The Other Side

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time swimming, and at some point, nearly every time I was in the pool, I would flatten myself against the bottom and look up at the surface. After the vertigo passed, it was easy to switch perspectives and pretend that I was actually looking down onto a world scrambled by an ever-changing surface. Sometimes, very early in the morning or late at night, I might be the only one in, and the surface would be smooth and glassy enough to get a better picture, but even then, the slightest gust of wind would garble the picture. So easily disrupted, it seemed, was the world below. Pressed against the smooth concrete and surrounded by still water, I often asked myself, What’s going on down there? I would stare down for a long time wondering, futilely, if I could just stay and watch. Eventually, my lungs would start to burn, and I’d feel my body begin drifting toward the surface. As I crossed the boundary, the transition would always be disorienting. A cold breeze would lick my face, the light would blind me, and the sharp noises of the surface would once again ring in my ears. For a moment, every gust would feel like needles, every reflection off the water would shine like a solitary sun, and every drop of water would ring like a hammer on an anvil.

I broke the surface tension again recently, but the hammers are still pounding in my head. The temptation to retreat is a constant itch inside the back of my skull, but so far, I’ve been good about keeping my head above water. Breaching the surface should be fun. As a kid, we could always make believe that we were someone–something–else, but somehow that ability gets pounded out of us by most of the things that make us functional adults. That’s not to say that we can’t have fun. I can have fun. I like fun. So, who or what do I think I’m pretending to be now? Adventurer? Vacationer? International businessman? Colonialist? Lost artist? None or all, depending on who you ask. Let’s not ask who I actually am. I could go with the flow here, pretty easily. I could pretend that I’m happy, like that dark cloud didn’t make the trans-Pacific trip with me. You know: fake it ’til I make it. That kind of thing.

Interesting that I would bring myself from a place that could fulfill variations on all my inclinations, to a place where those things are simply no longer possibilities. I think I just heard a door slam behind me. All my needs could be met if only I had less eccentric desires. At least, that’s what I’ve been told. Seems like a gyp, to me, though. Although, I suppose, I could have checked some items of my bucket list long ago if I really had the drive.

Drive. Therein lies the problem. Lying on the bottom of a pool, the only drive is for air–necessary, inevitable, simple. Possibilities before were endless. Now, they still might be endless, but it’s the memory of the what-could-have-beens that drive a person mad.

Next time: A list of the crap I brought with me that I don’t need, and what it means. Part 1.

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One comment

  1. “Life is an immobile, locked,
    Three-handed struggle between
    Your wants, the world’s for you, and (worse)
    The unbeatable slow machine
    That brings what you’ll get…”

    (Philip Larkin, from “The Life with a Hole in it”)

    Not exactly encouraging, but seemingly woven from a similar fabric to the feel of the pool-bottom concrete, the pressure against the eardrums, and the distant chugging of the filters. And yet there’s still a world. And a pool. And you, alive, because you’re witnessing it from whatever mad, inverted angle. It’s the witnessing that matters. Why? Because, well, as our parents once explained, because they said so.

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