The first time I discovered I had a fear of water, I was four years old. My mother had decided that she wanted me to get my ducks in a row and learn how to swim, even though we did not have a pool on our property. She quickly found some local swimming lessons and made my six year older brother take them with me. Daniel, the instructor leading the lesson, was a tall, muscular guy with dark brown hair, and chocolate colored eyes. He looked like a kind man, in his early 20s, but I thought he was anything but that. Since I had a fear of water, I would cry at the beginning of every lesson because I did not want to be in the water. The instructor found this to be very annoying, so he used a tactic of dunking me under water to show me that there was nothing to be afraid of, because I would not drown as long as he was there. This ultimately made my fear of water exponentially worse. After dragging me to four torturous classes, my mom allowed me to quit taking lessons because my fear was eating me alive and I was not making any progress. Looking back, it probably would have been better if she had forced me to get over my fear of water, because just over a year later, I nearly drowned.
It was the fourth of July, and I was now five years old. My family was spending the holiday with some family friends for the first time. The woman who owned the house was a very close friend to my mother, I called her Auntie Lorraine. Her house was a two-story Victorian style house in the hills of Redlands. She had a trampoline in her backyard and a large rectangular pool. Since I did not know how to swim and I did not like water, I spent the afternoon jumping on the trampoline and playing soccer with my brother. After an hour of playing, my mom retreated inside to use the bathroom, but before going she scolded my brother and I, “Stay AWAY from the pool until I get back!”. I understood her concern because I knew that neither of us could swim. As I was waiting for her to return, I began playing with a tiny, checkered bouncy ball, which I lost control of, leading it to roll over the edge of the pool. In hopes of grabbing it before it sank to the bottom, I sprinted over to the edge of the pool, got on my hands and knees, and reached my arm into the deep, dark, depths of the water to try and rescue my ball. Since I was in such a rush to get my ball, I did not realize how close I was to the edge of the pool, and I fell in. Immediately I started panicking, flailing my arms about, and inhaling water as the darkness grabbed my legs and pulled me further from the surface. It seemed like I would never get back to the top, when I felt two arms wrap around my midsection and drag me to the surface. Once air was back in my lungs, I was boosted out of the pool onto the hot cement, and I rolled onto my side and instantly began to cough up water and cry for my mom. The son of my mother’s friend, Aaron, had seen me fall into the pool and rushed to help me, ultimately saving my life. He was five years older than me, and a very strong swimmer. After I had coughed up all of the water, I thanked Aaron for his help. Before I could get up to go see my mom, I heard the back door of the house open, and my mom scream, “MARLEY RHEATTA WHAT HAPPENED?”. I cringed at her tone, knowing very well that I was on thin ice, and needed to be careful about what I said. It took several minutes for my mom to stop yelling and to realize that I had suffered enough already. At this point, my mother and I agreed that no matter how much I hated being in water, I had to learn how to swim.
Although it had been nearly six months since the drowning incident, I still did not know how to swim, but I would be learning very soon. My mom, her fiancé, my two siblings and I had just moved into a new apartment where there was a pool by the leasing office. Although we had access to the pool, my family never used it because my siblings and I could not swim. Our mother wanted to help us learn to swim, but she doubted her ability to teach three children to swim, and frankly, she was traumatized from my incident just six months earlier. It was also too expensive for three children to take lessons, so my mother’s fiancé decided he would teach us without telling her. One afternoon, Michael was watching my siblings and I because my mom had to go to traffic school, so right after he said goodbye to my mother as she left for the evening, he turned to my siblings and I and said, “Let’s get our bathing suits on!”. Once we were all in our suits, mine depicting Ariel the mermaid, Michael took us all to the pool. Although I expected him to get in the water and teach us, that is not what happened. As soon as we dropped our towels and water bottles off at a table, he took my brother and I and threw us in the deep end of the pool without warning. Immediately we began to panic and trash our limbs around until he reached in and grabbed us both by the wrist. He held us up near the surface as he calmly repeated instructions to us, “Swing your arms forward and kick your legs,” while explaining that if we did not swim, we would sink. I began to cough from inhaling water, as I continued to panic and fling cry. As I was not following instructions, Michael started repeating the same instructions, but louder this time. There started to be less splashing around me because my brother had got the hang of swimming. With uncertainty at first, I began to swing my arms and kick my legs just as he said, gaining confidence and strength as I flopped my arms in a counterclockwise motion and kicked my legs as if I were running. Once Michael believed I had enough rhythm and fortitude, he slowly released my arm, and I began to swim! At first, I was shaky and my movements were choppy, but my head was above water, and I was not drowning. That is what mattered to me. I was shocked and excited that I could finally swim, so I spent three hours swimming around the rectangular pool with my brother and sister. From that day forward, I have loved swimming. Every summer I spend almost every day in the pool, swimming and splashing around with my friends and family. Not only did I learn to love swimming, but I learned that I can do anything by jumping in head first, and getting over the fear of failing. Once I got over my fear of doing something, it was so much easier to learn how to complete the task. I am thankful to my now stepfather for showing me that I am more capable of conquering my fears than I thought.