Outdoor Swimming Lessons at Fifteen
By Jeri Frederickson

The little Russian girl always cried when she
was given to me in the water. She always
quieted after a few minutes. Her legs
cinched around my lower ribs and
those fierce fingers melded onto my suit strap
with pointy finger nails and a clenched jaw
pressed against my ear or neck. I was never
told a full story but this: She had no parents that
wanted her; She had a few case workers;
She was fragile; She didn’t socialize well. She would
be maybe sixteen now.

In my sleepy memory I remember her name.
I remember the sound of it, how I pictured
it would be spelled in my alphabet. The name escapes
when I reach for it. Her skin would go from
yellow to frost depending on the day. She never
let go. No matter which of the nine other kids
was swimming to me, or held onto me, she
never released a piece of what she held until
I ripped her muscle twitch by muscle twitch away
in a renewed effort to make her just be
in the water and be in momentary peace.

The day she reached for one floundering doughy
boy, her sickly arm outstretched locked at the elbow,
he sputtered, shocked he was not as strong as his mommy
told him and the water was much stronger and writhed when
he did. Doughy splashed her in the face and she growled deeply
as she wrapped five twine fingers around his fleshy bicep
and pulled him into my collar bone. Then she cried
and ducked back into my armpit.

IMAGE: “Crepescular Swimmer” by Victor Brauner (1956).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I write to work out what I should have done – to hope that someone reading my words either can say, yes, I was better, or to say, hey, now I’ve got tools to make a better world around me. I wish I had the training and understanding to both feel better about the situation I found myself in, and also the ability to give this girl a better life in her present, past, and all I can do daily is hope for her future.

jeri frederickson

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jeri Frederickson writes about her cats growing up in third person as Big Strange Haired Lady and drinks too much coffee and whiskey like any lady you’d assume lives in Chicago like a basic bitch. She moonlights as a director in theatre and does all she can to create space for female-identifying protagonists in this world while striving for a balance in what is inherently out-of-balance in this world.