Thursday, November 7, 2013

Waterproof Bandaids

It was the summertime of my tenth year.  I had long tangled blonde hair, bleached to a slimy green hue from the excessive exposure to pool chlorine.  I had always loved swimming, but never quite as much as I did that summer.  It was hot and dry in the valley, with average temperatures hovering around 105 degrees, so naturally I spent my days in any swimming pool I could find.  Occasionally my brother and I would swim in the filthy canals that surrounded the fields on our farm.  We were warned about rats, but we never did see any.   My skin was almost as dark as my chocolate brown eyes, so much so that I could have passed for a Mexican.  Moms didn’t fuss with sunscreen back then the way they do now, or at least mine didn’t. 

I was a strong swimmer, and the water offered me a different kind of safe haven that year, more than it had ever done before.  I can still hear the utter silence as I jumped off the diving board, head first into my grandfather’s pool.  We were hosting a wake that day, for my twenty-one year old aunt who had committed suicide.  There were over a hundred people there, and the low buzzing of quiet chatter seemed deafeningly loud.  I felt guilty, walking through the house in my swimsuit, while others were dressed in black suits and stiff dresses, clutching snotty, wet handkerchiefs in their tense hands; but I was ten and it was hot, and the pool was quiet. 

Dozens of people stood around the pool, forcing false grins which stretched across their skin as I mounted the diving board and curled my toes over the edge.  Within a moment I was fully submerged in the safety of the pool, and all of the noise disappeared.  I was encompassed by the kind of silence that can only be found inside of a child’s innocent mind.  Surprisingly, for the first time I found myself scared in the water.  I could feel my favorite, dead aunt’s presence, as though she were swimming after me, and so I made my way to the surface as quickly as possible, and the noise returned.  I found myself in a quandary.  Should I get out and surround myself with grief, or should I stay in the water and listen to the deafening silence?  I stayed in the pool, swimming just below the surface from one end to the other for an hour, holding my breath as long as I could.  I could still feel her following me, just about to grasp the ends of my toes, and so I swam harder to remain out of her reach.  I could feel it all summer long, every single time I got into a pool.  I craved the silence that could only be found beneath the surface, yet I feared that I was being chased by a dead woman.  I would learn to live with it.

My kelly green swimsuit was my second skin that summer.  I took it off only occasionally to take a shower, and who needed a shower when they were in a pool all day?  Even when my mom forced me to take a shower and to use the soap, I rarely took the suit off.  One afternoon, after she insisted that I bathe, I walked down the hallway and noticed a cabinet, half open, which stored the Band-Aids.  Old enough to feel the pain of losing a beloved family member in such a tragic way, and young enough to still believe that Band-Aids still had the capacity to heal wounds, I grabbed three beige bandages and took them into the bathroom.  Without being asked, I peeled off my swimsuit, and carefully placed the bandages over my left breast in a pathetic attempt to heal my pain.  Realizing that it didn’t work, I sobbed in acknowledgment of my broken, ten-year-old heart.  I pulled my swimsuit back over my tiny, hairless body and pedaled my bike to the city pool rather than taking a shower. 

I swam that day with a bandaged heart, knowing that she was right behind me.