I struggle when Mom tries to put on my water wings, promising that if she lets me go in without them, I’ll be super careful – stay shallow.
Eventually, she gives in and along the pool’s edge I shimmy until my toes no longer touch the smooth, white bottom and Mom is no longer hovering.
Holding tight to the edge with one hand, I dip below the surface and open my eyes in the clear, blue where I can see the bigger kids dunking and diving in every direction.
Floating and free.
The center of it all is now the place I most want to be, so feeling the rough, concrete surface of the pool deck pressing into the fingertips of one hand, I stretch the other toward the forbidden zone.
And I let go, stretching my nostrils skyward and doggy-paddling furiously toward the deepest waters.
I set my sights on Chris, who’s in the center of the pool talking to Dad, standing at the edge of the shallow end, but half way to her suntanned back, my arms and legs suddenly betray me and before I know it, down I go, pool water filling my nose and mouth.
I scramble for the sun and the air.
For a voice.
But each time I break the surface, my pleas are instantly drowned and I’m still out of reach of that suntanned back.
In the instant before I go under again, I can hear Dad’s voice, but I can’t see him and he can’t see me because Chris is directly in line between us.
And with all the commotion.
Someone please see me.
But no one does and, once more, I sink.
This time, the thought of not reaching air again – or even worse, reaching it and losing it again – terrifies me. I claw for the murky surface, now light years away, but desperate thoughts weigh heavily on my tired legs.
And I want to stop trying.
Arms abruptly pull me to the surface, then to the side of the pool, where another strong and sure pair guides me to the warmth of the concrete deck, where I vomit up pool water and begin to cry.