Usually I’m the one who knows nothing,
frozen at the computer while my husband
tries to talk me through.
But this morning at the inn where we’ve come
to celebrate our second anniversary,
he tells me how many people in the past
have tried and failed to teach him how to swim.
I throw my suit on and grab our towels.
This is something I know I can do.
We’ve already been in the pool—a late afternoon
dip when we got here, me doing laps
and my husband dog paddling beside me,
his head above water, or holding his breath
the length of the pool before coming up for air.
Now I stand by the side, pulling my elbows back
and turning my head to demonstrate the crawl.
The fog has burned off the valley
and the pool shines, set off by the vineyards
whose grapes in another month
will be ready for harvest.
My husband in the pool tries to follow what I’m showing
but yanks his head to the surface, coughing water.
I get in with him and we discuss the mechanics
of breathing. He doesn’t know about exhaling
through the nose under water, never learned
the significance of making bubbles.
It’s a revelation. I send him
back and forth across the pool and it works.
He’s swimming. Each time his face comes up
as his arm draws back,
the O of his mouth looks like wonder
or terror. We move on to the breast stroke,
and his head, like a needle stitching cloth,
gathers the water in the thick folds.
I stand off to the side coaching,
triumphant but careful to let the victory be his.
An ironic high five when we get out of the water
is all he wants to signify the occasion.
In the delicate economy of marriage
giving costs less than receiving,
the thin wire of power
threaded through the soft body of need.
We’re ready for a hot bath
and both fit in the large tub in our room
where we lather our bodies and hair,
passing the soap between us.
Jacqueline Berger, “Teaching My Husband to Swim” from “The Gift That Arrives Unbroken”. Copyright © 2010 by Jacqueline Berger. Used by the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC, on behalf of Autumn House Press, autumnhouse.org. (buy now)