Water and Me – Story by T. Abbasi


Water and Me – Story by T. Abbasi

Mike, my instructor, kept on going, “Swim Tehsin, you can do it”, but I knew I wasn’t doing it. At this point I was really laboring and grunting with each breath.
“You know the doggy paddle I do in the swimming pool”. “No Dad!” interrupted my daughter, “it is more like a froggy paddle”, she said. Can’t catch a break with these guys, but this doggy paddle/froggy paddle has done me well for so many years. I was about twelve or thirteen years old when I learnt how to swim. It was in Rawalpindi and our school would take us to Auchinleck swimming pool on Peshawar Road. It was the largest and dirtiest in town. Of course it belonged to the army as did the Blue Lagoon which was reserved for officers while the best of all was at the Pindi Club, where ‘ladies’ would have swim time. Auchinleck still a treat during hot summers was open to the public and you needed a chawanni (4 annas) to get in. The water was green and if you happened to touch the bottom at the deep end (about 12 feet deep) you would end up with algae in your feet. But we were all oblivious to these concerns. I learnt how to swim by just being thrown into the deep end and madly finding a way to the side. So although our school took us there but we weren’t given any formal swimming lessons. My problem from then on till recently was that I hated to stick my nose under water. The result has been an inefficient style of swimming where my head is out of water and my legs 45 degrees to the surface.

I never felt myself encumbered by my clumsy style, although I knew fully well that I couldn’t really exert myself against a current or swim for long periods. Perhaps one time during the intervening years did I ever try to learn to swim right but gave it up quickly because the thought of sticking my head under water was too uncomfortable, I just couldn’t do it and got my self back into my slow and labored form. There were times that I actually swam across a lake and when in Florida swimming at the beach was never an issue, I had never really cared about it so it was okay.

Things do have a way of getting to you when you keep testing them. I have always been fascinated by water and anytime I think of rest and relaxation water is definitely an important part of the scene. Beach/resort/cruise vacations are perhaps the best when I think of fun times but last spring it was more like a sight seeing vacation that I took with Sofia my older one to Costa Rica. We had a great time exploring the rain forest and all the scenery that tropical paradise had to offer and at the very end of it all we were to spend two nights at this major resort on the Pacific. The food was excellent and their pool was fantastic. We took an early walk on the beach and it was beautiful. They did not have any water sports there nor was there a life guard or anything but the water felt nice and warm and as we let the waves catch our feet I could feel the strength of the waves as the water returned and my foot gathered sand from it.

We had been lucky to have made some good friends on this trip. There was Stephen and Rachel another father and daughter team from Canada and then there was Mike and Kristin from Portland. Stephen has two passions, wine (he is a distributor) and cycling. Mike is a fireman and wouldn’t you believe it, we were never at a place where his services didn’t come in handy. When we were in the rain forest as we got our food at the lodge one of the burners spilled over and none of the staff knew what to do about it. It was Mike who doused water on it and finally found and grabbed the fire extinguisher which put an end to a tragedy that could have happened. Later one of the ladies had a problem with one of her teeth and Kristin who worked at a dental office was able to help her till she got to a local clinic.

It was our last day at the resort, the next morning we were to be heading back to San Jose and we were just lazing around the swimming pool. Reading a book, listening to Dave Mathews (Mike was crazy about the band) while the gals tried to copy Kristin’s moves a competition level synchronized swimmer. Stephen goes, “have you been in the ocean?”. “Not really”, I said. “It is absolutely beautiful” he remarks. I shrugged. Mike had his eyes closed. It was getting to be around 4pm in the afternoon. A little while later
“I am going in the water” Stephen said, “you comin’?”
“Ok”, I said.
“Mike, You coming?”
“No, not me,” Mike said.
So we head to the ocean. There is a bunch of people bouncing up and down with the waves. We join them. The waves were pretty deceptive, they came at pretty regular intervals and although they looked innocuous but you better jump up with them or you would be gulping some of that salt water. One came while I wasn’t looking and knocked me over and by the time I got my bearings I had lost my glasses in the water. There was no chance of recovering them and I had given up on them when Stephen stepped on something and would you believe it, it were my glasses. What a lucky break that was, they were a bit mangled but me who is practically blind without them was happy to adorn them right there (I did have a second pair in my suitcase). Anyways as I turned around I noticed that Mike had also joined us and he was just a bit behind from where Stephen and I were. I knew better then to let the surf break at our feet which had been the reason I lost my glasses and both Stephen and I moved further out into the water where it was waist deep so that we could jump up with the waves.

Just then Mike goes “Hey, Stephen! Did you feel that? There is a strong rip here.”
At that very moment a wave came and both Stephen and I jumped up and when we came down I couldn’t touch the ground any more. Stephen was a few feet out from me but when I looked back that is when I really got scared. Mike was nearly half a mile away from us as he flopped with the rest of the people close to the shore. How did this happen so suddenly? Anyways I decided to start swimming to shore, but it didn’t matter whether I was trying hard or slow I wasn’t making any headway. Stephen seemed oblivious to what was happening and calmly floated out there bobbing up and down with the waves. Finally I called on to him and he noticed that I was laboring.
“Tehsin, are you okay?”
I didn’t reply. He came to my side and we started heading back but it wasn’t working and I was getting tired. He tried to help me but I was too much for him.

“Mike, come here now!” He shouted.

Mike was there in two seconds, the current was strong and he was out with us and both of them now tried to help me who was getting really exhausted. Mike kept on going, “Swim Tehsin, you can do it”, but I knew I wasn’t doing it. At this point I was really laboring and grunting with each breath. I think this is where his training came through; he goes “Tehsin, you need to relax man, we have to swim side ways and then try to slowly come in”. At this point we were all shouting out to attract attention but it didn’t seem like anybody was hearing us. I think it is very hard to hear over the noise of the ocean, so we could see people playing in the water but all seemed unaware of at least my suffering.

I know that I panicked and had I kept my wits about me and had known how to maneuver myself out of a rip tide things would have been different but even more interesting were the thoughts that were going through my head. One set of thoughts went like this, Holy shit, I hope this is not how I am supposed to end. Liz would be pissed if Sofia returns with me in a body bag. She was always apprehensive whenever I left the country without her insisting on a power of attorney just in case, but this time she had not even mentioned although I knew that would be on her mind. Then my thoughts would race to all those who depended on me to be around and how I would be letting them down as well. In another way I would be searching the horizon looking for an angel of death about to take me, but I didn’t see anything beyond the thoughts racing in my brain. The other thoughts were about not giving up. A movie about a couple left behind by a dive boat and a story from an Indonesian capsized ferry was what I kept thinking about. The couple were attacked by sharks and died during the night but a woman from the ferry survived after nearly three days in the water. I would try to gain inspiration from her that I was not giving up for nothing.

By now we had gotten out of the rip tide and managed to catch a couple of waves which had brought us closer to shore. There was now movement on the beach as well and somebody had gone to the dive shop and managed to get a boogie board and were bringing it out. I had also regained my wits and decided to turn over to float on my back at least those muscles were not so tired. In the meanwhile Stephen and Mike were completely exhausted and just about then a gentleman from the beach heaved the boogie board in our direction and I just laid on my back as they pushed me in. It took me about five minutes at the edge of the water to catch my breath, still I wasn’t okay and moved on to a lounge where I laid for a while breathing heavily. As I laid there Sofia came, somebody had told her what was going on and she was all concerned and then it seemed like everybody got concerned. Soon the EMT guys showed up who insisted on me sitting in a wheel chair while they wheeled me up to our room. There they gave me oxygen to calm me down although I thought I was okay.

It all seemed so surreal. It was in the water that I was in trouble and it was hard to gain anybody’s attention and it was here at this very expensive resort, what to say of an isolated beach where I had been out in the water by myself. I kept on thinking about my naïveté and how lucky I was to be still around. But you know I have been a bigger idiot and come to think of it there is no reason for me to be around for the way I have conducted myself around water. Last summer before the season even started we were out on a swollen Hudson. It had rained incessantly for two weeks and it was hardly the third week of May quite early in terms of water temperature and how the weather is here in New York. We took out a boat and two jet skis among the three of us, except that Jose brought along his eleven year old son. The Hudson as it is, is a mighty river but flooded it becomes like an ocean. It is nearly three and half miles wide where we launched from and the idea was to go all the way down to Manhattan a thirty five mile trek. It was really a crazy ride, with one jet ski almost drowned which we had to abandon. The boat conked out and we had to pull it with the other jet ski on our way up river against the current going at three miles an hour. Really crazy stuff, we eventually were able to get the boat going and barely made it out of the water as it was getting dark. Let me tell you I was lucky to escape that one unharmed.

They say, you are warned, first time without consequence, second time a jolt and the third time your fate is sealed. I guess I am on my third strike, so I better take it easy. At the hotel there, the general manager called me, our tour director wanted to know how I was doing, room service was available free of charge. Sofia tried to help me awkwardly but I didn’t need any, all I needed was a bit of rest so I sent her downstairs to have dinner with the rest of the gang.

It is a very strange feeling when you owe your life to somebody. What can you say or do other then be eternally grateful and hope for an opportunity to reciprocate. That uneasiness, that debt stays with me with each passing breath. There you go my fellow Mohammadans, I owe my life to a Christian and a Jew, how about that.

I was getting bored staying in bed as I couldn’t sleep; perhaps I was still in shock. When Sofia called to check up on me they all wanted to know how I was doing. I said I was great and would be joining them after their dinner, for myself I just wanted to take a breather from stuffing myself which I had so regularly done through out this vacation. They keep on putting out this fabulous food and my habit of eating what ever is put in front of me was getting to be a bit too much. So, I took a shower and joined everybody on the veranda, from there we decided to celebrate my being alive so we put away some single malt at the bar upstairs.

They say events like this change you, they probably do but some of us remain incorrigible. Summertime was still spent around water and jet skis although I must say I had more respect for water this time around. As summer turned to fall and out door activity declined, I decided to join a pool for some morning exercise. This was not the first time that I had threatened to rid myself of my lethargy but it would always end with me checking out all the venues available and then just not following through. This time though I paid for the whole year at the boys and girls club. They have a beautiful pool with the perfect temperature and I have been there every morning swimming between 7:30 and 8:00 am. There are a few souls there about the same age as me except that they are really good swimmers.

I knew that the only way I would do it would be if I turned it into a habit and that was only possible if I did it everyday. This meant that I couldn’t tire myself out. The pool is open for adult swim Monday through Friday and that is good enough for me. I started out with four laps of my froggy paddle. Every time though as I enter the pool I am reminded of Costa Rica. Was it really a half mile that I had been pulled out or was it just a length and a half of the pool that felt like a half mile? I constantly wonder about that, also the incessant splashing that I did in my mad desire to not let my nose go under water. Here I am with swimmers who barely role to the side to sneak a breath as they keep their noses under water all the time and they do fifty laps.

It just happened that I got sick of looking at the end of the pool and wondering that I was about to conk out for a length and a half of that darned pool. For the first time I really wanted to learn how to swim well. Luckily I just happened to ask the life guard Viktor and he volunteered to give me swimming lessons. Let me tell you it is almost impossible to teach this old dog new tricks but I haven’t given up yet. I have graduated to being able to kick straight with good posture and all this has taken about four months and I feel hopeful that one day I will surely get it and for me that would mean to swim effortlessly, like gliding through water.



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