The Dolphin
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Keeping count with my strokes, I turned my head and breathed in the humid air. I continued swimming, counting the seconds until I touched the end of the pool to turn and swim back.

I have a weird relationship with water. I can swim in the ocean, snorkel, surf, and scuba dive, but I can't swim in tiled pools. The competitive swim meets had been at plain concrete pools until the finals. The finals were at legitimate Olympic pools.

Which meant tiling.

I couldn't open my eyes.
I had to count.

If I opened my eyes and saw the bottom of the pool. I would drown.

My outstretched palm grazed the side of the pool. I turned and kicked off from the wall. My arm brushed against the boundaries for the lane. Blindly, I adjusted my path. I craved to know what my placement was, did I need to swim faster? I counted the seconds.

I turned my head and took a deep breath of air, and continued swimming. In the darkness of my closed eyes I saw that archaic memory.

I was two years old and at swimming class. My swimming instructor gave us a break. I waddled back out to the pool. My friend's Meemaw had volunteered her pool for lessons that week. Her pool had an elaborate dolphin mosaic. I really wanted to play with the dolphin. I swam down and imagined myself as a mermaid. The tiling was beautiful. All blues and greens, I stroked the smooth tiles and felt the crevices around the dolphin's eyes.

Heart racing, I turned my head to the side and took another breath, Don't open your eyes, I thought to myself.

Swimming over the dolphin, my lungs started to burn. I imagined that I grew gills. But the burning didn't stop.

In the blackness behind my eyelids I saw myself drowning again, and again, and again. My chest heaved, as I turned my head and took another gulp of air.

My lungs burned more, I tried to kick from the bottom to reach the top. Instead, in my panicked thrashing I hit my head. I floundered. Lungs burning with white hot searing pain, I cried dry tears and cursed the dolphin. My memory faded as I lost consciousness. Later I was told that my swim instructor saved me.

How close was I to the finish line? How close was I?

Don't open your eyes, or you will see the dolphin again.

My arms pounded into the water as I pushed myself further and faster. I counted in my head. 20 more seconds. My lungs started to burn.

I need to look. I thought to myself, I need to see how close I am to winning the heat.

Don't open your eyes! a voice said inside my head.

How close?


I opened my eyes.



The kaleidoscope of colors from the pool was overwhelming. Vertigo surged over me, my heart jumped and my stomach churned. Amongst the blue mosaics I saw the dreaded dolphin. Its tiling was covered in mildew and mold. My lungs burned with white hot pain.

Above the dolphin floated the body of a rotten, bloated two year old girl. Pain ripped through me and panic raced through my mind. My leg cramped when I kicked. Seizing, I floundered.

16 years of training left as I sank towards the bottom of the pool. I had been in the lead. My vision went dark. My body was paralyzed with fear, and I couldn't swim to the top. I couldn't keep going.

There was a cacophony from the crowd and, as their voices faded, I heard a two year old gagging for air as water rushed to into her lungs.

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