Class Struggle

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After I read Felicia Day’s memoir, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), I felt like I should take a crack at writing down my own memories, at least in a similar style, and at least for the practice. Today is the first day I started to feel like I was getting it a little bit right, and I wanted to share my work, so here goes:

The Swimming Class Struggle

Another time, probably not that same year, but I can’t be sure, our entire school year went to swimming lessons together. Or maybe it was just our one class. The main point is that they had divided us at the very beginning of our schooling into three grades of swimmers: “A”, “B” and “C”. The best swimmers were in “A”. They swam laps. They dove for weighted rings on the pool floor. They were athletes.

I was in “C” grade. We did things like sit outside the pool, on the hot concrete, kicking our legs in the air and pretending to swim. This was probably for fear of drowning us. Nobody wants that kind of trouble. And, I have to admit, they had a point. I wasn’t a strong swimmer. When they got me in the pool and told us to edge further down towards the deep end, holding onto the side, everyone else just had their hands on the very edge of the pool. Imagine if someone dropped you off a cliff and you could only grab on by your fingertips. Like that, but floating in water. My body only understood the “hanging off a cliff” part, which was why I preferred to use my whole arm over the 30cm or so of tiles at the pool edge, gripping firmly onto the lip at the other side.

I was probably hyperventilating and doing my best panicky cat-in-the-bath face, too.

The craziest part was that other kids, stuck behind me in the queue, were letting go of the wall to swim around me like some parade of insane people unable to see what kind of danger they were in. Me with my sensible drowning cat style stayed firmly connected to solid ground.

The teachers noticed this. Of course. They came to encourage me to use slightly less of my arm to hang on, and to move faster, countering all of my rational arguments (“I’ll slip off”) with well-reasoned debate (“No, you won’t”). They never tricked me into following their death-wish.

And that’s how I ended up in grade “C”, sitting beside the pool, kicking in the air. You would think, based on all of that previous determination not to drown in the shallow end of a pool under the constant supervision of at least three adults would translate into happiness at not being forced to do any actual swimming. Here’s the thing, though: not wanting to drown is slightly different than not wanting to swim. I wanted to swim. I wanted to learn to swim. And I knew this grade “C” air-kicking nonsense wasn’t going to cut it in a swimming emergency.

So one year I promoted myself. Oh, I should mention, there was never any re-testing. Once I was graded a “C” in swimming, that was it, for life. You start in “C”, you stay in “C”, you die in “C”. Well, not “die”. Still, it was like they weren’t even trying to make us better swimmers. There was never a suggestion that, maybe, one day, we’d be ready to handle actual water. Well, I’d been doing C-grade swimming training for a couple of years. I knew I could keep up with the “B” grade class. So, one year, I just joined them. I made sure to do it at the beginning of a year, too, because that meant a new teacher who didn’t know me as one of the “C” grade. This was going to work! I slipped in with the “B” group who went all the way to the deep end of the pool, and were told to jump in and swim to the other end.

I jumped in. I swam my heart out. Years of air-kicking practice were paying off! I could do this! I was powering to the other end.

Thinking of how it looked from the outside, I’m surprised they had the patience to let me finish the lap. It must have taken several minutes. I may have been passed by the rest of the “B” group, coming back for a second lap. At the end of the pool, a stern adult face greeted me. The swimming teacher, who did remember me.

“Aren’t you supposed to be in the ‘C’ group?”

No. I am supposed to be learning to swim better, and you are supposed to be teaching me, preferably well enough to move up a grade by now.

I could have said that. It wouldn’t have made a difference. What I said instead was probably a mumbled “yes”, followed by a dripping walk of shame back to our spot on the concrete where I could get back to my air-kicking, water-free swimming lessons.

So that’s it. My best work so far, on telling my own memories in story form. I feel like it is simultaneously kind of good, certainly better than what I’d attempted before this, but I can see where it needs work, too. I’m going to keep practicing.

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