the day the world turned day-glo

beulah land's picture

another essay. silly college.

Don’t Make Waves

I drowned when I was eight. I don’t remember it that well. I mean, I died, is what they tell me. For two seconds, three, tops, but still, dead. It was at this huge aquatic center, of all places, full of people and light and watchful lifeguards. No high rocks to jump off of, no rip tide. Leave it to me to pull this at a public place, in the smallest pool they had. It was the deepest, as well, and this insanely deep aquamarine in color. I don’t know if it was the depth- 13 feet- or if they added color to the water, to turn it that hue, but that’s what stays in my memory the most clearly.

It was nothing like the color of the lake that night, and the lake was much deeper. Surrounded by an amphitheater of tall pines, a million stars in the sky, the moon looming somewhere in the middle, the water was black. Weak waves lapped at the shore, a rocky beach littered with trees and driftwood. The dock extended out onto the water, swaying with the movement of the waves. I felt drunk, walking to the end of it, giggling at the way my feet refused to keep their hold on the dry wood beneath me. It was cold in that August way, my t-shirt wasn’t enough to keep the chill out, but the closest extra layer was back at the campsite, too far to walk in the dark alone. I had body heat, and laughter, and the smile of this girl walking unsteadily in front of me, one foot in front of the other, holding her hand out behind her for me to grab. I thought about losing my balance, falling in the deep water, having to drag my shivering wet self back to the shore, some two hundred feet, a fair distance in the cold water. I thought about falling. Then I took her hand, anyway. Later, she’d go away to college and I’d forget about her. But not that night.

Chubby little me, before the chubby really got to be a problem, padding cautiously along the wet deck of the poolside, feet slapping in the puddles, wondering whether I could swim it, keep my head above the water. I should mention, before all this, I loved the water. I was a fish- a huge one, with legs. I reported dutifully to swimming lessons every Saturday morning, in my pink bathing suit with the neon watermelon print. I called my instructor by her first name. I watched ‘Baywatch’ religiously, before I got old enough to realize how lame it was. I wanted to move to the beach, learn to surf, live in the sun and eat fruit all day, be a lifeguard in one of those tall, white towers. That last one most of all.

My grandfather loves fishing. He makes excuses to go, leaves at the oddest times of the morning, drives to the coast and sleeps on the smallest cot his friend owns, stretching his six foot something frail frame out, in the living room, sleeping fitfully, he always says, eager for dawn and his boat and the water. I’ve never understood it, but he loves it, and that’s what matters. One day, last spring, we were driving home from some errand downtown, crossing the river on one of those huge bridges that make me so nervous, and he was gripping the wheel tightly, checking his mirrors frequently in the rain. The car was quiet, until suddenly he said, “You know, when I die, I don’t want a funeral.