With each swim stroke I stretch and roll my body from side to side, releasing tension into the water. It’s my birthday. Number six-oh on the hit parade. At the end of the first length I somersault, flip onto my back and push off the side of the pool wall.
My parents gave me a Chatty Cathy for my sixth birthday. Ever notice she had the same voice as Talking Tina on the Twilight Zone?
I reach the opposite end of the pool, turn slowly and deliberately, allowing the water to suspend me. The sun shines through the liquid ceiling and bathes the concrete and mosaic lines with refracted light. I push off the wall with my feet.
On my tenth birthday, my dad opened a bank account for me with a dollar for each year. I felt very grown up with my passbook in hand.
Missing the pool’s edge I falter in the next flip-turn. Water fills my nose and stings for a moment. A few strokes later the sensation passes.
One chilly afternoon, almost three months after my first two-digit birthday, the world changed with the president’s assassination. Months later the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan and puberty appeared on my horizon.
Right, left, breathe to the right. Left, right, breathe to the left. There’s a rhythm to everything.
My sixteenth birthday passed without notice. No party. Hardly a nod from my parents. Why does this still hurt? It happened over half a century ago. Get over it, old girl. Move on.
Two laps, then three, I switch to a new stroke at each turn. Freestyle. Backstroke. Breast stroke.
At twenty one, I held my six-month old son in my arms. By my thirtieth we’d multiplied that number by three sons.
Back to freestyle stroke I swim the length without taking a breath.
The Gulf War called my husband back to active duty Navy. The boys grew in his absence without taking a breath. Upon his return, I found a job as a cake decorator in a grocery store. My boss hid in the walk-in cooler to decorate a cake for my fortieth birthday.
I submerge and turn in the water, then surface for a gulp of air. Swimming on my back, I count strokes and ceiling tiles so I don’t bump my head on the pool’s edge.
My fiftieth birthday came and went virtually unnoticed. My middle son married, a year later the eldest also married. The youngest left home to pursue his music. We were blessed with a granddaughter. In the midst of it all I discovered my latent passion for writing.
Like water, life rushes by. I don’t feel older, but my mirror tells a different story.
One last time I flip, dive underwater, skim the pool floor and ask myself, “What will I be when I grow up?”
Beside my special birthday this week, Diana Nyad, an incredible woman realized her dream at the tender age of 64. Four previous failed attempts didn’t deter her. I doff my swim cap to your, Diana! To read more click here.
Thank you, Diana, for the birthday gift of hope and determination. You made my day!