04 September 2013


Last Thursday was a pretty good day in the McKee household. We started the day early, doing what we needed to do: I was searching for and applying for jobs and Paul was doing something on his computer. At some point while I was working, Paul decided it was time for a workout. When he came back from the gym, all hell broke loose.

"Who thinks this is a good idea?" he yelled, thrashing around the P90X weightlifting sheet he had in his hand. "Exercising is a terrible idea. AND, you have to do it forever; there's no stopping." He seriously joked about committing suicide because it would be easier to just end his life than it would be to commit to a lifetime of torturing himself by running and weightlifting. This was the point when I began texting his sister.

"Your brother is semi-worrying me," I texted. "I've never seen him like this."

He went on and on about all of the negative aspects of exercise and how much he hated it. Then came the line I never thought I would hear:


If you don't know my husband, attending weddings is on the absolute bottom of the "things you will have to seriously bribe me to do and then I might actually thing about doing said thing and, even if I do agree to do said thing I will complain the entire time" list. When we got married, I promised Paul that our wedding was the only wedding I would make him attend for the entire year. Since then I have only forced him into attending one other wedding, my mother's.

Paul, admittedly, would rather attend a funeral than a wedding. He would rather sit next to a man at a movie theater than attend a wedding. He would rather be guided through the Gobi Desert by a blind man than go to a wedding. He would rather drive on Port Moresby's back roads at midnight by himself than go to a wedding. So to say that he would rather attend a wedding than ever hit a gym again is a big deal. Epic, in fact.

I tried to console him by stating that not all exercise is bad and that maybe his second day back in the gym should not start with anything containing the identifier "P90X." I told him we could do something fun and then somehow the subject got changed to swimming.

I think it was my fault because I had stated that I wanted to hit the pool whenever the sun came out. Paul perked up.

"Want to learn how to swim today?"

Now, before I begin to explain why, at 30, I have not yet learned to swim, let me just say that I will side with every woman who has ever attended therapy: I blame my mother.

Growing up we did not have a pool but we almost always had neighbors with pools. My mother, on the incredibly rare occasion that she actually stepped into the water, had one rule: do not splash water anywhere near her. Apparently nearly drowning as a child was enough to make my mom be quite fine on land for the rest of her life. She could not handle water splashed on her face, on her shoulders or on her chest, let alone sticking her head under water, so as a family we didn't spend a lot of time in or near the water.

Family vacations were spent in Orlando or Northeast Ohio visiting family, camping in the woods or driving through the Smokey Mountains. We were never beach people so I just never learned.

My brother, on the other hand, is secretly a fish. He just jumped into the deep end of a public pool, diaper and all, from the time he could run so I think swimming was just an instinct for him. He never had lessons, he just jumped in head first and figured it out from there.

Since Paul was already in a feisty mood, I decided to fight back. I told him that even thinking about getting into the deep end of the pool (I am terrified of going anywhere my feet can't touch) was leading me to an anxiety attack.

"Getting into the pool, for me, is like having kids, for you," I stated, trying to get him to understand my fear factor.

Somehow, he convinced me to give it a go. I gave in, gave up or somehow just psyched myself into the thought of actually facing my fear. I changed into my swimsuit and, for the first time ever in PNG, I wore my bikini to the pool - and I didn't think twice about it.

In the sunshine and heat of the noon sun, Paul led me into the pool and I was thankful that no one was around to watch. We started with the most basic aspects associated with being friends with the water. The first thing I did was put my head under water - holding my nose, of course, - and, for the first time ever, I opened my eyes.

I was surprised that everything under the water appeared so cloudy but it was good to know that I accomplished my first goal right away. Eyes opened - check. Paul later explained that real swimmers don't actually open their eyes while swimming; they wear goggles. Duh.

After I mastered the eye-opening challenge, it was time to deal with my nose situation. I had never in my life successfully been under water without plugging my nose with my fingers.

Paul was so patient with me as my anxiety took over, I counted and then chickened out, made him demonstrate and answer many questions so that my brain could make sense of what I was supposed to be doing.

Too afraid to submerge my entire head, I squatted in the water so that the water covered just to the bridge of my nose, leaving my eyes above the water line. Thanks to Paul, I successfully put my nose under water, sans breathing, and did not drown.

I later learned, after several tries, how to put my nose into the water and breath out. Paul taught me how to swim under water and, though it took many tries, I eventually learned how to swim under water, without plugging my nose, for an entire pool length, albeit the short end.

Every time I accomplished one goal just once, Paul would come up with another game. "No, not yet," I would say. "Baby steps." And then, "Again." And I would practice whatever I had been learning at the time.

We worked in stages, practicing breathing, treading water and certain strokes. I watched Paul goof around and told him that this was definitely fun exercise.

At one point he thought it would be fun to throw his wedding ring into the deep end of the pool and then, magically, I would dive in and rescue his ring. "That's a horrible idea!" I yelled as I watched him chuck his wedding ring a few feet in front of us. "Baby steps!" I begged.

We had a great time working together and at the end Paul told me that he was really proud of me. He admitted that he didn't actually think I would accomplish anything, let alone open my eyes, not plug my nose and learn to swim a pool length all within an hour. We played around a little more and then Paul headed up to the apartment while I sat another 20 minutes or so to dry off and do a little outdoor reading.

After lunch and a good nap, we woke to find Paul quite red and sore. Again, there was a rant.

"The next time that I want to go outside for that long without sun screen, I want you to grab me, and yell, 'Sunscreen, dumbass! Remember what happened the last time.'" I laughed hysterically, confirmed my quote and proceeded to call him "dumbass" all weekend.

Later that day he approached me. "What's the line?" he quipped. "Sunscreen, dumbass!" I replied laughing. "Good. Just practicing."

After a hilarious day of facing our fears, battling each other with sarcasm and laughter and truly making some memories, we received an unexpected phone call.

The next morning, Paul would be flying to Sydney and I would be tagging along. 

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