than her. Always the smallest one of the lot. But it was in the pool that I learnt to show up, perform, show up, perform, show up, perform, an endless difficult cycle. It was here that my body learnt to endure challenges. Somewhere along the line, my body forgot these lessons. But with another kind of physical practice, they came rushing back in. And so I endure, years after I last stepped into the pool.

There are days I miss the pool. Leaving this routine is one of my biggest regrets, obviously because of the emotions and memories attached to it. But what is to be regretted the most are the swimming lessons that my heart mastered during this period of mine.

Being in the pool taught me to control the anger I have inside of me (and there is a lot of it). Now that I don’t swim, well, it shows what happened to that lesson. It was here I learnt how to navigate the heartbreak of losing a sibling, a friend. It was in the pool we were united and it was when we called it quits with the pool, we called it quits with several other bonds. So it is now, after years of enduring and showing up, I feel and intend to step back into the pool again, again as a child with a float around her waist, waiting for someone to tell her to join the other two, to have courage, to feel her feelings of aloneness, to have hope. And to always invent games and to enjoy the playtime while it lasts. It is all that matters.




Talking about personal relationships, feelings I feel, and issues I care about. Sometimes attempting poetry.

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Talking about personal relationships, feelings I feel, and issues I care about. Sometimes attempting poetry.

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