How Water Saved Me From Drowning

By Susan DeBow

Let’s just say on the weight scene that at my highest, I scored higher than a perfect bowling game. About a strike in the tenth frame and seven pins higher.

I can say it this way, but I can’t say the number. It gets stuck in my throat.

Big bones? Not particularly. Just a load full of fat and flab on a six-foot frame, at least while standing on my right leg. Standing on my left leg I was only five-ten plus something.

The six-foot frame gave the fat a decent area to spread across, but to make that perfect bowling game weight acceptable, I really should have been, maybe, ten feet tall?

Over a decade ago, while in a writing workshop, the instructor, who had asked me to take the class for a second year because he thought I was a good writer, chastised me after reading a piece I wrote to the group. Of course, I had made the class laugh in the piece. It was about being big and going shopping and passing the petite section, the junior’s and women’s sections to find the Plus Size section that was seemingly hidden in the farthest corner of the store. I filled the piece with laughs and a wink of pathos, my stock and trade as a columnist for the local paper.

But instead of getting kudos for the piece, which was decent, the instructor, a little man, of perhaps, five foot nine, who weighed less than a good bowling score, said something about how I skirted the issue of weight, and the piece was less because of that.

I didn’t say much or offer much of a rebuttal. The class “tisk-tisked” his comments. Several of them knew from whence my sentiments came. Besides, I wasn’t quite the novice writer I had been a year ago, and I knew what approach my readers liked. My style was to make difficult subjects more palatable by using humor to ease the bitter pills of life.

As I said, that was over a decade ago. For close to fifteen years, I continued to keep parts of my life at the surface level, masking pain with laughter, equalizing hope with cynicism, eating insecurities, fear and emotional distress with great dollops of whipped cream and pints of coleslaw. (Yes, coleslaw is fattening, at least when you eat a cabbage full.)

I have written about cancer, suicide, alcoholism and losing my parents in depth. But with weight, I have only scratched the epidermal layer.


Because while many things in society have lost their stigma, being obese has not. If anything, the stigma has become worse. The obese are the ignorant, undisciplined, weak, scourge of the earth. We are responsible for increasing health care costs. We smell. We take up too much space in airplane seats. We break chairs. We make others laugh so they laugh with us and not at us.

Yes, this has been my secret life. It has made me hide. And, at times, made me feel like, at 58, life was going to be a downhill slide. That my next occupation would be Couch Potato. Loaded Couch Potato.

My husband (Nick) and I traipsed down to the city next door’s community center and asked for a tour of the Senior Center. This, I thought, was where I would hang out the rest of my life…playing canasta, doing exercises while seated and bringing a covered dish to the Wednesday noon buffet.

An older gentleman led us on a tour of the facility, which was adjacent to the community pool, workout center and walking track. I had a difficult time getting around because I had recently had my arthritic hip replaced. I wasn’t sure what had happened, but I wasn’t walking as well after the surgery as I had hoped.

Nick and I asked questions about the senior center and asked about the swimming privileges. The senior membership entitled you to swim between 11 am to noon each day, and you could walk on the track during limited hours also.

The tour guide showed us the pool, complete with lazy river. I immediately remembered how much I used to love to be in the water. When I was young, I’d spend hours and hours in the family pool, amusing myself doing different strokes, swimming the length of the pool underwater, performing back dolphins, doing flips off the diving board and treading water.

Nick knew this. He knew I had loved water. We had had many discussions about how my happiest times while growing up were when I was in the water.

We debated whether to just join the senior center for a nominal amount, pay for a regular membership, where I could use more of the facilities, or get the premiere membership, which not only included all of the facilities, but extended hours.

We bought the premiere.

The next day I got off the couch, out of the recliner and out the door. I put on my two piece skirtini swimming suit, the kind with the big skirt that I hoped would give the illusion that a tiny person was hiding inside. Grabbed a big beach towel and with fear and self-consciousness hobbled to the pool. I figured I would swim a bit and then go to the senior center.

I took my new lock, one like I used to have on my high school locker, shoved my clothes in the locker and took a deep breath. I sat on the bench in the women’s locker room, seeing other women walk by, all shapes and sizes. I had the dark thoughts of a fat person. What right do I have to walk out in public with a leg that looked like yogurt mixed with granola? Why did I hate myself so much that I allowed myself to get like this? Have I gone so far into the abyss that I can never come back to the land of the living? The fit? The excited?

Tears welled in my eyes. Maybe I should just get dressed and hobble to the senior center and sit and talk to people and fake like life was just hunky-dory.

But something inside me wouldn’t let me do that. I grabbed my shark beach towel, wrapped it around my lower half, and walked out the door and into the pool area. Thankfully, there were only a few other swimmers.

I dropped my towel on the bench, feeling as naked and as exposed as I had ever felt. God, I thought, I would rather be spread-eagled in stirrups at the gynecologist. I would have felt less exposed and judged.

The zero-entry pool was just steps away from where I left my towel. Step-by-step, I inched my way into the pool. I dared not look around to see if I was being stared at and “tisk-tisked.” With each step I got a bit deeper into the water. It was up to my waist when I turned myself around and lowered myself into the soothing liquid. I leaned my head back and floated on my back. Oh, by the grace of God, I thought, I am home.

And it was then, I realized, the water was going to save me from drowning.

About this writer

  • Susan Hipkins DeBow Susan Hipkins DeBow is a writer and artist. A hobby of hers is watching Law and Order reruns and then going around telling people she wants to make a “collar on the perps,” and demands a “remand.” She got hooked on Law and Order reruns after seeing Seinfeld reruns 20 times. You can read Susan’s work and see her art, photography and miscellaneous miscellany at If you are nice, she’d like to be your friend on facebook. Go to her Facebook page, Ohio Writer Girl.

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