I am seven years old and taking swimming lessons.
My costume: a tri-colored pastel swimming suit.
I love going underwater to retrieve the weighted rings
and wands the teenage instructor throws into the water
when our eyes our closed. I won’t jump off the diving board,
but am obsessed with playing this modified game of fetch.
I am eager to please. This has something vaguely
to do with my father wanting a student, a sponge instead
of a child. Over and over, incessantly, I plunge into
the water, forever retrieving these colored wands and
rings, returning them to the instructor. I always collect
the most and in the shortest amount of time. I also play
little league, and while not the fastest runner, I can
whack the crap out of the ball–once hitting it so hard
that it knocked my father down and broke the ball point
pen in his front pocket. But t-ball is small fries compared
to retrieving these items underwater. I am a frenetic mermaid,
one who incessantly pesters the instructor for THIS GAME.
I am completely uninterested in all others. This is probably
the first indication of how severely goal-oriented I would
turn out to be as an adult. One day after class, I attempt
to enter the women’s changing room at the exact moment
as someone else exits it. The door opens over my right foot
and it hurts, it stings fiercely, but I think nothing of it
until someone else notices I am bleeding profusely into the
drain below the changing benches. “You need a first aid kit,”
she says, and I remember very little after that except that
I was crying, I was sobbing, the blood wouldn’t stop gushing,
seven year old me was convinced the toe next to the big one
was practically severed (it wasn’t.) I’m not sure how I found
my mother or how my mother found me, but I remember spending
the rest of that summer with my foot elevated and not being
able to do much. I quit swimming lessons and t-ball and sports
never held much interest for me after that.

That incident is the first time I remember failing.

I had almost lost one of my toes,
I reasoned,
better to stop while I was ahead.

Instead of running the risk that
the other four might be brutally severed.

It remains the only noticeable scar I’ve acquired.
Now I have some tenderness for it: a reminder of
where tenacity begins and where it ends.

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