Is It Seriously Just a Womb Thing?


There are pictures of me at age 2 or 3, sitting in about three inches of Lake Huron, all head-to-toe goosebumps and purple lips. My parents always tried to get me out of there before I died of hypothermia, but I refused to move. (So eventually they just got the camera. Welcome to being the fourth kid.) We lived on the beach for the first four years of my life, and probably my earliest memory is the frustration I felt at not being able to go further into the water–my brother and sisters would all go swimming for real, and I used to sit there in my three inches of water, just desperate to join them.

Even after I learned to swim, I remained chronically pissy about all the places I wasn’t allowed to swim. Fountains, reflecting pools, really big puddles… all terribly seductive. Visiting a beach or a house with a pool in cold weather was fucking torture. I have never, ever understood the appeal of lying on a beach–how can you be that close to the water and not be in it?

My favorite moment of last weekend was about twenty minutes into the reception, when JD’s daughter, in her foofy flower girl dress, walked up to the edge of the magnificent pool, stared longingly at it for a moment, then looked around for authority figures (we didn’t count), hiked the foofy dress above her waist, and went down two steps.

I almost never relate to children–and I am totally the sort of childless curmudgeon who can’t stand parents who try to compensate for their own childhood frustrations by letting the next generation break all the rules. But I watched her that whole time, knowing exactly where her mind was going–and exactly where she was eventually going–and I actually cheered when she went in the water. Not only because I remember how badly I would have ached to go in that pool at five, but because I was totally fucking aching to go in at thirty. (Later, JD’s mom said she was worried about her granddaughter around that pool, and I immediately trotted out my ex-lifeguard credentials and volunteered to jump in and rescue her if anything happened. I’m kind of bummed she never fell in.)

The picture above is my favorite from the weekend (well, except for the one of me drunk off my ass and invading Suzi’s personal space in a fairly spectacular way). On Saturday afternoon, Suzi, N.A.G., and I totally trespassed on a private beach, and I trust you can see that it was worth it. I started by folding my pants up a couple inches and wading, then folded them up to my knees, as you see here, then eventually said screw it and went in up to my ass. If a guy hadn’t come and run us off the private beach, I would have been underwater about two minutes later. That old desire has never really gone away. I’ve matured enough to walk past a fountain without wanting to dive in or weep, but the ocean? Forget about it. You cannot ask me to stay dry.

It dawned on me as I was walking the dogs this morning that moving to this neighborhood was more than one kind of homecoming. Yeah, there’s the Chicagoland angle I’ve already discussed, but living at the edge of a Great Lake actually takes me back to those blue-and-goosebumpy days in western Ontario, of which I remember very, very little other than the overwhelming presence of the water. My dad once pointed out that, except for the 2 years he was stationed in Germany, he’s never lived more than 30 miles from a Great Lake. Except for the year I was at Bennington, neither have I. And I don’t think I ever want to again. 

The water was rough and loud this morning, the way I like it best. It’s 58 degrees and overcast today. I totally, totally wanted to go in.

8 thoughts on “Is It Seriously Just a Womb Thing?

  1. Okay, so it’s totally three years late to say so, but you and I were clearly identical twins separated at birth.

    Separated at birth by genetics, a couple years, and a fair bit of distance, but nonetheless…

    One of my favourite pictures from my San Francisco trip in 1996 (at the age of 17) is of me, in my crushed velvet green sundress, totally swimming in the ocean off Pacifica. It was unintentional; the folks I was staying with were just showing me the sights. But basically they parked the car, muttered something about a quick look at the beach, and before they’d locked the car doors I was ankle/knee/thigh deep in the waves pretending I wasn’t about to spend 45 minutes swimming without a wet suit in the pacific ocean (something my hosts and other denizens of the chilly beach considered utterly insane).

  2. Me too, sister. I honeymooned this spring and didn’t do my research very well — we were on an island in the Caribbean, so that’s good, right? Turns out this particular island is outside the Gulf Stream, which: who knew that even happened? I felt very stupid but I also was very COLD, because you know I spent half my time in the water anyway. There were fishes to be looked at and drifting to be done! Cold schmold.

  3. Oh, me too, me too. Although I have something of a love/hate relationship with the ocean — all that water… all that salt burning my eyes. Cruise ships are evil — saltwater, chlorinated pools. Worst practical joke ever played on a kid who’d never been on a ship before: encouraging her to cannonball into the pool without warning her about the salt.

  4. I’m the same way. I go to the cottage with my work fairly frequently, but I can’t swim very often while I’m working, because I care for adults with developemental disorders. Oh god I want to swim so bad. We were there in May, it was less than 20C outside and there was ice on the water, but I went in anyway. It felt soo good!

  5. I love living right next to Lake Michigan!! I love it because like you guys, I love to swim. In the summer I try to go swimming at least once a week. I’m 17 now and have lived here since I was 2 1/2. I lived in San Diego before we moved to Wisconsin and I never want to live too far away from water… EVER!!!

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  7. Ok, I realise this is stupidly late, but I am reading the archives and linked from ‘why people hate the gym’.

    I just moved away form teh beach. I’m still only about a 15 minute bikeride from it, but it isn’t the same. I’m sad about it. I LOVE the water – I even love it when it rains cos there are puddles. People give me weird looks when I’m at the beach and don’t care about getting my jeans wet, but there is something about it… if I haven’t had water touching me for a while, if I haven’t floated in it for a while… I get antsy.

    You’ve just inspired me to finally do what I’ve been thinking of and go to the local aquatic centre before work tomorrow. If only I can get my sick, lazy arse out of bed… but even if it doesn’t happen tomorrow, it’ll happen next week, or sometime soon. So, thanks!

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