Learning The Rules

It is hard to know where one person’s memory ends and mine begins. I know the story of being at the pool when I was three, and that my mother was assigned to look after my older sister, my toddler brother, and me. And I know I was hanging onto the edge of the pool and my mother told me, “Now don’t let go,” because she had to go fetch Tommy who was wandering off. I know these things because those are my mother’s memories of the events leading up to what I did next. I think I remember letting go of the side of the pool as soon as she was out of sight. I know that I remember floating down through the water. I could not swim a stroke, you see, and for some reason I was at the deep end of the pool. So I sank.

I remember the peace of being fully submerged. I have no memory of being worried. The water was just so peaceful, and the further down I sank, the more peaceful it grew. Gone for the moment were the rules of dry land, where one is weighted to the earth and its relentlessly horizontal options. This was like flying in reverse, with the pleasant benefit of the world being slowed within water’s fluid embrace.

Then something was happening and I was surging upwards, the water filling my ears with the sound of movement. I burst out of the water on the lifeguard’s shoulders. “Decided to take a little swim,” he said to my mother, who crouched at the edge of the pool. The lifeguard was very jolly. It was like he and I were playing a game.

My mother, however, wore an expression I had never seen before. She was not angry – I’d seen that expression before – but it seemed like I had done something wrong. I had broken a rule, and I was the sort of boy who wanted to follow the rules. There were just so many rules one had to remember that they could fill your head like noise so you can’t hear the simple sound of your own thoughts. Tempting then to let go, I suppose, and nice as well to know you have that choice. But the lifeguard was right to be so jolly. The game was still going, and I had just begun to play it.

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