I turned 25 without knowing how to swim or ride a bike. I went so long without doing either that they had become boogeyman, obstacles that could not be overcome. It wasn't until I was on a date being teased for not knowing how to do either, that I decided to learn how to do both. I really don’t like being teased, especially by men. It hits a button in my psyche that makes me see red. I guess growing up with older brothers will do that to you. Making the decision that night may be bit of an exaggeration, but it sure did strengthen my resolve. I was 26 years old. I was going to learn how to ride a bike. I was going to learn how to swim. My life would be dramatically changed.
I had already dropped a strong hint with my best friend that I wanted a beach cruiser for my birthday. He was well aware I didn’t know how to ride a bike. I told him if he spent the money on it, I wasn’t just going to let it collect dust in my house. I’d learn how to ride it. He relented as long as he wasn’t tasked with teaching me. A week after my 26th birthday, the bike arrived. My mom and I listened to Queen while we put it together. She was surprised I didn’t know how to ride; she thought I had gotten it down during childhood. My brothers were always bike riding and skateboarding. That phase had missed me completely. The bike was assembled, the sun was starting to set, kids in my neighborhood were out on their bikes. I had no clue what the fuck I was doing. My mom literally ran along the side with me. I fell anyway. The kids in the neighborhood told me I could do it if I didn’t give up. The old men on their porches raised their beers at me. Two hours later and I was slightly annoyed that I hadn’t mastered bike riding, but I wasn’t going to give up. My mom tried. My friends sent my encouraging texts. I went out alone. I watched tutorials on youtube and pinned on pinterest. I am a fast learner, I am wicked smart, not being able to do something I want to do drives me up a wall, because I usually pick on things quickly. I fell of the bike more times than I can remember. It took three weeks. My older brother asked if I wanted him to help me. In a fit of desperation I said yes. He came over on a hot July morning, we went outside to biking trail near my mom’s apartment. Twenty minutes later I was a bike rider. And of course I experienced the worst fall I have ever had on a bike, and got a rad two inch scar on my left elbow to show for it. Oh, and the guy from the date? We didn’t go bike riding together, as I had imagined. He told me he didn’t want to see me again via text message the day after I learned how to ride said bicycle.
I had already learned how to ride a bike, and I had another eight weeks or so of summer. Why not learn how to swim? Because swimming fucking terrified me. I almost drowned as a child. I have a lot of memories of my early childhood, but that is one of the most vivid. I was three years old. I was at a party with my family in Pasadena and it was blazing hot that day. I had on a bright blue bathing suit with sparkly gems sewn onto it. My mom was going in the house for a few minutes and I was not to get in the pool without her. Following directions? I’ve never been so good at that. Of course I thought I could go in the pool without her and be okay. I sank like a fucking stone. My life literally flashed before my eyes and it only took two seconds because I was three. I remember thinking I was dying, but I barely had the words for what that meant. And then my oldest brother saw me and yanked me out of the pool. I coughed up a shit ton of water and then my mom proceeded to yell at me for almost dying. For years I was plagued by nightmares of drowning. Drowning is my go-to metaphor for emotional distress in my writing. The shitty part about not knowing how to swim, was that I love the water. The beach is my happy place. I loved putting my feet in the pool. Hell, I’d even hang out in the shallow end for hours. I longed to go surfing. I wanted to go spear fishing. I had never been to a water park. I had to learn how to swim.
I got lucky with swimming. One of my little sisters in Sigma Kappa is not only a lifeguard, but a swim instructor, and her apartment building has a pool. I showed up at her place at the end of summer with my bathing suit, a borrowed swim cap, and my resolve. She knew I didn’t know how to swim. She knew I had almost drowned. She basically knows everything about me, being my little. She was patient with me, and kind, but also stern. I freaked the fuck out. I’m not even going to try and pretend that I was like a duck and took to the water like a prodigy. I didn’t even want to get my face wet. I refused to bob under the water because I was so frightened. We took our time, we went slowly. We spent all fucking day at her pool; from 10am to 7pm. I was floating my 12pm. I was kicking by 1pm. I fucking learned how to swim that day. I still cannot back stroke. I fell into the pool backwards as a kid and I start hyperventilating every time I try to back stroke.
I thought that learning how to ride a bike and swim would lead to tons of zany adventures and I’d meet brilliant and sexy people while diving off of rocks into the ocean below. My life would be dramatically changed. I figured I’d be going to farmer’s markets with friends and carrying bouquets of peonies home in the basket on my bike. My bike doesn’t even have a basket. More often then not, I’m riding to the beach early in the morning by myself to make sure the ocean is still there and then going back home before it’s too hot. The few pool parties I’ve been to since learning how to swim have been fun and carefree. That is not to say that my life was not dramatically changed. Bike riding taught me that it is never too late to do something that I want to do. Other kids learn how to bike ride at 6. I did it at 26. I can do what I want to, in my time. When I learned how to swim, I legitimately looked my biggest fear in the face, and said fuck you. I remind myself of that all of the time. There is nothing that I should be afraid of anymore, and when I do feel scared, does it really matter? I’ve already conquered my worst fear.
I’m 27 years old. Who wants to go for a bike ride or a swim? I’m ready.