Monday, September 24, 2007

Jumping In

Time, space, death: one becomes aware of certain realities when jumping into deep water for the first time. Close both eyes; step off the platform; wait for a short lifetime until feet hit the water: then suddenly the world is blue and close and suspended. Time has no bearing in this place, this murky wonderfulness buoying the body and pressing in close, like a scared child or a reassured lover. Before one has time to blink, to think, the head breaks the surface of the water, and open mouth gulps air like a newborn child.

There are reasons that literature and mythology connect femininity and mothers to water. Being surrounded by water might be as it was before birth--calm, silent, placidly floating.

This feeling is fleeting, when jumping into the water for the first time. There I hung suspended between life and death for an instant that I thought would never end. But it was only an instant; I had no time to panic or do more than move my arms before I found myself at the surface again. I didn't have time to panic, but I did have time to wonder if I was actually moving. Of course I was, since my body automatically seeks to float, and I am a fantastic treader of water.

I am, however, a terrible diver--or rather, a terrible leaper-in since what I was doing was not diving. Tonight, I jumped in once with a flotation device, gulped water, and swam back to the side of the pool. Okay, I thought to myself, I enjoyed that moment, the feeling of being in the water and back up to the surface. Though I did gulp water somehow. Then I was told that I had to jump without anything but my own body.

My body. That's it? But what if my body failed me? What if I didn't make it back to the surface? What if I opened my mouth like a gaping fish and took water into my airless lungs and sank to the bottom? Of course the thirteen lifeguards wouldn't be able to save me from my fate. My hands shook slightly. I crossed them over my chest and took deep, faltering breaths that would likely be my last. I placed my toes over the edge of the platform. I gulped. Fear pressed into my chest and settled a nice stranglehold on my throat. Deep breaths. You can do this. My swim instructor looked expectant; the class kept their eyes on me, but I was only aware of one thing: that I had to jump into the water. It was the only way to leave this platform.

I inhaled and stepped out into nothing. I was in the water and kicking and waving my arms and thinking about getting back to the surface and not gulping down the pool. Up bobbed my head. Now I had the task of swimming across the pool. My instructor told me to swim with my face in the water, but of course I was still trying to breathe from jumping in, so I ignored him, but I made it across. I jumped into the water and swam across the pool and lived to tell it to you.

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