The only place I don’t feel monstrous is in the water.
I am nine years old. I am overweight, clumsy, and taunted mercilessly at school. I have recently developed asthma, and struggle to breathe. My classmates call me “Larda” or “The Congested Rat” – they are so very clever in their punishments.
It is at this age that I am learning to shapeshift, learning to disappear.
At home, I am the good girl – I keep my head down when my parents scream at me, I am quiet when my brother misbehaves. I am my mother’s best friend, listening to her adult secrets, hearing things no child should hear from a parent. I read as many books as I can get my hands on, transporting myself away one story at a time. At school, I am the smartest in my class, and as mentioned above, a social leper. I have few friends and do my best to minimize both praise and torture, hoping not to be noticed.
It is in water that I learn to dissolve and reform.
Strangely, miraculously, I am a good swimmer. I take lessons every summer at the community pool, and the skill comes very easily to me. My breathing calms when I am in the water, and I float easily, bobbing effortlessly on the surface. For what feels like the first time, I am able to relax my body, trusting that I am held. Though my clumsiness and excess weight usually make me afraid to take risks, I am at home on the diving board, falling with grace and without fear.
Over summer break, I swim constantly. When I’m in the pool, I pretend I’m a mermaid, sleek and beautiful, the sovereign of a vast underwater kingdom, and when Disney’s The Little Mermaid comes to theaters the following year, I am deeply distraught and puzzled by Ariel’s decision to leave her underwater home. Water is my alchemical elixir, exchanging monstrosity for magic.
As summer steps aside for autumn, I return to school, to home life, to the necessities of surviving childhood…but in the still, deep place in my heart, I am weightless, I am graceful, I am worthy.
Thank you, Water.