I have never learned to swim. Never. Nothing more than a "from A to B" and only if I can touch the bottom at some time during the distance.
I am not afraid of water. I am afraid of drowning. But unlike many people, I can be in water and enjoy it. As long as it never goes above my chest. If I can touch the bottom and the water laps just above my breasts, I can contain myself and enjoy the crispness of the water, the way it slides and moves independantly. I can float and relax and let worries glide away from me as the water breathes.
It is when I cannot touch the bottom that the panic sets in. Instantaneously it grips me and causes me to see my life flashing before my eyes. My breath comes in shallow gasps because the water presses so heavily I cannot expand my lungs. The water, rising higher than my chest, acts like a vice and restricts my body from drawing breath of any sort. My heart rate increases to alarming rates and my heart beat fills my ears and drowns out all other noises. I flail and search for anything I can hold on to. My mouth fills with water and my sinuses burn. I choke and gasp and flail and fear I will not make it another second.
And then my foot connects with solid ground and I can slowly bring my breathing back to normal. I can focus and once again be alright with the water around me. But I never forget the panic.
So, imagine my surprise when I was in Cuba on excursion and was given the chance to swim with the dolphins. Normally, I am quite against it - fear of water or not. Dolphins are too intelligent a creature to cage and make perform. They are lovely and majestic and brilliant. But there I was. In the middle of the ocean. At a dolphin area built monsterously huge for the mammals to swim in. And I was given the chance to meet them.
The Guy knew I didn't swim, but I am not sure if he understood the extent of it. He agreed to hold on to me the entire time so I wouldn't be afraid. There were many others there with training and confidence, so it would all be good. And I agreed to go in.
I climbed down the metal rungs that led into the ocean. And after the last one, I knew I could not touch the ground. And panic set in. The Guy hurried into the water to assist me. I could hardly breathe, but I held on tightly to him and kicked with all my might to keep up afloat. I met the dolphins. I felt their cool, smooth and soft skin and patted their warm bellies. I was enamoured. Another traveller spelled The Guy off for a bit so he could rest up and resume his tight grip on my waist to keep both the panic and the drowning at bay.
In the end, I was as brave as I could be. And when I crawled out of the water, I cried.