Swimmer’s Itch

In the backyard of the house I grew up in is a swamp. My dad cleared the cattails when we first moved in, creating a pond for us.

My sister and I head to the water’s edge. The smell of decaying vegetation wafts off the swamp.  Dragonflies skim the water, eating the mosquitoes that swarm around us.  One finds my arm and I slap it dead.

We each grab a stick off the ground and squat at the water’s edge, swirling the duck weed.  A tap draws our attention to the kitchen window. Mom, a yellow apron over her church clothes, waves a wooden spoon at us while shaking her head.

We turn back to our sticks. Then back to the window. She’s not watching anymore. I sit on ground and put my toe in the water. It’s the temperature of a bath tub.

“Mom’s going to get mad,” my sister says.

“It’s just my toe,” I say.

A splash and ripples beckoning me. Suddenly, I’m in the water and sinking to my knees in the slimy bottom.  The water wets the bottom of my shorts. I pull my leg up hard. Splurch. My foot is free. A splash tells me my sister is following.

I train my eyes on the weeds at the water’s edge. There. No, there. I plunge my hands into the weeds and grab hold.   It wriggles and squirms, but I hold on tight and pull my prize up above the surface.

Yellow eyes with slit pupils look around. Webbed feet push against my thumbs. Long legs paddle against my pinkies.

My sister fights hard against the muddy bottom to reach me.  I hold it up and she touches slimy spotted skin.  It calms, only the throat pulses with silent croaks.

“Can I hold it?” she asks.

“Fine. But don’t drop it,” I say, handing it to her.

Her hands are too small and it easily jumps out of her grasp.

“Gah! I’ll never catch it again.” I say, fishing around in the water again.

She starts to cry.

A shadow passes over me and I look up. Mom is standing there, still holding the wooden spoon.

“Get out now,” she says, “and rinse off in the hose before going inside.”

I grab onto the weeds on the edge and haul myself out, heading for the hose. Mom helps pull Hillary out of the muck.  She hightails it over to me and I hose off her legs. We scurry up the peeling porch steps and in through the backdoor.

“Take your clothes off and leave them on the washing machine before you go upstairs!” she calls after us.

We strip, throw our clothes on the washing machine,  run along the round white tiles, up the stairs, and fill the tub. We’re scrubbing with soap when she comes in.

“I don’t know why you girls can’t stay out of that swamp,” she says as she rubs my face too hard with a washcloth. “I get tired of washing the bedding all the time.”

After spaghetti dinner that night, I crawl into bed, and lay on top of the sheets.  I’m flipping my pillow in search of a cool spot, when the itching starts.  I rake my fingers against my legs. Hillary calls out for Mom from her room.

I scratch and scratch as little red bumps rise on my legs and arms.  I hear my sister’s door close again.


She enters, holding a bottle of calamine lotion.  She slathers the thick, white paste on my arms and legs.

“It itches,” I say, scratching some more.

“Well of course it does,” she says. “That’s what happens when you go into the swamp.  Stay out of there. You’re old enough. I shouldn’t have to tell you.”

I turn away from her and eventually fall asleep.

One morning, after a week of calamine lotion, the bed is covered in dead little black bugs. Swimmer’s itch, the doctor said the first time it happened. The bugs in the water lay their eggs under the skin.  As the insects grow, the rash appears.  When mature, they pop through the skin and the rash goes away.

Mom comes in, sighs, and strips the sheets.


This week’s prompt was, “Water gives life. It also takes it away. Write a short piece – fiction or non-fiction – inspired by one or both of these statements.”  I cheated a little with this one. This is part of my assignment for the writing workshop I’m taking. I thought it fit okay. Also, this is based on a true story. I have a tendency to embellish to make the story work better. I hope Oprah doesn’t call me out on it.







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51 Responses to “Swimmer’s Itch”

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  1. Ratz says:

    Jessica, this is creepy on so many levels… but i am smiling because i see this is something that actually happened. Your mother stands so clear in my vision- the mature, wise woman who knows things. I enjoyed this piece. There is innocent and raw emotion and it is so good a feeling to be a part of someone’s childhood, even though we both are literally more than half strangers.
    Ratz´s last post ..Resting Place- TRDC Meme

  2. Pamela Gold
    Twitter: lotsOspermies

    I adore this story!! It kind of reminds me of that movie “The Man in the Moon” with Reese Witherspoon (she was very young). A tale of sisters doing what they shouldn’t. Love!
    Pamela Gold´s last post ..The Blue Potty

  3. Jennifer says:

    Oh, fascinating! I’ve never heard of swimmers itch, which is both interesting and gross all at the same time. I love your Mother’s acceptance and exasperation and the details, the wooden spoon on the window, the yellow apron, the flipping of the pillow to find a cool spot. And don’t you worry about Oprah, she ended up supporting James Frey’s later fictional endeavors!
    Jennifer´s last post ..Drip and Run

    • Jessica Anne says:

      Phew! I don’t want to be on Oprah’s bad side. :) The bugs are kind of cool when you think about how they survive, but kind of gross too.

  4. Kristin @ Peace, Love and Muesli
    Twitter: kristinglas

    From a mom’s point of view- ugh. From a kid’s- it’s water with stuff in it.

  5. dwadebryant says:

    wow this great story i enjoy it thanks for sharing this post

  6. Shell says:

    Oh, this makes me itch!!!!

  7. Moomser
    Twitter: moomser

    Not only have you made me really itchy, I’ll now be perusing the sheets for little black bugs for weeks… Though I have been nowhere near a swamp! Thanks for that!
    Moomser´s last post ..Traveling with kids- a few handy tips

  8. Leighann
    Twitter: MultitaskMumma

    Ew. I so did not know this.
    But as a kid I wouldn’t have been able to stay out

  9. Sara
    Twitter: periwinklepapi

    Really?! Is this true? I’ve never heard of it – I was right there with you on the edge of the swamp, ahem, I mean pond. Glad it wasn’t a permanent Aliens infestation!
    Sara´s last post ..Into the Deep Blue

  10. Theresa Sonoda
    Twitter: tsonoda

    I never heard of swimmers itch. Sounds itchy. Loved your story. Nice description. Just like kids to head right to the mud. Mine always did. Thanks for sharing! Enjoyed the read.

  11. Mandyland
    Twitter: in_mandyland

    Ewww. Really?? OMG. I’m not going within ten feet of a swamp!
    Mandyland´s last post ..The Storm – Part 1

  12. Stacey says:

    Ewwww! The bugs are just gross. But I can totally understand why the pond was still so appealing. Great piece.

  13. Karen
    Twitter: TimeCrafted

    Enjoyed your tale, wanted to jump in there too…..until we got to the Swimmer’s Itch. And now that I know what it is, I think I need to go take a shower and swim in some anticeptic calamine lotion! Do they make that?! lol :> Nice piece!

  14. Mommylebron
    Twitter: mommylebron

    Ooh, I am all itchy now! I’ve never heard of that before but we live in FL and I don’t let my monsters in any lakes, ponds, or muck. I would probably freak if I saw those! I bet it was a very long week.
    Mommylebron´s last post ..The Red Dress Club- Loch Beatha Bas

    • Jessica Anne says:

      Definitely a good idea to keep them out of all water. You never know what’s in there. Of course, in FL you have alligators to scare them out. Not an issue in Minnesota.

  15. Barbara says:

    VERY nice!

    I didn’t know that about the little bugs in a swamp and a rash – now I do. Great characters, especially the mom: I could totally hear her sigh when she went to do the sheets again!


  16. Leslie says:

    Um, eww and itchy and gross!!!

    BUT. I loved how at first I was totally on the kids side… and then… totally with the Mom.
    Leslie´s last post ..The Cure for Anything is Salt Water

  17. Kristy says:

    I absolutely love that you put your piece in story format. The details in it were perfect!
    Kristy´s last post ..In the Rain

  18. CDG
    Twitter: MoveOverMaryP

    I love the sense of delicious secrets between sisters, and the description of the frog, and the mother, wry and wise. And hoo boy, those bugs are making me itchy.
    CDG´s last post ..About Beginnings

  19. MamaRobinJ
    Twitter: mamarobinj

    That’s totally gross ;)

    I can understand both your experience and your mom’s. Of course you’d want to play there, but I totally get her frustration as well.
    MamaRobinJ´s last post ..Fledgling Friday link-up- March 4 edition

  20. Cheryl @ Mommypants
    Twitter: mommy_pants

    Okay, this totally creeped me out. insect eggs in the skin? ACK!!

    But I bet it was lots of fun catching that frog..

    • Jessica Anne says:

      The frogs were great. The bugs, not so much. It’s the worst when you’re itching and thinking about those bugs growing under your skin.

  21. The Drama Mama
    Twitter: poopscoopinmama

    I don’t see anything wrong with a little embellishment, darlin. I really don’t. Especially when it brings out a story like this one. Man, I’m itchin!!!
    The Drama Mama´s last post ..RemembeRED- Shiny and New

  22. OMG, I am about to itch my skin off!!! :-) I was in suspense the whole time. :-) What was the thing you grabbed out of the water?

  23. Ilana @ mommyshorts
    Twitter: Mommyshorts

    This was wonderfully written. So much detail. All of it interesting and necessary. I love how the swamp continues to speak to the girl and draw her in even though she knows about the bugs. It’s like my continued affection for chocolate chip cookies.
    Ilana @ mommyshorts´s last post ..Baby Fashion Showdown After These Messages

  24. Yuliya says:

    You had smiling til the very end and then UGH GAH GAH ICK GET OFF ME!!!!!
    Nicely done.
    Yuliya´s last post ..Holy water

  25. Amy
    Twitter: amyplus1x3

    Great piece! Totally creeped me out at the end! Sorry I am visiting so late from TRDC.
    Amy´s last post ..smirk

  26. Valerie says:

    This reminds me of my own childhood and always being where I wasn’t supposed to be. I never thought about it from my mom’s point of view-and her frustration over having me not know better (or know better but do stuff anyway.)
    Now I’m the mom:)
    And those bugs sound nasty by the way! (And I thought ticks were bad.)
    Valerie´s last post ..The Last Curtain Call

    • Jessica Anne says:

      It’s funny how our perspective on things changes now that we’re parents. We had ticks in that yard too. But those bugs were the worst.