The excitement of ten children from the Beginner swim class filled the Olympic sized swimming pool at the YMCA in Queens, New York. Although they usually were excited. They lived in a busy concrete city and yet they got to go swimming once a week.
This day was even more exciting for Paige and Ben because at the age of twelve, they were the oldest kids in the class. Now they were about to graduate and move up to the next class.
"Paige, you're such a good swimmer now. I remember how scared you were on the first day," Ben said, "I'm so glad you were here. It would have sucked to be in a class alone with a bunch of six to eight year olds."
Paige was always so amazed at how nice Ben was. After summer camp and a couple of school field trips, everything she remembered about swimming or being in a swimsuit was of other kids making fun of her or laughing at her. She always felt so alone and thought this class was going to be the same. She never expected to meet a boy her age who looked at her like she was normal, not overweight and awkward. "I'm glad you were here too," Paige said, "It’s great having a friend to swim with. I don't even know why you took this class. You already knew how to swim."
"My dad wanted me to learn the basics from a coach in case he missed anything when he taught me last summer," Ben said.
"Okay everyone," Coach Reagan called out, "After we practice and you show me how to swim freestyle, backstroke, and try breast stroke, then we will jump off of the diving board."
"That sounds like fun," Ben said.
Paige looked at the diving board which she was always fine with avoiding. "I think I'll pass on the diving board," Paige told Ben, "It looks really high."
"I think it's only three feet away from the water," Ben said.
"Yeah, but I'll be landing in water. I don't know," Paige said.
Ben tried to be encouraging, "Well, at least think about giving it a try. See how you feel. You might like it."
The class proceeded and Paige and Ben had a blast showing off their swimming skills. They had been practicing these strokes for eight weeks. It was just a fun afternoon at the pool for them.
Coach Reagan instructed all of the children to get out of the water, "Okay, time for the diving board."
Paige watched as a six year old climbed the short ladder to get onto the diving board. She ran down the length of the board and just jumped into the water. "She didn't even hesitate," Paige thought, "How is a tiny girl like that not terrified of jumping?" Paige stood with Ben to cheer him on but she was certain that this was too scary for her and she was going to skip this part.
Coach Reagan came over to them, "You two will be up next."
"Oh, I don't think I'm gonna jump," Paige said.
"If you don't jump, then you don't pass and won't get your certificate," he said and went to help one of the small swimmers.
"Now you have to jump," Ben said.
"What happened to 'see how you feel'?" Paige reminded him.
"That was before we found out that you won't pass. If you don't pass, you can't move up and then who am I going to swim with? And what will you do, stay in Beginners? Don't you want to move up and learn more?" Ben asked.
Paige agreed but she was also afraid, "I've already learned a lot. You said that. I don't need a certificate to prove I can swim. I could just stop here."
"I guess," Ben said. He looked down at the floor. Paige could not tell if he was thinking or upset. He grabbed her wrist and started dragging her to the ladder. "What are you doing?" Paige protested.
"You need to know that you know how to swim. What if you fall off a boat? It’s just the same. You need to know you can do this," he said and got in front of her.
“That’s dark!” Paige said. “And kind of cool,” she thought.
He was pushing her with his whole body now. "How is he this strong?" Paige thought. She kept on moving closer to the ladder. She tried to push back and noticed that her hands were on his bare, wet chest. "This is kind of nice," she thought, followed by, "What am I thinking? I should not be touching him without a shirt. Is this what puberty is like? Ew!"
She went to reposition her hands and found that it made it easier for him to push her up the ladder and then onto the diving board. She stood there, considering an attempt to come back down. He looked up at her and must have read her mind because he grabbed each bar and spread his legs, showing that he was going to be a human wall and keep her up there.
"Paige, it's not your turn," Coach Reagan said.
"Ah, it's not my turn," Paige smiled and looked at Ben.
"She's already up there so she might as well go," Ben called out to the coach, keeping his eyes locked on Paige.
"True," Coach Reagan agreed, "You might as well go."
"Ah Ha!" Ben said triumphantly.
"I know that I know how to swim," Paige said, "What did you mean, I need to know?"
"You need to know that you can do it all, swim, jump, get your certificate, swim in harder classes. Let's do this together, please," Ben said, "Also, I'm not moving so that way is the only way off." He gestured to the edge with his chin.
Paige considered plowing through Ben and getting off. “He’s right though,” she thought, “It’s just one jump and I’m there with everyone else, graduating from Beginners.”
Paige walked to the middle of the board and looked into the pool.
"Stop looking down," Ben called out.
Paige walked to the end while looking up. She turned back and saw Ben. He gave her an encouraging nod.
"He believes I can do it. It would be nice to know that I can do it all," she thought, "And it will be fast. I know how to swim. I will hit the water and I will swim to the wall and it will all be over."
So, Paige jumped, not the prettiest jump. She felt her foot drag along the edge of the board, as if one part of her body still insisted on protesting the jump.
She could not believe how deep she went into the water. It was silent and as Paige waited to stop going down, she noticed how huge the pool looked under water with just her in it. She enjoyed taking it in and not being afraid. She relaxed and felt her body float up. "I remember how to do this part," she thought.
When she came out of the water, she finally heard something. It was everyone cheering, mostly Ben but everyone else joined in too.