That scary void

It was dark, and there was no sound, no smell. When I opened my eyes all I could see were silver bubbles escaping from my mouth.

It was about 9 p.m. and I was swimming across DeLong Lake on a windy evening, the sky still light but overcast, the temperature, which had been close to 80 degrees earlier, cooling off so that the few people on shore wore jackets and baseball caps.

My goggles had fogged over and I could see nothing but the grey and choppy water, and my partner’s bright blue inflatable pack raft/boat. The waves were high enough that water splashed on my face and in my mouth. It was difficult to breathe and soon I lost all sense of where I was. I simply swam, my arms and legs moving through that cold water.

Yet when I opened my eyes on the underwater strokes, it was like falling into another world. It was dark, an all-consuming darkness that scared yet seduced me.

Soon I forgot where I was, who I was. I could have been a teenager, swimming through the pond back home, or an old woman swimming close to death. Each time my face moved underwater and I opened my eyes, I felt both fear and comfort. It’s almost as if those few seconds of darkness were why I swam the lake, the reason I sought it out.

The evening before, my partner and I had paddled across the lake in our inflatable boats. It had been sunny and warm that day, and we lazed in the middle of the lake for over an hour. He read and I took a nap, the sun warm and companionable on my face.

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We stayed out on the lake until the sun lowered in the sky, about 10:30 p.m., and finally paddled toward shore, loaded our boats up in the back of the Subaru and headed home.

That night I dreamed of water.

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All the next day, as we planted flowers and blueberry bushes around the house, I knew I had to swim across the lake. By the time we got there, around 7 p.m., the sky had clouded and the wind picked up and it was cold.

“You sure you want to do this?” My partner asked.

I nodded because swimming across the lake when it was cold and choppy scared me. It was like jumping into the unknown, like that long moment before you write, when you aren’t sure if you want to know what might come out of your head.

There is something so elemental about swimming, yet so complex. Our bodies are mostly water, bone and water and muscle, yet we spend most of our lives earthbound, stuck in place by gravity.

Once, a few years ago, I interviewed a high school swimmer for a news story and he said that he loved swimming because it blocked out all sensory cues, that it’s just you and the water and your head.

Probably this is why each time before I dive into the pool for laps or swim across a lake, I feel a moment of fear–I’m afraid of what might come out of my head, what I might learn about myself, the thoughts that I might hear, no outside distractions, nothing to save me from my terrible and clever mind.

When I finished swimming across the lake earlier this evening, after I sat in the front seat of the car with the heater on high, after I stopped shivering, I turned to my partner.

“I wouldn’t mind dying in the water,” I said.

“I hope you don’t die soon,” he said.

“But still, it would be worth it,” I said. “Feeling like that would be worth dying.”

I don’t know if it would be worth it. Probably it wouldn’t. But still, each time I close my eyes I see the darkness beneath the water, that soundless place, so enclosed yet strangely soft and buoyant, and I want more than anything to jump back inside, stay there, if only for a few minutes, a small space; another day.

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9 thoughts on “That scary void

  1. I know what you mean about dying in water… not violent drowning or being eaten by a shark. Just, when you know your time is up, to walk into the surf and not come back. Our ancient ancestors lived in water, and that primordial part of our brain still exists.

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    1. Yes, Eric, if only we could simply walk in water when our time is up. Sometimes I think we all long to return to the water, and yes it probably is due to our primordial brains. Thanks so much for visiting and hope your summer is going well.

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  2. Really powerful connection of swimming (and at least of that first dive into the water) and writing. But even more so, I think of the womb-like quality of floating in water, like when we swim we return to the place from which we came. And also your comment of feeling it would be worth dying then … I felt that once but not while swimming. I was sitting, actually cradled among some rocks at Mono Lake in CA, watching the sunset. The moment was so perfect, the colors so beautiful, and my body so comfortable, that I felt if I died then, it would be fine. And in a way, there’s that moment in writing when I have that same feeling, but it’s rare, it’s fleeting, and it’s kind of scary. And yet I search it out.
    Well, I truly love this post and how you set my mind on this interesting path 🙂

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    1. Oh, what a lovely reply, Marie! I love the image of you sitting cradled in rocks at Mono Lake. Such times make life so worth living, and also help get us through the crappy days, too. Sitting down to write is like diving into the water, into the void. It’s so scary, not knowing what might come out of your mind, isn’t it? Cheers and big, writerly hugs. P.S. Thanks so much for the reblog!

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      1. Hi, Cinthia! Thank you for your kind words. We’re planning a trip to Mono Lake later this summer. I’m hoping I can have that sunset experience again, although planning for it won’t make it happen 😉 Since cutting back on my blogging, it’s become clearer to me that I really do have a fear of diving: literally and figuratively. I enjoy swimming, but I’ve never enjoyed diving. It is scary but it must be done. Dog-paddling isn’t getting me anywhere 😉

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  3. I agree with the high school swimmer’s reason. Blocking outside noise really helps intensify our other senses. A lot of people love yoga, but I prefer swimming for that serene, meditative quality.

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    1. I didn’t know you were also a swimmer, Karen! Love your posts from Santa Fe. The high desert (almost wrote dessert, guess I’m craving more brownies, lol) is so very, very special. Cheers and big hugs,

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