The DEEP END By Ann Haywood Leal

I avoided the subject at all costs.  My friends could all do it, but I was terrified.  I wouldn't even put my head in the water.

"We've signed you up for swimming lessons," my mom said.

So it was finally going to happen.  I tried to picture it in my ten-year-old the front of the line for the diving board at the YMCA downtown, casually springing up into the air above that perfect rectangle of over-chlorinated water.  But even thinking about diving into the deep end made my stomach shred.

But I went.

And it was fine ... at first.  We kicked at the side of the pool and played motorboat with the paddle boards across the shallow end. And I was good at it.  I could kick up a storm in that shallow water.  The Senior Citizens' water exercise class had nothing on me.

Then it was time for The Test.  In order to get out of the Polliwogs class, we would have to swim all the way across the pool, starting at the DEEP END.

This is the part in the story when the reader thinks s/he has already predicted the happy ending.  The main character plunges into the churning bottomless water and swims her strong and confident strokes until her fingertips touch the wall on the shallow end.

And that prediction would be completely wrong.  It did not go well at all.  The thing was, I had never even pointed my paddle board in the direction of the deep end.  So why did the test involve the Bermuda Triangle on the other side of the dividing rope?

I panicked.  I got to the very middle of that Bermuda Triangle and said (most likely, screamed) that I couldn't go any farther.  The annoyed swim instructor on dry land didn't want to get her hair wet, so she  poked a rescue pole at me.  The idea was to have me grab onto it, and she would pull me to safety.  But she didn't put it out in front of me so I could grasp it.  Nope.  She somehow pushed me down with it.

So...she did have to get her hair wet.  And I never went back to that deep end.  Even the thought of that YMCA pool made my hyperventilate.

Fast forward two years.  I was in sixth grade.  There was a brand new pool being built in town.  The kids were all talking about it.  It was only fifty cents to get in, and not only was there a diving board--there was a high dive.  I wished all of my friends well, as I opened up my Nancy Drew book on dry land.

My sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Rinear, shared in their excitement.  And furthermore, she had a surprise for all of us.  For two weeks, we would be traveling by school bus to that pool for free swimming lessons.

I loved school, but I racked my brain for a sickness that might last a period of fourteen days.

My parents were teachers.  No way were they writing me a note to get out of it.

I remember very little about those two terrifying weeks...except one thing.  My terror did not go unnoticed.  Mrs. Rinear, in her amazing teacher giftedness, picked me up.  "It's going to be fine," she said.  "I've got you."  Right on the side of the pool, she scooped up my spindly sixth-grade self and jumped into the pool with me.  Her arms held me tightly and confidently.

And we came back up.

Mrs. Rinear went on to do more amazing things that year.  She was the first one outside of my family to call me a writer.  She gave me free time to go off and work on my stories.

I went back to that pool, too.  Not only did I jump off the side of that pool.  But I climbed the tall ladder and jumped off the high dive.  And then I wrote a book.  And a few more after that.

Thank you, Mrs. Rinear.


  1. I love how you subverted our plot expectations halfway through and they gratified them in such a satisfying way at the end. Oh, the difference that the right teacher makes!


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