Badfish

Early 1990

Albion, Michigan

As the car crawls to a stop and we turn off of J Drive North road, I smile to myself.  Not just at the comforting presence of our tiny 3-bedroom home, but at the secret that only I know.  

When we’d first moved into this quaint little country-house, my dad had pulled me aside to entrust me with the secret.  

J Drive… you know what that stands for, right?” he had asked. 

I had shaken my head in confusion and stared at him with wide eyes.

“It’s short for Julie, and Jim,” he had explained, “Your name and mine.  This is OUR street.  Julie – Jim Drive.  Now you’ll never forget what street you live on, right?”

I had nodded, speechless and awestruck.  

Of course it will be years before I realize what a brilliant ploy this is to help me remember my own address.  And the fantastic luck that we’d had in purchasing a home on this road, as opposed to the neighboring I-Drive North or K-Drive North.

But right now, my four-year-old mind is deeply immersed in the deception, and I can barely contain my excitement at having a street of my very own.  

The engine cuts out, as do all thoughts of my secret, allowing more pressing concerns to come to mind – like the audience of stuffed animals patiently awaiting my return.  I unlatch my seatbelt  and prepare to leap out of the van, but before I get a chance, my mother’s voice grinds me to a halt.

“Hold on Julie-bug.  I want to talk to you about something.”

I freeze, wondering what kind of trouble I’ve landed myself in. 

“You’re not in trouble.”  

I release the breathe I’ve been holding.

“But I spoke with Mrs. Kulakowski when I picked you up today.”

That’s my friend’s mom.  Okay, what’s this about?

“She mentioned… that you…”  the corners of her mouth are quivering, like she’s desperately fighting the urge to laugh.  “…she said that you had changed into your bathing suit.  Is that true?”

I stare. “Yeah…”

What’s your point?

“Okay.  So listen, honey, it’s winter time.  It’s a little cold for swimsuits, don’t you think?  And our swimsuits are meant to be worn in the pool, or at the beach.  We don’t wear them under our clothes and change into them at our friend’s houses.  That’s not what they’re for, okay?”

I nod, understandingly. 

Well, that did not go according to plan.  

What my mother didn’t know was that I’d been wearing the swimsuit for weeks now, underneath my regular clothes. Everywhere.  Day and Night.

It had begun with the summer Olympics.  I’d been entranced by what I’d seen on the TV screen, in those giant, sparkling pools.  Those majestic creatures donning their Latex caps and thick, plastic goggles.  Their spandex leotards with giant Red, White, and Blue letters.  Their magical ability to move through water as quickly and easily as an astronaut through space.  

I wanted to be like them.  Needed to be like them.  So much that I began to dream about it every waking second of every day.  All of my energy poured into it.  I couldn’t think about anything else.  It consumed me. 

We had a big, ratty, blue blanket that we had spread on the grass last fourth of July, to watch the fireworks.  I sought it out and secretly stashed it in my room. 

Transformed it into water.

I’d lay it on the floor, change into my swimsuit, and use my bed as a springboard.  I’d leap through the air with my arms overhead and with a loud sploosh, I’d land in my imaginary pool. 

I’d run across the floor, circling my arms wildly in the air, and proceed to win eternal glory for my country.  I’d step up to the lego-box podium with tears in my eyes and thank my stuffed animals for their endless support and encouragement.

My obsession was all-encompassing and I could no longer stand to walk around NOT wearing the uniform that would one day lead me to international distinction. 

Not feeling the familiar tug of it’s spaghetti-straps around my shoulders began to spark nervous butterflies in my belly.  And so I slept in it, ate in it, and played in it.  And in a moment of pure artistic insanity, attempted to share my newfound enthusiasm with my friend down the street.  

Like Clark Kent changing in the phone booth, I entered my friend’s room in normal 4-year old clothing… and emerged as a miniature Olympian. 

Unfortunately, the world was not ready for my heroic feats of imaginary athleticism just yet.

“I won’t do it anymore mom, I promise,”  I say as we make our way up the circle driveway and into the house.  And I keep my promise.  This time.  But it’s not long before I find another harmless obsession to fixate on.  

Years later, these obsessions will take on a life of their own, and have  much less amusing effects on my life.

Ironically, to this day, I’ve still never learned how to swim.

Author: Julie Peters

I'm 33. I work in Health Care by day, battle crippling anxiety and depression by night.

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