When I was 3 or 4 or maybe even 5, going over to grandma and grandpa’s house in the summer was the best. It was the best because it usually meant we would also be going over to Dave and Doddy’s house, who lived next door, and they had a pool (no offense grandma, your oatmeal raisin cookies will forever have a special place in my heart). It wasn’t one of those blow up above-ground blow pools either, where all you could do was swim in circles. No, this was a full blown in-ground pool that had a “deep end”. It even had a diving board and water slide. So yeah. A kid’s literal dream come true.
The pool took up most of the back yard, but there were trees and bushes and flowers planted all around the perimeter that blocked the view of the fence or anything beyond really. It all made for a scene which felt like we were in some secret paradise in an enchanted forest.
Anyway. Like I said I was pretty young yet, and not a strong swimmer, so I would entertain myself in the shallow end. I’d strap on my face-mask goggles (the ones that make you talk funny because of the rubber piece that covered your nose) and sink in slowly. I’d hover over the bottom, arms and legs splayed like a skydiver, and gaze at the lining of the pool. It was blue. And white. Kind of like the summer sky. It was as if I were suspended between the skies, one above and one below, just floating there. I’d slowly kick, gently exploring this in-between realm. And when my breath was just about out, I’d push off the bottom and suck in a breath of fresh air from the real sky.
This particular day I had done this routine a few times when my dad bobbed over to me. He waited patiently as I was tripping out over the whole between-skies business, and when I came up for air he asked…
Wanna go to the deep end?
…in that funny, nasally face mask voice. My stomach tightened a little.
He knows I can’t swim, right?
I didn’t want to say no. I didn’t want dad to think I was scared. But then he grinned and said…
Come on, you can hold onto my back.
He turned around and squatted a little deeper in the water, and I jumped on.
Off we went, dad and I. We started walking down the slanted pool bottom, and then went horizontal when the water was too deep even for him. I dipped my face into the water to see what was under us. The bottom looked so far down. Dark too. I tightened my grip a little.
Once we were hovering over the deepest part dad asked…
and before I could say anything, we slipped under the surface and shot down into the deep. The water cooled as we sunk further. It felt fresh and silky flowing softly through my hair. I had tightened my grip even more so when we first dove, but now I loosened it. As it got cooler I noticed how warm my dad’s smooth skin was.
We neared the bottom and I started feeling this pressure in my head. I didn’t know what it was, I’d never had so much water on top of me before. But I didn’t like it, and it scared me some. Then I felt the burn of my lungs running out of air. This scared me even more and I clung harder to dad’s back. I couldn’t say anything to dad, but I wanted to. I thought about maybe letting go, trying to swim back up on my own. But I’d never done that before, and that scared me the most.
Just when I thought I’d have to try and make a desperate go of it, a rush of power ran through my dad’s strong back. I felt his great, sturdy muscles push against the water as if he were parting seas. I held fast with all I had. The water warmed as we shot higher, higher, higher. The burning in my lungs intensified but I knew dad was doing all that was in his power to get us back to air and sunlight. Just when I thought I had nothing left, our heads crashed up through the surface and sweet oxygen flooded my lungs.
Dad swam me back to the shallow end, and I climbed off his steady back. He looked me in the eye and asked…
You alright Benny?
Yeah dad, I’m alright.
There was some silence. Water droplets toppled off our faces and ker-plunked back into the pool.
Way to hold on. I’m proud of you.
He had the biggest, most genuine smile when he said that.
I knew then, I was safest with dad.