I Never Learned How To Swim

18 Jun

I never learned how to swim,

Which is funny.

Seven thousand plus islands.

And water all around.

Rainy season and typhoons.

Every year.

Every damn year.

Pretty funny

That I never learned how to swim

When my house

In the province

Is by the water,

Overlooking the sea.

Go out the back

And you can jump

Straight into the water.

And I did that,

Even though the water was deep,

Even though shit floated in the water,

Even though I never learned how to swim,

I would jump

Straight into the water

With no fear,

Absolutely no fear.

Like one, hot summer afternoon,

When all of the neighborhood kids

Started jumping

Straight into the water

And my kuya, one of my older cousins, called out.

“Melanie, talon!” Melanie, jump.

And I said, “Pero bago damit ko.  Baka magalit si Mama.”

My clothes are new!  Mama’s going to kick my ass if I get wet.

Pretty funny,

That I said that.

I never learned how to swim,

But I was more worried about my new clothes

Than drowning.

Because I knew, my kuya, my older cousin,

Would carry me on his back

While we were in deep, deep water.

So when kuya said,

“Jump.  We’ll say we pushed you!”

I jumped.

Straight into the water,

Even though I never learned how to swim.

Just like another hot, summer afternoon,

When we were at a 15 foot water falls

And another kuya, another older cousin, called out

“Melanie, talon!” Melanie, jump!

It was 15 feet

Into deep, cold water

But I jumped

With no fear

Because I knew, my kuya

My older cousin

Would catch me

Would carry me on his back

In deep, deep water

So, even if I never learned how to swim,

I was never afraid of the water

Until

Until

Until I heard of water

Filling up the homes of my friends

And my family

Until I heard of the water pulling people to their deaths

Until I heard of the typhoon named Ondoy, named Ketsana

Which is funny

That I started to fear the water

When I was dry, inside a cubicle in the U.S.

Staring at my computer

At story after story

Of one friend with a baby

Trapped by the flood

In his home

Of one friend who climbed to the roof with his family

Of one friend whose house became a refugee center.

I had no news of my cousins

Those cousins who carried me

On their backs in deep, deep water

I wanted

So very badly

To carry them on my back

In the deep, deep water

Three stories high

Flooding the streets

Even though I never learned how to swim.

*This was written for the victims of Typhoon Ondoy in the Philippines

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