Fear of drowning

This column will eventually be about my mom. But it starts with my first and worst phobia: fear of water.

As a kid I was terrified of swimming.

Looking back, this fear was not irrational.

I grew up in Iowa, a good 2,000 miles from any sizeable body of water. There was no swimming pool in my hometown, and our creek was downstream from the sewage treatment plant. “Treatment” was just part of the name.

Even our baths were taken in a claw foot tub with only two inches of water allowed per five boys.

So it was no surprise that my first exposure to swimming lessons at age seven was traumatic.

One chilly May morning I was put on a school bus with strangers for a 30-minute ride to the nearest public pool. Upon arrival, we were herded into a cold dressing room (there was no roof) for a colder shower.

I was seven years old, with two-tenths of an inch body fat, and had never taken a shower in my life. I remember physically shaking. It literally took my breath away, if I could have drawn a breath through blue lips.

In the pools of those days even the shallow end was three foot deep. We marched out and plunged in. The first thing our “certified” high school instructor told us to do was stick our heads under water.

So here I am, a terrified, freezing, shivering child, surrounded by strange kids, in deep water for the first time in my life, and told by a teenager to dive under. I remember dipping my chin in the water for one second then jumping up spluttering and shaking.

I just couldn’t do it. All around me, the other kids were like sea otters. Laughing, diving, paddling, kicking. I sat on the edge of the pool the rest of that dreadful morning, and all subsequent ones.

I was so traumatized by the ordeal, the next May I would rush home after school trying to intercept the newspaper so my parents wouldn’t know when lessons were scheduled.


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Fredericksburg Standard

P.O. Box 1639
Fredericksburg, TX 78624-4228