My brain must have been working overtime the other morning because I had a sudden meshing of two childhood events which may help resolve the mystery of where my fear of bridges may have begun germinating. The two events have nothing to do with bridges but they do have to do with water.
I learned how to swim by taking lessons at whatever age kids learned how swim back then. I’m thinking I was 4 or 5. I learned in a slow moving river and I loved it. I loved swimming, I loved being in the water, even though it was cold.
I looked forward to 4th of July parties at my cousin’s because she had a pool and my cousins and brother and I would swim and play Marco Polo and splash water over the sides of the pool until we were reprimanded by my uncle. Deep end or shallow end I didn’t care. I didn’t care if I could touch the bottom or not. I enjoyed treading water.
I loved the ocean and the waves of Maine and Cape Cod too. I loved swimming in the small pond a short ride from home.
Then, I recall going for evening swims at the local high school or maybe it was for more advanced lessons. I’m not sure. I may have been around 8 or 9. I was standing on the end of the diving board facing the pool of water and my mother and a young guy, like a lifeguard or teacher, were encouraging me to jump in the water. I was scared beyond scared. I remember I wanted to cry but I don’t think I did. I didn’t want to jump and I recall I couldn’t turn around in fact I couldn’t move.
I think my arms were folded in front of me and I looked like I was praying but not open and accepting, my hands were fists under my chin holding myself together. I could hear them pleading with me to jump. It was a low board. It couldn’t have been more than a few feet off the water. And I don’t know what I did. Did I jump? Did I walk off? I think I jumped and I think this exercise was repeated in the coming weeks until it ended or I refused to return. That was the first event.
The second event happened on my 6th grade class trip to Montreal. Besides the educational part of the journey, a big event was eating mushroom crepes at a revolving restaurant overlooking the city and the other was visiting Olympic Park, specifically the Olympic Pool. Since it was only a few years after the 1976 Olympics this was a huge deal because we’d be in the same pool where Olympic athletes had swam. But the main attraction was we were allowed to jump off the diving board and not everyone who visits get to do this we were told.
This diving board wasn’t just a few feet from the water. We had to climb stairs to reach it. I don’t think I knew where it was all leading at first and I was shocked at where I’d ended up. It was very high up. I didn’t want to do it and I remember getting to the end of the board and looking out at the huge place. It was empty except for my small class of around 20 and my teacher and the chaperones. The board was stiff and not springy like the one I had so much trouble with at home.In looking at this photo, I can’t determine which board I was on but it seemed much higher than the first platform.
I looked down at the water and felt I had no choice but to jump. Maybe the pressure of a line of my classmates behind me propelled me forward. I hit the water and it took a long time to bubble back up to the surface. Today, I recall the feeling of being overwhelmed and frightened.
My unqualified analysis is that I associate crossing a bridge with walking out onto a diving board over water with the sole purpose of jumping. Since I have no memory of a bad bridge experience this is the closest I can come to making a bit of sense of my fear.
Maybe I’m onto something and maybe not. One thing for sure – I haven’t been on a diving board since my Olympic Pool jump when I was 11 or 12.