Jacob stands on the cliff, holding my surfboard and his, and looks out over the clearest Freights Bay. He says, “See, no sharks,” something I never worry about.

I drive into another time zone looking for undeveloped beaches on the Florida Gulf Coast but abandon my search in a parking lot that leads to an empty stretch of sand where I shuffle along with ten stingrays.

My summer camp walks past my home twice a week on the way to swim lessons. My mother stands on the stoop, beckoned by our singing voices, our shoes slapping like seals. She has a baby on her hip, and I wave my towel over my head, victorious in feeling drawn forward and away, the promise of the cold water in the blue concrete pool stronger than the pull to hide behind her legs.

I cannot decide what is more delightful: the snug feeling of my bathing suit holding me, the slickness of the chlorinated water holding me, the buoyancy of my chubby body holding me, the breath in my lungs holding me.

My feet move like my betta’s fins, my toes move like feathers.

Coming up for air, my eyes break the surface and there is the edge of the pool, the camp counselor’s white Keds, the pebble-rough deck, the misty grass, the tree trunks in the distance, black Nike slides, chaise lounge legs, a water bottle, fallen sunscreen, slung knees of someone slipping into my lane, wet towels, my phone in my sneakers, always ankles, always feet.

The children’s shouts ring in my ears like pellet guns fired at close range, but a full breath in and the water muffles them, my heartbeat silences them.

I know to exhale under water and feel the power in my body to force air out into resistance and it is more natural than walking.

Swim team requires that each morning of the summer I jump in, warm up, breathe with others who breathe out and in and out and in, meet resistance, take advantage of the air; so confident we swimmers are that air will be under our arm or below our chin when we need it.

This is what also delights: the stripe on the bottom of the pool, the stripes on the side of my suit, the snap of the rubber cap, my spine snapping into the turn, my feet snapping at the wall.

The indoor pool on a winter Friday night is as loud as a basketball court, dimly lit, but still that embrace, always the embrace as I sink under the water, the dark cold sky just outside the fogged windows.

Other high school girls stretch out on towels and cover themselves with baby oil, spray lemon juice in their hair. Their bikini bottoms stretch like hammocks from hip to hip. My towel is under a tree with The Dubliners, swimming a quick two-hundred meters between stories, shivering in the shade as I read.

Another indoor pool, but long and lit and silent except for the rhythmic slap, perhaps mine or perhaps from the other women who, all of us now naked in the locker room, turn away from my unwed pregnant belly, my little swimmer in his swimming mother.

The lake is dark and murky and swallows my wedding ring when my hot hand dips below the surface.

Under his umbrella, the young lifeguard cannot help but watch as I drop my bathing suit down to nurse the second child poolside while the older child cannon-balls next to me, sure I cannot see him unless he splashes me and his sister.

The river is swift and pulls me through a narrow canyon to a still pool edged by a cave filled with sleeping bats.

The gulf is flat as my board skims across it, my black lab at attention in his yellow life jacket, my paddle soft and strong, both of us looking for dolphins, never worrying about sharks. 

Waimea Bay on a calm day looks flat until the sand falls away, and I float in the pulse that starts far out where the whales swim. 

Coach leans over the edge as I flip into a turn, yells “two more laps” as I dig into the water, force it to open and move behind me: I am eight, I am ten, I am sixteen, I am thirty-two, I am sixty-four. I try less hard. I stay in longer.

 I read the wave wrong and it grabs my board from the side. The wave has all the power. I take my breath with me and feel the coral scrape my ass as my right leg shoots to the sky, leashed to the board, my fingers feathers as I fly out to the next continent, away from the board coming back to pierce my head. 

I strip and change behind a dune at Dog’s Bay as the cold water evaporates too fast in the cool summer air. I am publicly naked in Ireland, and my Catholic mother takes another spin in her grave.

I am knee deep in a clear glacial lake, and before my feet go numb, my soles feel the smooth round stones that are every shade of gray, a mosaic left a million years ago.