Sink or Swim

This one time, at Bible camp . . .

No, I just can’t keep going with the whole “American Pie” take-off. My experience wasn’t really “Camp” and I wasn’t exactly a kid. I was in my late twenties, single, and floundering a bit in life.  I had recently joined a singles Bible study group at my church, not so much because I held out hope of meeting Mr. Right, but because I was tired of being that weird single person in my group of married friends.  I wanted to be around other single people, and I wanted to learn more about God, so it seemed like a perfect combination.

It was a good thing I wasn’t looking for Mr. Right. Don’t get me wrong; there were plenty of attractive men in the group. Unfortunately, there were about three times as many attractive women as there were men, and I was not anywhere near being able to compete with any of them. Nothing even remotely romantic ever happened, but I made friends and had fun, so I count it as a good experience.

We all packed up and went on a weekend-long retreat at a camp in the northern part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.  It was early May, so it was really too cold for tent-camping.  Instead, we stayed in a dormitory-style building with the men in one wing and the women in another, with the kitchen and meeting areas somewhere in the middle.  I don’t remember what the men studied that weekend, but we women focused on the book Becoming a Woman of Excellence, by Cynthia Heald.

To be completely honest, I don’t remember much about the book or the study.  I remember the fun.  Someone brought along a Frisbee fitted with lights so we could play with it in the dark the first night.  Unfortunately, none of us stopped to think that being able to see a Frisbee in the dark didn’t mean we could see the uneven ground or each other while chasing the Frisbee. Several high-speed collisions and twisted ankles later, we gave up and retreated back inside.

The second night, a group of us sat on the end of the pier that jutted out into Lake Michigan, and stayed there to watch the sunset. It was so cold that members of the group gave up, one by one, to watch from their cars.  One other woman and I were the last holdouts, and I was numb in some really uncomfortable places by the time we gave up.

Later that night, we stood outside and watched the Northern Lights. I had never seen them before and have never seen them since, but that image is burned into my soul. The greens and yellows danced across the sky like parts of a living thing, peaceful and electrifying at the same time.  I stood outside in the frigid air and clutched the hands of the people on either side of me, and I felt my tears freezing to my cheeks; I still don’t know exactly why I was crying.  It was just such pure and unexpected beauty that I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t control my own emotions.

But it was on my last day there that I learned my harshest lesson. During a break in the middle of our study, some of us decided to take a quick ride in the pedal boats that were tied to the docks.  I ended up paired with a woman named Harriet.

Harriet was tall.  I mean really tall.  She reminded of me Olive Oyl, Popeye’s girlfriend.  She had less curves than most broomsticks.  I think she weighed slightly less than my right breast.

olive

I, on the other hand, have never been a small person.  I like to say that I came out of the womb in a Misses’ size 16 and just kept growing from there.  I stopped growing taller when I was ten, and have proceeded to grow wider in the years since then. Suffice it to say that I outweighed Harriet by a substantial amount.

Those of you who have ever been out in a pedal boat can probably already see where this is going.

By the time Harriet and I reached the docks, all of the pedal boats were in use. There was one leaning against a nearby tree, and it never occurred to either one of us that there might have been a very good reason for it to be out of the water. We dragged it to the nearest dock, dropped it in the water, and climbed in.

pedal

We were about halfway out to the others when we began to realize there was a problem.

The boat was leaking.

It was just a small leak, but the water started to pool around our feet.  More accurately, it started to pool around my feet. Because I weighed so much more than Harriet, my side of the boat was already lower in the water than hers, and the incoming water all trickled over my way. Which, in turn, made my side of the boat sink even faster.

We looked at each other in horror.

“Pedal harder!” Harriet gasped.

Right.  Because I’ve always been so athletic.  Seriously, I wonder if it occurred to her at about that time that my weight probably had a little something to do with my complete lack of athleticism.

We turned the boat toward shore and pedaled just as fast as our legs could go.  Our friends soon caught up and passed us, trying very hard not to laugh at our plight.  To their credit, I think they all assumed that the boat’s position in the water was due to my weight rather than a leak in the boat, and they were all just too kind to say anything.  They didn’t want to be mean by commenting about the fat chick sinking the pedal boat.

“I can’t swim!” Harriet wailed when we were alone again.

“You don’t think you should have mentioned that before you got in the boat?”

By this point, the others were out of their boats and heading for the dormitory for Sunday dinner. They weren’t paying much attention to us.  My side of the boat was almost swamped, and Harriet’s was beginning to lift out of the water. It was only a matter of time before the boat capsized and flipped her through the air.  I had mental images of her skinny little body skipping across the surface like a stone.

We were about twenty feet from shore by that point, and there was really only one thing to do.

I went overboard.

Lake Michigan in early May is cold.  Damn cold.  As in Holy shit, I should have let Olive Oyl drown!

In retrospect, it’s highly possible that I voiced that particular opinion out loud. Several times. I grabbed the rope and started swimming, hauling the boat behind me, while Harriet pedaled her little heart out and I kept a running commentary about skinny people, boats with holes in them, and Christians in general.  I may have even offered my soul to Satan in exchange for warmer water, but I’m not sure if I said that part out loud.

It was a long, miserable walk back to the dormitory, made even worse by the fact that the others had started eating without us. I’ll admit; it hurt just a little to realize that we could have both drowned that day and gone missing for hours before anyone noticed we were gone. I felt pretty miffed about the whole thing until I heard the rumor circulating about why they all thought I was wet and Harriet was dry.

Everyone assumed that I had said something to her that was so offensive, so horrific, so insulting that she threw me out of the boat and left me to swim to shore.  That spoke volumes to me about my reputation within the singles Bible study group.

It also explains why I didn’t meet my future husband as part of the singles Bible study group.

And why you’ll never see my butt in a pedal boat ever again.

***

This post is part of Finish the Sentence Friday, in which writers and bloggers finish a sentence and “link up” their posts. This week’s sentence was “This one time . . . ”  

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23 thoughts on “Sink or Swim

  1. OMG. OMG OMG. I don’t really even know what to say. The other kids in your Bible Study group sound like total dicks!! (sorry but for real they do)
    You totally jumped into the lake to save your skinny buddy? You should have gotten the medal of the day for like a billion years!! Also that the other kids went to dinner without helping just sucks. Thanks for linking this to FTSF. I will (I will, for real) think about this story for days and days and weeks….

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    • Nah, not dicks. I think they just didn’t realize how much trouble we were in, and most of them knew I was self-conscious about my weight. None of them wanted to be the one to call attention to the fact that my side of the boat was so much lower in the water. Seriously, it was like that scene in “Tommy Boy” where Chris Farley’s end of the boat is almost underwater.

      I just got a kick out of the fact that they all assumed I said something to Harriet that was so offensive that she threw me overboard!

      Thanks for letting me be a part of FTSF! I enjoy it more and more every week.

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  2. Wow there is so much to comment on here i don’t know where to start. I definitely couldn’t have predicted how your post would end. Don’t know if it’s okay to laugh at what that scene looked like or feel super bad that y’all were MIA for a few and no one asked why. Well you are a good person for saving miss skinny mini from drowning by jumping into the frigid waters. I can’t even imagine.

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    • Actually, I just spoke with one of the other folks yesterday and asked her if she remembered the incident. She STILL laughed, even after all these years. I don’t think anybody should feel bad — all’s well that ends well. And nobody meant any harm.

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  3. Oh NO! What a crazy story. You are a great storyteller.
    On a personal note, it reminds me of my last time with a bible study group, too. Although I made it out without getting soaked, (kind of a surprise in retrospect.) My father reminded me that the church is a hospital for sinners, maybe I should have been kinder about their capacity to judge.
    Ironic.

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    • I’m glad you liked it. And no, I really didn’t know I could write funny. I started this blog because I was having issues recovering from a really bad car accident, and since then I’ve gone through a divorce and watched my oldest child get ready to leave the nest. To top it all off, I write angsty romance novels. So I kept writing a lot of depressing, Debbie-Downer-type posts until recently, but this is a lot more fun.

      That’s what I really like about blogging — especially Finish the Sentence Friday! Every new post is a chance to explore something new!

      Oh — and I LOVED your post about crossing the border. Talk about making someone howl! I laughed out loud when I read yours.

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  4. This had my laughing even while I wanted to kick each and every one of your Bible Study Group in the Groin as a greeting.

    Really? They were adults with issues.

    You do write funny quite well, I hope you keep it up.

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  5. Oh, A.J. I’m new here but I’m totally hooked. This is a howler. Like something right out of a comedy movie. I was absolutely howling from the time you said this: I think she weighed slightly less than my right breast right up until the end. Fantastic story and great storytelling. I’m coming back again.

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  6. I have to say that I was drawn into the story from the beginning. I wouldn’t have thought you’d save the gal, but I guess that says more about you than her. Great story! 🙂

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  7. The good thing about having these kinds of experiences is that they make for excellent stories, and you told this one perfectly! I’ve never liked those dumb paddleboats – one person always ends up doing all the work. Or jumping off to save the other paddler. Who gets on a boat in the middle of a lake if they can’t swim? Jeez.

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