I was trying to focus on what the swim coach was saying, but my gaze was locked on her moving lips and the feeling of my own upper body shivering in the warm pool water. She had said that I could learn swimming even now, at forty. The soles of my feet rested on the bottom of the pool, yet my knees wobbled and threatened to buckle. I felt a floating sensation at the same time, as if the gentle movement of the pool’s water was first pushing me, then pulling me. I recalled a stronger sensation – of cold sea water shoving me, then sucking me. Then, in a split second, the deafening sound of the waves as they formed a great wall of ice before they crashed down, becoming liquid again. The water forcefully hurled me against the wall of the hotel, where ironically, the same water cushioned my impact. I choked and spluttered and tried to stay afloat, my arm floaties squeezing me as I watched my swim donut frisbee through the sky. The sea snatched me back, and I flailed my arms, trying to reach for something to hold on to. I had lost my whole family in that tsunami. I was eleven.
“Richard, are you listening?”
I saw her lips moving, but no sound came out. I turned my good ear towards her.
“I want you to kick your feet gently as you tread water. Soften your knees.”
I remembered kicking very hard, kicking to stay, to not be swept away by that supernatural water force. The salty taste choked me, filling my lungs and stinging my eyes.
I grabbed the pool’s edge, suddenly sickened by the smell of chlorine, and my fingers felt the gritty mortar joints between the smooth tiles. I clung hard, tasting the pool water, and wondered why it wasn’t salty.