I am a good swimmer. My sisters and brother were runners but I was a swimmer. I swam laps following the black line up and down the pool; before work, at lunch time or after work. It was my way to keep fit. It took me a long time to learn to swim but once I’d mastered the technique I was fine. Growing up in a small country town meant swimming lessons in a large and very cold Olympic size pool. No indoor pool or heating.
I was also a scuba diver. I learned to dive on the island of Utila, Honduras, in the Caribbean Sea. It was a cheap place to learn and a very warm place to learn. I loved it from my very first dive. I thought I would feel claustrophobic. Instead, I felt free.
Clea was a good swimmer too. Although she would pretend to be scared and cling to me, she was a water baby with a desire to be a mermaid. Even in the bath, on the rare occasion that she managed to have a bath on her own, she would pretend she was a mermaid with a long tail. She would recite a poem over and over again in the hope that she would grow a tail. I wrote a post before called La Sirenita (Little Mermaid) about Clea wanting to be a mermaid.
My children began swimming lessons at about 18 months old. They all began in the big, cold pool of my youth but then we moved to the indoor pools of Canberra. Until the beginning of this year, we stayed with the same swim school. We now go to a new pool; one that Clea never entered.
I would watch Jordi and Omar at the old pool, searching for Clea in the ‘bubble’ pool where she would swim while they had their lessons. She would wave to me and smile. Sometimes I would get in with all three of them. They’d sit on my legs and I would try to toss them in the air. Or they would take turns hanging on to my back as we would glide down to the bottom of the pool.
I have not swum a lap since Clea died. I have hardly been in a swimming pool. I have no desire to be under the water. Now, I watch my sons who are learning to breaststroke and butterfly, and have almost mastered freestyle and backstroke. I do not get in the pool with them.
We do not want our sons to be scared of the water; after all, we live in Australia where water is part of everyone’s summer existence. We take them to the beach and they understand that there are bad waves and good waves. I rarely get in the ocean. I cannot bear the waves smashing into me or lashing my legs. I do not want to dive under the waves as I delighted in as child.
I still have some of my scuba gear – my wetsuit, dive belt, fins, snorkel and goggles. I once dreamed that I would die in the ocean with my dive belt strapped to my waist and that I would sink into the depths searching for Clea. The gear sits in the wardrobe.
Jordi wanted to know why he had to attend more swimming lessons because he thinks he can already swim. I told him that one of my children has drowned and that I had no intention of having another one drown. But she wasn’t swimming he said. And he is right. But her death certificate simply says drowning; it does not say she drowned in a tsunami.
Now their lessons are 45 minutes, not the 30 minutes they were before, so I have more time to sit and think and watch. I sit and remember my daughter’s legs and arms draped around me on that last day of her life and her snorkeling in the warm Pacific waters. I had taught her how to walk backwards into the water with her fins on her feet. I can see her smiling and tripping over her own feet.
If only I had told her to wrap herself around me as we ran. She would have hung on; I know she would have done. She clung to me all the time, wrapped around me, hands up my shirt, always touching me, making sure I was there. But I wasn’t there.