by N.T. McQueen
I loved the pool. Whether the dough boy at the Jigsaw house, or the in-ground, stone-laden, aquatic paradise on the mountain, being in the water, feeling the coolness cover my body, became my summer pastime. The diving board, the waterfall, the basketball hoop, the floaties. The rarity of a day not under the surface seems to slip my mind. Morning and even night, I would be in the water. Sarah joined me and Mom would come down, soaking up the sun on her inflatable lounger. Always vigilant in her caveat to us:
“Don’t get my hair wet.”
Most days, you were busy. Preoccupied at the college or driving to San Francisco for your doctoral classes. When tax season came around, you lived in your office, hunkered over computer screens, organizers and copy machines. Staple, file, blah, blah, blah. I guess the $150 grand you made as the college dean wasn’t enough. You needed that extra money.
Blame it on Mom. That’s what you did anyway.
But what I remember most are the few moments in those waters. On those rare days you came home early, we would head down to the pool after dinner and simply swim together. Mom would join sometimes, or just the three of us. The beauty of those moments survived in the fact that we were a team. No competition between my sister and me. No winners or losers or feats of strength.
You remember the tower, right? Since I was the youngest and skinniest, I would be the top of the tower and you submerged yourself so Sarah could sit on your shoulders. Then you would walk out deeper so I could climb on her shoulders. A tap on your head and you would stand, trying to raise both of us out of the water. Wobbling, as a team, clinging to balance on each other’s shoulders without falling.
I never had so much fun failing.
You spent hours in the water. You taught us how to dive off the diving board. How to get a good spring and arch our bodies the right way. You taught us how professional swimmers turned and kicked off the walls when they did laps, and we practiced together. Even in competition, we were a team.
We would play basketball on the small plastic hoop in the shallow end. Both handicapped by the water, so winning didn’t really matter to me. Trick shots, diving board shots, blind shots. Games of pool H-O-R-S-E. Maybe you beat me most of the time, but, frankly, I don’t remember or care.
You challenged us to try and flip you out of the inner tube. Frankly, it seemed impossible. How could a ten-year-old and twelve-year-old flip over a tube weighing over 300 pounds? But we attacked that tube together. Lifting and striving desperately, trying different tactics and approaches. In all those years, we might have flipped you twice.
In the pool, you seemed to start over. Almost like a baptism, a rebirth. A cleansing of your demons for just a few hours, and I think you felt that too. You released those insecurities and vices and preoccupations and wounds on the deck and plunged into your family. The identity you truly wanted to embrace but never felt worthy. Perhaps you simply didn’t know how to be a father. But in the water, it didn’t matter, because all those doubts washed away.
After a few hours, you would leave the pool first and head up to the house to relax. But I stayed in the water a little longer, watching the waves swell slower and slower until the surface settled into stillness. Then I would dry off and head up the stairs in the dark where your once damp footprints darkened the wood.
Sometimes, I wish I never dried off.