Many summers ago when I was about 10 years old, my mother decided it was time my brother and I learned to swim. Our teacher was Mrs. Johnson. I’ll never forget her. She had more freckles than a Dalmatian has spots, and frizzy hair that she kept tucked up in a white swim cap.
On the fourth day of class, Mrs. Johnson announced we could jump off the diving board. I remember thinking, “This lady is nuts. That board must be 20 feet in the air.” All the other kids lined up, even my brother. The traitor.
They were actually arguing about who got to go first. Not me. I stood my ground, my feet planted firmly in the shallow end of the pool, and watched as they jumped off one by one, again and again.
A couple more lessons went by and the more Mrs. Johnson pleaded with me, the more determined I was that I was not going to jump off anything higher than a shoe box. On the last day of class, she finally convinced me to climb up on the board and look around, to get a feel for what it was like. She promised that I didn’t have to jump.
I inched my way to the end of the board. My teeth were chattering and my scrawny little knees were knocking. I reached my destination and as I stood there proudly waving to all the other kids, Mrs. Johnson snuck up behind me and gave me a push. My screams were heard in at least three counties. I swallowed a gallon of water, but I didn’t drown.
Over the years I learned to tolerate being in the water. I even learned to water ski (always while wearing a life jacket), but I still panic when I’m higher than a shoebox. Airplanes terrify me. Driving over high bridges causes heart palpitations. Ski lifts and Ferris wheels are off-bounds. And when I’m at the pool I stay as far away from the diving board as possible…just in case Mrs. Johnson is still around.