I can recall my earliest memory of jumping in over my head literally, when I was five years old. My family and I were visiting with friends who had a pool in their backyard. It was above ground and the older kids were entrusted with the younger ones to keep us safe.
My oldest sister Monica, eight years above me, had the job of carrying me around on her back so that I could take part in the water fun. After tolerating me for a while, there may have been some misbehaving on my part, she sat me on the side of the pool and told me to stay put while they played without me. I sat on the edge of the pool watching the independence of the older kids and envying their every move for all of five seconds, which felt like an eternity. Just when I could not take being benched any longer, I jumped in on my own and began to sink to the bottom while flailing. At first, the gang had no idea that I even entered the water. I was so small that I couldn't even muster an alarming splash to warn anyone. My nickname was Mosquito, so that should explain my size and inability to create a proper ruckus when my jump occurred. It wasn't until I grabbed my sister’s leg on my trip to the bottom of the pool, did they even notice me missing. She quickly grabbed me up and brought me to surface. I scared the crap out of everyone. After gasping for air, being told on and whisked away from all the fun, I decided that jumping in unannounced didn’t exactly get me what I wanted. I wanted to join in on the games but all I got was scared, a nose full of water, in big trouble and locked in my mom’s maternal worry grip for a while instead.
This is where I should tell you that I never jumped again…
Fast forward about 10 years, when a couple of my sisters and I decided to drive out to the suburbs to go swimming in the heat of the summer at a community pool. We arrived, paid our money and entered the pool ground. After being flooded with stares, we were obviously not part of the neighborhood, we sat down and tried to muster up the courage to actually swim with these strangers. I should mention that we were not good swimmers, in fact we were still learning. These children seemed to have had lessons and access to a pool all of their lives. We just loved the water.
My mother got me started with the notion that I could actually stay alive in a pool when she began to teach me how to kick and push away from the edge while we were on vacation in Florida staying at a Days Inn. It was the 70’s and black children were not exactly making Olympic swimming history then but we were unaware that this was even a problem since my mother seemed so confident that we would be able to swim. We did get called the “n” word while in the process of learning that day and one of my sisters got pretty pissed and shouted “YOU get out of the pool then!” We kept right on splashing and trying. That may have been the beginning of my fearless pursuit of being treated with respect as well as becoming a swimmer.
After sitting there on the side of the suburban pool in the scorching heat for a while, I noticed that most of the kids were constantly lining up for the high diving board. They seemed so excited to climb the tall ladder and jump off with their various forms, making really good attempts to point their arms properly and glide into the deep just so. After a few seconds they would resurface and swim to the edge of the pool to line up again. I became fixated on how easily they handled this feat. My fixation turned to curiosity and before I knew it, I was in line to climb the ladder to jump off of my very first diving board (the high dive that was probably used for competition) along with all the other kids. I ignored their stares. Some kids were actually being nice allowing me to go ahead of them. I took each step with such outward confidence that even I was beginning to believe that I would make it through my dare-devil attempt gracefully. My heart sounded like the clock just before the TNT explodes in the Warner Bros. cartoons, but it was too late. I was already at the top and it was my turn. I had no earthly idea what I was doing and yet, true to Bonita form, I was doing it anyway. I walked to the edge of the diving board, curled my body forward, mimicking what I had seen, pointed my arms above my head and essentially fell into the water at a harrowing speed. I pierced the water and began heading straight toward the bottom of 12 feet nonstop before I realized that I did at least know how to point my arms and torso upward and surface to the top. Once above water, I began making my way to the side of the pool with absolutely no form and crawled out onto the pavement feeling incredibly lucky to be alive. I refused to make eye contact with anyone and ignored my sister’s remark of me being completely crazy when I sat back down.
It was my first and only diving experience. And when I told the story later…I nailed it.
I’m sitting here laughing at that memory and the complete irony that inside of me today is still that leaping kid, eager to find out if I can do what I’ve never been able to do before, on a dare only to myself. I still don’t want to miss out on the fun. I still don’t want to sit on the side lines and wait. I still don’t understand why them and not me?
In my adult life I DO NOT recommend jumping into deep water without knowing how to swim in the literal sense. However, I do recommend it as it pertains to life’s goals. Sometimes, you just have to try what you don’t know and figure it out in the process. Sometimes, if you wait too long for everything to feel just right, you miss out. Sometimes, it’s more about having heart than experience. And yes, sometimes there will be people who will call you ugly names in the process of your own self daring efforts in order to intimidate you. Just look them straight in the eye and let them know that your journey is just as valuable as theirs’ and you’re not going anywhere!
No wonder the ‘Nike’ brand uses their “Just Do It” slogan so well. The ads create a synergistic oxymornic mix of contemplative impulsivity within, resulting in an outward leaping forward to challenge yourself. JUST DO IT! GO FOR IT! IT’S YOURS IF YOU WANT IT!!
I’m a much improved swimmer these days and I practice in the summer season often. But I still do it my way, preferring swimming underwater to the traditional above water breast stroke. I love being completely submerged, eyes wide open and challenging myself to make it to the end of a lap without coming up for air until I finish. My form can use a bit of work and I see better swimmers with faster speed than I have all the time, but I refuse to stop and compare their journey to mine.
Being in the water is my way of challenging myself to be better at something that I have come to love so much. I was never supposed to make it past the first impulsive jump but I did.
In my writing, teaching, performing and living in general, I just want to make my own signature splash in this world and come up smiling big, feeling satisfied and inspiring others before the sun sets, the Lifeguard’s whistle blows and it’s time for me to get out of the pool for good.
Maybe, none of us are ever meant to sit on the edge and watch everyone else splash and have a good time. Maybe, inside of all of us, is a great big daring heart beating behind what feels like a tiny mosquito frame. I have two words for you if that’s you: