I was never a good swimmer. I was afraid of looking like a fool in front of all the other kids in the pool, and especially in front of my sister, who took to the water like a fish. I did not feel graceful or strong when I flailed my arms and legs in the water in an accordance of rhythm, and I was too scared of breathing in water to keep my nose unplugged, no matter how many times people trained me to do so appropriately.
Instead, while my sister dove off the sides of the pool or the diving board, or chatted with all her friends and boy friends, I clung to the opposite side of the pool, dipping myself under (with my nose secretly plugged, of course) and feeling the water lift and sway my long, heavy hair that was too thick for even the wind to blow around. With my hair swirling around my face, I felt just like a mermaid. Sometimes I was almost convinced that I was a mermaid, but no matter how I tried, my body wouldn’t stay underwater. I would inevitably float to the top in an irrepressibly human way.
So I lived my mermaid-life in pictures. I crayoned mermaids with tails of all sorts of colors, their hair swirling in an orderly fashion behind them, in the midst of a beautiful underwater world, and then I would cover it all with blue watercolor in the “crayon-resist” style of art that I had learned at school. In those drawing hours, I felt like the mermaid I wanted to be. And in the pool, when no one was looking, I would plug my nose and dip under the water and pretend I was right in those pictures, for as long as I could keep myself under.