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.
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.
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.