I have an odd relationship with water. I drink it from time to time, of course, despite W.C. Fields’ pronouncements on the matter. I bathe in it though to tell you the truth I prefer showers to baths (there’s a clue there). I’ve enjoyed the occasional hot tub with friends (as long as things aren’t too hot). Nothing makes me happier than to stand on the shore of a big lake or, better yet, the ocean and watch the water move. It is, in fact, my favorite interaction with the natural world.
I’ve gone sailing, tried water-skiing (exactly once!) been on big boats and in canoes. I’ve gone deep sea fishing on the open waters of the Pacific where the swells were bigger than the mast of the boat. I’ve taken swimming lessons as an adult and have gone swimming in lots of bodies of water. I confess, like all true Maritimers, to prefer salt water to fresh and to having relatively little enjoyment of being over my head no matter what type of water we’re talking about. I’ve even been snorkeling.
Pretty impressive for someone who is terrified of drowning (and yet still foolishly imagines it would be the best way to go, if, like Virginia Wolff, one could simply put stones in one’s pockets and drift away).
This is not an irrational fear. I’ve almost drowned twice. The first was as a young boy — 11 or 12 I guess — at the Dickey Park swimming pool in Amherst. I couldn’t swim but was encouraged by other kids to jump in the deep end. ‘Just aim for the shallow part — you’ll reach a wall and pull yourself out.’ Unfortunately the wall I reached was the bottom of the pool. Luckily someone noticed and the lifeguard , Danny Dolan, (I still remember his name) pulled me out before too much damage was done. Later, my brother, faced with a similar but much more dangerous rescue, became a bronze medallion swimmer and a lifeguard. Me, not so much.
Years later, I was learning how to white-water canoe. The last instruction I remember was: ‘if you dump in white water be sure to push away from the canoe so it doesn’t pin you to the rocks’. Sadly, this is very bad advice when you are actually in a deep pool of swirling water at the bottom of the rapids. This was in Yellowknife so the water was exceptionally cold.
I would have died that day for sure if my partner (and ex-wife) hadn’t been a marvellously strong swimmer. I remember she grabbed me and pulled my face close to hers. ‘Get on the fucking canoe’, she yelled. I did. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here today. But I would no longer be afraid of drowning.
And that’s ten minutes.