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“Stitch”-ing my fear

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Photo by Karen La

by Mellisa Mulia

I hate water.

I loved the swimsuits, though, since mine was particularly colorful and sparkly, but I hated the implications of wearing a swimsuit, which is to physically get into the water.

Yet, at 6 years old, I had still tried to take another step into the iridescent pool of death, fighting the urge to retreat to where the land is dry, and to the bag of Cheetos I left behind.

Shutting my eyes and bracing myself for impact, I took another step down the stairs, leaving just one more before I could touch the bottom.

I hesitated to go further, as fear began to cloud my vision. My bravado was gone, leaving only me and the water that reached up to my neck. I hesitated to take the final step, wanting to accept the fact that I am a scaredy-cat and would probably not accomplish my life dream of being accepted into Gryffindor. But there was this voice in the back of my head.

No, you can do this.”

Pushing down the panic rising in my throat and ignoring the pressure of the water that was already up to my neck, I took one last step. I let go of my fear— rather stupidly—and miscalculated the space between the step and the bottom causing me to panic and scramble for the railing I so bravely did not hold onto while taking that last step. 

But it was too late.

I was enveloped in blue, blue and more blue; it was everywhere. I tried to get to the surface, but blue seemed to push me down further and further, choking the life out of me, blurring my vision, silencing the scream rising in my throat.

I was sure I was drowning, living through my worst nightmare.

  Regret and fear rushed through my veins. The lack of oxygen made the black dots mix with the iridescent blue. I flailed my arms in search of the stair railing, but I could not find it. All I saw in the mirage of black dots and chlorine was my dad’s legs facing away from me. He was too far.

“This is where I die,” said my inner voice.

My six years of life did not flash before me as the movies said they would; instead, I only felt panic, despair and desperation wash over me. I kept flailing, struggling to reach the surface, trying to attract attention from my dad, who was involved in conversation with a neighbor.

My sister Kerry was lounging on the poll deck like a sloth on a hot day, munching on Cheetos with a delighted look on her face, nonchalant as if she had all the time in the world.

Annoyance began to mix with my desperation as my world began to spin and spin; I was losing a grasp on reality. Flapping my arms and legs did no good in reaching the sunlight I so wanted to touch again, and gasp the air I needed in my lungs. I had never hated water so much. Fearing it, because it was a devil disguised as an angel, saving those dying from thirst and suffocating the living soul from a human at the same time. 

Somehow, amidst my flailing arms, the splashing sounds got my dad to turn around and finally lift my small body from the pit. I was hacking, coughing, shivering and scowling all at the same time at the pool of death.

“I told you to hold on to the railing!” my dad scolded me in a mix of Indonesian and English, as my sister, previously oblivious, and with Cheeto-dust covered hands, came over to see what the problem was.

I was crying hysterically, knowing I should have never gotten into the water, especially since I did not know how to swim.

Kerry handed me a bottle of water and I directed the full force of my 6-year-old glare at her, feeling offended that she would dare hand me a bottle of the very thing that tried to kill me. Fueled with oxygen now and blinded with rage, I slapped the bottle away and would have thrown her into the pool with my small 3-foot self if my dad hadn’t sat me down again.

After the near-drowning experience, I never willingly went into the pool or entered at all until a group of friends forced me into it and taught me how to move my legs and arms correctly. Yet, despite knowing how to somehow swim (if one second of floating and scrambling for the ledge counts) I never really got over my fear. I never had an affinity for water growing up. Ariel was not my favorite princess, and I always covered the ‘Knows how to Swim? No’ question on my Boys and Girls Club membership card. That was until one day 10 years later when I clicked on a video that led me into a fascinating discussion on sea animals and scuba diving.

I spiraled into a binge-watching phrase about the ocean and its wonders, feeling my fear of water dissipate with every video I watched, as a desire to learn how to properly swim replaced it. I clicked on multiple shark and orca videos, watched tips on scuba-diving, vlogs of shark encounters and somehow I was not as afraid as I used to be.

My fear suddenly seemed childish and unnecessary, and swimming did not seem so bad as it once was. Although I still do not know how to swim, perhaps one day in a serendipitous encounter, I will find myself floating above the water instead of submerged beneath it.

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