I’ve loved the water since I was born. I was a toddler that got excited when my mother said it was bath time. Once I was in the water, I didn’t want to leave it. I’d hold my head under the surface and try to hold my breath for as long as I could. I’d play with this mermaid barbie that could swim by itself. I thought that it was magic propelling the doll through the water and I wanted so badly to be a mermaid. There was this one time when, I was a kid, we were at my aunt’s house. The adults were sitting in plastic lawn chairs while my baby sister, two cousins, and myself were sitting in a little kiddie pool. It had just enough water to cover our legs. My sister has always hated the water. So, after a couple of minutes of her screaming and crying, our grandfather picked her up. My cousins were indifferent to the water. But, me, I was thrilled. I splashed and giggled, marveling at the water’s coolness. Its viscosity. Of course, I didn’t know that was what it was called. Out of nowhere, the wind kicked up and the sky clouded over. Everyone else was freaking out and in a rush to get inside. Not me. I was over the moon. Because, I was also the kid that loved rain and storms. I thought everything looked much better covered in rain. I loved the sound of the droplets hitting the roof and windows. My nerves lit up like the sky when lightning pierced the clouds. Thunder sent chills of excitement down my spine, was music to my ears. I loved water so much; I was probably one of the only children who didn’t have to be forced to drink water. I guess it’s not surprising that the thing I loved a little too much nearly killed me.
I don’t remember exactly how old I was, I think I was eight. My sister’s grandmother took us to their family reunion on a beach at Lake Erie. I felt really weird because I knew those people weren’t my family. I won a couple of games and I wasn’t hungry. I was agonizingly shy… Talking to people wasn’t an option. So, my step-grandmother’s boyfriend took my sister and me for a walk down the beach. Soon, we couldn’t see the reunion and could only faintly hear it. I began playing in the waves. I was having so much fun that I didn’t realize I was slowly slipping into the lake. Not until it was too late. By then, I had gone under. I was so far down that I couldn’t see the sun. As I struggled, my arm scraped against the wall of earth separating land from water. After a few minutes I floated to the surface. Wolf and my sister stood there on the shore just staring at me. My sister said nothing, did nothing. She just had this blank look on her face. Wolf didn’t move a muscle until he spoke. And even then, it was only his lips that moved as he told me he wasn’t coming in to get me. I kept getting sucked under the surface and resurfacing. As I resurfaced, I was slapped in the face by waves taller than me. In between trying to stay afloat and trying to expel the water from my lungs, I got glimpses of my sister. Of Wolf. I thought that his name suited him. He really looked like a wolf with his wild black hair; he had hair everywhere. I realized I had never seen his eyes. He always wore sunglasses. I imagined they would look colder than the water that was killing me. Then, suddenly I was coughing up water back on shore. I don’t know how I made it back, exactly. But it felt like the waves came together and set me on land like the hand of God. I’m sure it was God that saved me. We went back to the reunion after I could stand. No one noticed that I was soaking wet. No one realized that I almost left that beach in a body bag.
After that, the water wasn’t the same. I no longer took bathes but began taking showers. I tossed my mermaid doll aside in favor of a doll with legs and wings. I didn’t want to be a mermaid anymore. No one else in my family shared my former love of the water; so no one tried to teach us how to swim. I would get into the pool, when taken to one, but I never left the shallow end. I stayed within reach of the wall in case I needed to grab it. I finally learned how to swim years later. Even though I know how to swim, I still panic when my feet leave the ground. My heart hammers like it’s trying to propel me out of the water. I’ve regained some of my love of the water. Anytime I resurface, after jumping into the deep end, I can still see Wolf. Still hear him tell me he won’t save me…
Jazmine Ellington has loved to read and write her whole life. She is now an English major, with a concentration in creative writing, at Cleveland State University.