When I was eight years old, my older brother drowned while swimming at our local YMCA. The lifeguard on duty didn’t know CPR, and he was clinically dead for minutes before paramedics were able to get his heart beating again. He was airlifted to Boston Children’s Hospital and spent the following weeks in a coma, then the following years working to regain his confidence and to overcome the mental fallout of a brush with the other side. Although he’d never brag about it, he went on to kickbox, play college football, and become a prominent player in open wheel racing, both from the driver’s seat and from his office. He even came to love the water once again – buying a boat that the two of us (along with a close friend) managed to crash off the coast of New Jersey a few years back.
It took me a bit longer to warm back up to the idea of getting into the water… and by that, I mean that it still hasn’t happened yet. If ever you spot me in a body of water that’s too deep to stand up in, I’ll likely be wearing my trademark jet-ski life vest and have a blood alcohol level that should kill a mortal man.
Of course, my fear of the water didn’t coincide particularly well with my chosen line of work. Marine is literally a homograph, with definitions ranging from my former profession to an adjective describing all things aquatic. I was asked at boot camp, and repeatedly since, “why on earth would you choose the Marine Corps if you’re so afraid of water?” The answer was simple: because I hate my fear, and I want to dominate it.
During my time in the Corps, I managed to become a strong enough swimmer to beat our most basic swimming requirements, but my fear of the water so bothered me that I chose to pursue higher levels of swim-qualification. I wanted to beat my fear into submission, but no matter how much time I spent in the pool, the fear was still there, still gnawing at me, and I knew that any aquatic combat situation would certainly result in my death. If not by an enemy’s hand, then as a result of my own inability to control myself once I lost control of that fear.