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I always hated swimming in lakes as a little boy.
It wasn't the weird creatures fluttering about in the deep, or the thought of the odd pinching crawdad lingering beneath the sand, or the shattered glass of the drunken teenagers smashed on rocks and left to the slow tide every morning.
What bothered me was much, much, worse. The reeds beneath the cattails and wading in the murky, dirty water made the goosebumps on my body rise. It wasn't the duck itch my friends or family constantly caught, or the bites of the odd water beetle. It was the clinging. The grabbing. Nothing hiding within the unseen vegetation could be as terrifying as the pulling and ripping of the plants that cling to the body of the wading children in that river.
My friends enjoy swimming. The water is an intense deep green, but it doesn't bother them. They enjoy catching the odd minnow together and supporting one another on their shoulders, wrestling. I can't enjoy it. I won't. They know better than to knock me out of my canoe or throw me off the dock. I would rather watch when I can. Often I find it unbearable to watch them, seeing the green wrappings being pulled from water, wrapping themselves around the arms, chests and necks of my friends. I shudder and continue to paddle, doing my best not to snag any of the botany that might find itself netted onto my oars.
They tried to get me in the lake once and only once. I pounded on Daron’s back, screaming for my life. It wasn't just a joke to me. He laughed as I fell to the water, which seemed like an eternity. How would I swim back to the dock with all of the reeds around? I regurgitated after surfacing. I was disgusted. I was crying.
I stood on my tiptoes on the corner of a tall rock beneath the shallows, telling everyone that I couldn't move. Daron retrieved me from the canoe, almost tipping it as he pulled me up. I screamed again as I found a small lily clinging to my big toe.
I want to tell my friends to get out each and every time. They prod and poke fun at me every time I put my bathing suit on and go into the canoe, but I won't go into the water. They don't understand my terror or where I'm coming from.
They don't know my secret.
Two years ago, before I had met all my closest friends, I loved swimming; I caught tiny fish and cared not for the plants that repulse me today. I had a specific part of the lake I loved to swim in. It was mine. There was a small path nobody else took that led into a green-forested dip, where I had tied a rope to swing on a huge coniferous tree. I was alone and secluded. It was beautiful. The dragonflies buzzed and the odd Jays would bicker among themselves. It was wonderful. It was my sanctuary.
That one night I remember the best. I had gone for a run through the forest with my home-made fishing rod, using corn as bait. I had just stripped and hopped into the water when my grandmother had called me on my walky-talky to come inside and get dried off. It was getting dark, but it was too late—I couldn't get out of the water. I couldn't move.
I was snagged on something. It gripped me hard around my ankle as I waded with the skills I learned in level 4 swimming. I struggled and pulled, trying to look down to identify what was wrapped around me. I pulled and pulled. It seemed to weakly pull back. I slowly grew terrified. I put my arm into the depths to break what was around my leg. I couldn't. It was thick, like the branch of a tree—yet hard to grip. I grew into a panic. "Help" slipped from my lips, although nobody was around.
Finally, as quickly as I was snagged, it seemed to just slip off. I swam as fast as I could to the shore and stared back. Water pounded rocks on the shore, but there was nothing. I got dressed and ran home, my heart still pounding.
After a good night's sleep, some Sega Genesis and pancakes for breakfast, I ran out of my RV ready to go swimming again. The Jays cawed again once more. I ran around the paths, through the forest, watching the odd scampering chipmunk or breeding dragonflies, until I was lost.
I meant to get lost; it was more fun that way. I loved exploring, and I was too nervous to go back to where I had been swimming before. I walked for what seemed like hours, just as I had when I found my first spot—but I was surprised.
There was someone else. I watched, hidden between the trees.
A man on a boat throws a bag into the water, tied to an anchor. From the bag, I see a hand grasping for its life as it sinks into the depths. Into the reeds.