Wednesday, June 8, 2011
"I AM ABOUT TO DIE": Clumsiness, Mortality Awareness, and the Chronic Non-Joiner, Part I
When I was about six, my mother enrolled me in a swimming class. She has a photograph of my bony, blue-white frame being lifted down into the water by a bronzed, Apollo-esque college student with sun-bleached hair. I am crouching in midair, my limbs folding up against my body with fear as the massive, muscled hands draw me down. I am afraid that I am going to die.
I was terrified of drowning. The water was dim and heavy and pressed on my chest. Each time water got up my nose I would thrash around, panicked that I was dying. The lessons ended on the day that the class was sent up the meter diving board and jumped, one by one, into the arms of the instructor below. I had a screaming fit and was carried back down the ladder.
"When did you become aware of your mortality?" I asked my husband last week.
"Well, I remember one time when I was sixteen. I was walking on the side of the road, and there was a car coming, and I thought about what it would mean if I got hit. That was the first time I really understood that I could get hurt so badly that I wouldn't get better."
That's a strange concept for me. I've always lived in fear of dying painfully, just like I've always lived with gravity. Experience and education taught the physics and terminology of injury and of gravity, but they added to preexisting knowledge.