I was around seven years old when I defined for my young self the meaning of the word “devastated.” No one had died; no natural disasters had hit my childhood town, but just the same I was absolutely crushed when my best friend, whose house I could see from my parents’ bedroom window, was forced to move away. Now, to an annihilated seven-year-old, this was something that all those grown-ups whom I loved and trusted were doing to me — we had created the perfect childhood friendship of bouncing across the street from one house to the other, chasing the cotton candy guy when our dads took us to baseball games, and best of all, spending days at a time in my pool. When my dear friend was snatched away from me, I was not yet capable of understanding that her house had flooded almost beyond repair; logical to all those heartless adults? Naturally. But my logic map differed slightly from those taller than I . . . honestly now, what’s a little water going to hurt?
Now and forever determined to rally against “what everybody else is doing” (from where do I get it?), my parents bought a house with a pool in the front yard. The house actually stands back from the street, and swimming with privacy is provided by a large wall that blocks it from any nosy neighbors. My dear friend and I were both well-behaved children, but getting the two of us out of that pool was quite a struggle . . . and really, we were so adorable together, what was the point of pulling us out of that water that brought us so much joy? This world without limits that we created in and around the water solidified a lifelong love of swimming, so it’s hard to explain why it took me all this time to explore a bit of Esther Williams.
Million Dollar Mermaid is a film with absolutely gorgeous water ballet scenes, a fun little social statement about women and one-piece bathing suits, and a number of moments when I zoned out completely. Although the scenes that don’t involve a kaleidoscope of water ballerinas are less than hypnotic, I do insist on tipping my swim cap to them; each of those moments on land functions as a perfect intermission, allowing me new reason to dive into a few old memories.