when i was a child i learned to swim in the cold cramped water of the public swimming pool. there was chlorine stinging the eyes and sunburned face, the whistle blowing and yelling at the kid who refused to not run, wrinkled fingers and freckled skin and fun dip tart and sweet against the tongue. i remember the way my orange bathing suit pilled and turned rough from sitting on wet concrete that dried and baked in the july heat. i remember at the end of class there was a small plastic treasure chest with treats inside and to pass the next level, you had to be able to swim down and find it, bring it back to surface. i remember teaching myself how to do somersault flips off the diving board, and the sharp intake of breath, and the crash of body into weight of water, and the fast rush down and down and down. i remember water.
i have always loved the deep end. and the wreck of waves. and the way the light splinters on the surface, and the dark underneath.
he told me me mermaids were unfeeling, incapable of empathy, not the kind of woman you’d want at the center of your story, and this was all because they are cold blooded, living in the ocean, and so they don’t have the heat of the heart the way someone fully human would. i told him he had a lot of opinions, for never having met one in real life.
it is like i can’t breathe right now, like water is pushing against lungs, pressing against rib cage. like i am going "off the deep end" they say. going under. and coming back up. i always come back up. and trust this, maybe more than anything. but right now, i am deep sea diving, and sometimes floating and being held here, and sometimes it’s so disorienting in the underneath, i don’t know which way is up and which way is down and i think my hair is becoming tangled in seaweed.
i don’t know how long it will stay like this, only that there will come a day (and i would guess it will be warm out, like the first real rush of spring heat) when i realize that at some point in time, i decided to swim to the other side, and i’m here now, having made it through.
i once loved and was loved by a man who tried to save me from a kind of drowning. it was not until many years later that i realized that the reason the salvation didn’t work was because i did not need saving. i already knew how to swim.
exactly twenty-two minutes is the longest anyone has ever held their breath under water.
i never liked the swimming of laps, the back and forth of crawl stroke and butterfly, breaststroke and sidestroke (imagine you are picking fruit and bringing it back to put in your basket the teacher said). i didn’t want to be on top, but underneath and inside, surrounded. swimming underwater, head all the way submerged, to the bottom of the pool, far down in the lake and quarry. less human and more fish.
we were talking about so many things. we were talking about ocean, adventure, about surfing. how maybe it is the closest someone can get to merging or returning. "you have to go deep into the water", she said. and i was looking at her face, while she was talking, and i tried, very hard, not to fall in love with her. but i failed.
i have built myself a life boat. it is made of knotted string worn as bracelets around the wrist, and childhood stickers, someone who will show up at my door, who i don’t have to say anything to but i could say everything to if i wanted. made of a heart risk, and steam, and scrubbing and burning what is ready to leave. made of thrashing and salt water itself, of tortilla soup and knowing when to stop and break, to tug on the rope that connects me to the world, making it safe enough to go as far as i want to.
there is an anchored kind of love. and with it, you can go as far as you want, and you will never be all the way lost.
“what is spirituality?” the professor asked. and then they spoke of ascension, some kind of reaching out to the great beyond, connecting to a higher self, heavens opened and divinity coming down in rays of light like holy paintings. “what is spirituality?” he asked again, and it was my turn to answer. and i just stood up and walked out of the classroom. what is spirituality? it is diving deep and surfacing.
i think it is the muffled sound i like the most. how you can hear, but it is all protected.
me, when you tire on the long thrash
to your island, lie up, and survive.
As you float now, where I held you
and let go, remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you:
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.”
- Phillip Booth, “First Lesson”
the water can hold you, if you let it. i think maybe i will just float here for a while.
there were hot springs in new mexico, and we went in, the whole group of us, and steam rose from the top of the water and you could breathe it in, like smoke rising. and that is when they held me up and i was surrounded. it was only two weeks after cancer. and there are things that may not cure, but there can be no question that they heal.