This story is by Aaba RaDale and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I have had an unsatisfied goal of accepting fear without freaking out. My boundless imagination kept pushing me to envision what it would look like to have succeeded. Each attempt to move forward became fractured. There were no limits to the images that continued to blind my thought processes. The roadblocks grew higher and denser as I continued the inability to feel victory.
Growing up in central Texas, the highlight of every week was when we all piled in the car and went to our favorite spot on the Brazos River. It was always hot, and the water was terrific to wade in after fishing all day. By the time I was four years old, my uncle always walked with me on the rocks. I was safe, at least while he was holding my hand. Then came the day when he thought I was old enough and big enough to maneuver the rocks alone. He released my hand. My security blanket vanished.
The memory still haunts me of the hand that let go. The sudden drop as I slid off the rock. The burning feeling as the water rushed in, overwhelming fear, until nothing. When I opened my eyes, I was on the ground hearing my family saying, “Wake up, Ruthie. Wake up.” It took a good hour for me to take in a breath without coughing frantically.
This was the beginning of a life fearing water. Or ever trusting anyone to hold my hand near water. Multiple people, groups, and even psychological guidance worked hours to give me the confidence to get into the water without fear. It took years for me to agree to even letting my father buddy me in the water. When I was 14, teaching me to swim. Just as I thought I was there, able to swim a dozen feet repeatedly without panicking, I overdid it. Determined to progress and to make my father proud, I kept going. Before I knew it fatigue sank in and I promptly sank to the bottom. Although it felt like at least five minutes, my father was right there and grabbed me before I gulped my second swallow of pool water.
This plummeted me back to the desperate insecurity I had fought for years attempting to overcome. Everything in my life seemed to have be surrounded by unending water. The only thing I could do was to consciously stay clear of situations that would trigger my fear. Having developed a healthy respect for the water and a zest for life, I turned toward things I could have more control over in my life. Non-water things.
Years later my husband, a master swimmer, could not prevent me from convulsive type shaking and getting sick each time he attempted to get me into the water. The harder he tried, the more I resented his efforts. Rather than letting it tear us apart, we got past this part of our lives by his respecting my fear, my choosing to stay on land, and his agreeing to not pressure me.
There was no end to water being a way of life for us. Everywhere we turned. Water. Boundless water. My husband’s fishing charter business was very successful, and he was on the water almost every day. I could tell he would have liked for me participate, but he never brought it up. Both our son and daughter were born to be in the water. They were on swim teams; our son became a lifeguard and frequently captained the charter boat. Our daughter earned multiple swimming and diving championships. Their children are also naturals in the water. I remained content to watch, photograph, and catalog their progress through the years.
I have continued to have an unwavering deathly fear of the water, even into my 70th decade. Despite the fear I still have of the water, my favorite place to calm my soul is at the edge of the sea. Walking along on the beach just where the final bubbles of the wave breaks on the sand. Just before the waves retreat into the sea, refreshing me and reminding me “I’m alive!”. This has not conquered my fear, but it has given me a resolve that allows me to enjoy the water in a way that I never knew before.