Not Having Learned to Breathe in Water

I've always been afraid
of getting in any water that looks
like it will definitely go over

my head. Until third grade,
I used to be afraid to even stand
in the shower and let water run

over my head and face. Close your eyes,
I was instructed. But what does it mean
to fear drowning even on solid ground?

Nevertheless I tried learning to swim
once. The group instructor at the Y
gave us foam noodles and showed us

how to kick off. The first few times
she'd lead us down to the middle
of one lane then turn back around.

I can say I learned at least
how to float. But holding on to a rubber
board and trying to propel my body across

that deep, it's like I forgot how to breathe.
I stood up in a panic. The rest of the class
was learning to turn their heads: one

side first, then the other. On the far
end, children in bright suits jumped in,
paddling and stroking without fear.

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