To Be A Swimmer

It helps if you grow up on an island. Then you will be surrounded by water and, if the island is small and poor enough, there will be not much to do and a lot of reasons to learn how to travel water with nothing but your arms to carry you.

Be a little girl from a pretty poor family. Let the sun set your pale skin on fire and cause your mother to complain that “you too sensitive”. She will beg your father to “take you someplace to cool off” so that the heat rash will get a break from burning so much. She will tell him to take you to the only place they know for a girl like you. It is not the pool. Remember you are poor and there is no pool anywhere around. It is not the bath, though you do have one bathtub in the small orange house you live in. Like the house, it is small and not enough to quench the fire that burns you from the inside out and the outside in. Maybe you will begin to wonder, how come you were born in this skin and how come you were born into this place, into this family and onto this tiny island.

Have a dad who listens to his wife, your mother, more obediently than you do. He will pick you up like a bag of oranges. You are nothing in his large arms. You are thin and light. The biggest thing about you is the “head of hair” that grows like wildfire from your scalp. Even that seems not built for this climate. Your dad will tousle this hair and say, “come, we going to the beach.”

Have a dad with a car. It will be the same car he’s had since the year before you were born. He will think that it is also his baby. He will keep it well. He will keep you well. He will put you in the front seat beside him and he will let you play with the radio while his baby takes you and him to the beach which is less than fifteen minutes from your house. Even the radio stations will remind you that you are stuck on a small spit of land. You will turn the knob back and forth between Radio Jamaica and the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation. Then you will look out the window and think about when you will live someplace else.

The ocean hems you in when you get there. Let your dad scoop you up while you are standing on the shore, scratching your itchy rash, and feeling like there is no escape across that much endless sea. Let him use his giant arms and throw you like the light thing you are into the biggest stretch of anything you’ve ever seen. It will catch you and cover you and then let you float to its surface.

Relax or it will drown you. Breathe easy or it will snake into your lungs and choke you from the inside out. Let your arms and your leg float out, like a starfish.

You will feel like a kind of sun and water fish. Your skin will be relieved.

Let it carry you on its own rhythms, but keep your eyes open. This is one way to travel on water—and to begin to swim.