The Deep End: Part Two
I kicked after them in a kind of dog paddle. Could I swim with my face in the water? Yes, but that is only when I trust that I can put my feet down and find wonderfully solid concrete. There was no chance of putting my face in the water going deeper. I had to be alert. I had to be ready for it.
I watched the numbered tiles grow… 4 feet… I saw Jake walk back out onto the pool deck, clad in a jammer and swim cap. He smiled and gave me a thumbs up… 5 feet… Megan and Allison had reached the other side of the pool and were hanging onto the ledge of the wall, waiting for me, encouraging me on… 6 feet…
My breaths came in heavy, labored gasps. My arms and legs felt weighted down and uncoordinated in the water. Hair fell into my eyes and I pushed it away.
The pool was 25 yards across, which isn’t very long at all, but in the water, 25 yards might as well have been 25 miles. But I was halfway across and hadn’t yet fallen into panic. That was an upside, right? I smiled and kicked harder. Look at me, Lily Maria Garcia, conquering a lifelong fear at the age of 21. I decided to tell Megan and Allison about my secret fear when I reached the other side. They’d be so proud of me. I’d tell Jake too, since he helped encourage me to get in the water. I imagined their faces, awe-struck and happy as I confided this long kept secret. They’d hug me and hug each other and cry and clap. And maybe if I could overcome this fear, then maybe I could overcome my fear of speaking to a certain handsome young lifeguard who sat above us all, bearing witness to this most life-changing event.
Pain, sudden and sharp, engulfed me as if someone had stuck a knife in my side. My body seized and I gasped as my hands clamped around my side. My legs bunched up, knees to my stomach in an innate attempt to protect myself from whatever horrific torture was being inflicted upon me. With my arms and legs pulled in, I sank quickly beneath the water.
Immediately, the familiar panic beset me, like a tiger, prowling unseen until the right moment to strike. I made a kind of weird flapping motion with my arms, trying to climb my way back to the surface, but the pain in my side spiked and I couldn’t help but clasp my hands to my side again. I barely managed to push my shirt—which was floating around my head—out of my face.
It didn’t occur to me to drop down to the bottom and push off the floor with my feet. It didn’t occur to me that by now Megan, Allison, Mark, and probably Jake had seen me and realized what was going on. The Lizard Brain had taken over—the primitive, illogical, unreasonable side of my brain that was only interested in one thing: survival.
Somehow, I managed to give a strong enough kick for my head to breach the surface. I tried to draw breath to scream for help, but my shirt suctioned to my face and all I succeeded in doing was sucking in a mouthful of wet fabric and chlorinated water before I sank back under the water. Water burned the back of my throat and invaded my nose.
My stupid shirt! My arch nemesis! My Achilles heel! My death shroud!
I was going to die. Lizard Brain gave way to Overly Melodramatic Brain (OMB) as I continued to struggle in the water somewhere between the bottom and the surface. The OMB began to imagine my funeral. Something tasteful, the service filled to bursting with family and friends. In the front of the room, crying harder than all of them, Mark LaWren professing he’d secretly been in love with me. Oh why hadn’t he said something sooner, cried the OMB.
I would be a very attractive corpse, the OMB reasoned. The morticians having done an amazing job on my makeup, making me look twenty pounds lighter. Everyone would say what a beautiful girl I was.
My lungs burned, begging me to exhale my last breath of air. Possible news headlines ran through my mind: 21 Year Old Drowns in Pool after Deadly Cramp… Or: Swimming in a T-Shirt—the Unknown Dangers.
My body jerked and a thin trail of bubbles escaped from my mouth. My vision began to dim. I involuntarily sucked in water and everything went black.
I didn’t die that day. Obviously.
In fact, from the time that I first felt the cramp in my side to the time that I woke up on the pool deck with half a dozen concerned faces hanging over me, less than five minutes had gone by.
Kneeling over me, his damp hair hanging in the warm caramel discs of his eyes, was Mark LaWren. I blinked, letting this strange turn of events sink in.
Mark LaWren was leaning over me.
My brain couldn’t take in what was happening. Lizard Brain and OMB were silent. I was acutely aware of his hand on my shoulder, the other on the ground to steady himself as he knelt beside me.
I began to notice other sensations as well: a pounding in my head, a burning in my throat, and a dull ache in my side. But none of that mattered as long as Mark LaWren leaned over me. A drop of water dripped from one of his perfect golden ringlets and landed on my nose. I flinched and rubbed my nose.
Mark’s brow drew forward with concern. “Are you alright?”
“Y-yes,” I croaked. I couldn’t stop looking at his face. He was so beautiful. So close, I could see the tiny series of freckles that sat just under his right eye. I had never noticed them before. A slight sunburn highlighted his high cheekbones. His full lips looked soft and kissable.
Mark helped me sit up, my skin singing under his touch. I felt a blush creep up my chest and neck.
I finally noticed that Megan, Allison, and Jake had clustered around me too.
“Are you okay, Rabbit?” Jake asked. There were red rings around his eyes where is goggles had pushed into the sensitive skin. His dark blue eyes searched my face intently.
Allison’s face was drawn tight and Megan looked like she was about to cry.
“Yeah, I’m okay.” I assured. Now that I was not longer in danger, I felt embarrassed. I couldn’t even swim across the pool. Now everyone knew my secret. My chest was sore and my eyes were gritty from the invasion of the chlorine water. I cleared my throat and looked down at my fingers. I tangled them in my wet t-shirt, which clung unflatteringly to my body. I squeezed some of the water out of my shirt.
“Back up please,” said the supervisor of the pool, John Sanders. “Give the girl some room to breathe.”
My friends obeyed but their eyes never left me.
Sanders was a tall thin man in his early forties with dark eyes and skin turned leathery from years in the sun. The skin around his eyes was a pale white compared to the ruddy tan of his cheeks-- tan lines from his sunglasses, which gave him the look of a raccoon. In his hand he held a clipboard. “Come with me, young lady. You and I need to fill out an incident report.”
“Um, okay,” I said.
I followed Sanders into the small staff office with my head down, so that I wouldn’t have to see everyone looking at me. Jake caught up to me before I entered the office and handed me a towel. It wasn’t mine, but it was big and warm and dry. I took it with a nod of thanks and followed Sanders inside.
The faint scent of damp carpet met my nose, hidden under the more prevalent smells of tropical air freshener, sweat, and sunblock. The papers on the cork board fluttered in the breeze produced by the small air conditioning unit and the four portable fans that sat on various cluttered surfaces.
I wrapped the towel around my shoulders and perched on a chair near the door.
“Okay, so can you explain what happened?” Mr. Sanders said as he sat down and propped his bare feet up on a stack of kickboards.
I relayed my story to Sanders as he dutifully copied it down. I explained everything, my fear of deep water, my line of thought for swimming into deep water, the pain in my side, the panicking, and then waking up on the deck.
Mr. Sanders scribbled a few things down on his clipboard and regarded me with his dark eyes.
“Okay,” he said. “Read that over while you wait for the paramedics. Your friends should sign it too. They were witnesses.”
My stomach dropped. “Paramedics?”
Sanders nodded. “You lost consciousness, young lady. It’s policy.”
I closed my eyes. I wanted to disappear under my big towel and not come out again until everyone had forgotten about this incident. Five years should be enough, right?
I took the clipboard with numb fingers and signed it. There it was, my embarrassment documented in ink for all eternity.
“Can I take this out to my friends?”I asked him. Sanders nodded.
I stepped out of the office and found Megan, Allison, and Jake huddled near the bleachers.
“Lily, are you okay?” Megan asked. Her voice cracked and there were tears in her eyes.
“What happened? One minute you were right behind us and then the next you were thrashing around in the water… and then you went under.” She pressed a hand against her mouth.
I hugged her. “I’m okay,” I assured them. “I’m more embarrassed than anything else. I’m sorry I scared you.”
“We’re just glad that you’re okay,” Allison said. She looked curiously at the clipboard in my hands.
“Right,” I said and held it out to them. “Sanders says that you guys need to sign it, as witnesses.”
Jake took it and barely glanced at the paper before signing the bottom. He passed the clipboard to Allison, who took her time reading through it.
I heard the wail of sirens getting closer, and felt my cheeks burn.
Allison looked up at me and passed the clipboard to Megan. “I didn’t know that you’re afraid of deep water,” she said. “Why didn’t you tell us?”
The sirens were much louder, and I saw a flash of red and blue light before the siren cut out and the ambulance pulled up to the door.
A man and a woman in dark blue uniforms hopped out of the ambulance and jogged into the facility. Sanders met them by the office and nodded in my direction.
The paramedics walked over to me.
“Are you Lily Garcia?” the female paramedic asked.
“Yes,” I said, miserably.
“Could you tell us what happened?” the male paramedic asked.
I repeated my story for them, my face burning redder and redder as I went. Megan, Allison, and Jake took a few steps back to give me some privacy, but I knew they were listening. I’m not even sure why I’m embarrassed telling the story in front of them since they saw the whole thing happen.
“Well, we can’t force you to come with us,” the female paramedic said. “But we recommend that you see your doctor, since you lost consciousness.”
I nodded. “Thank you.”
My parents picked me up. My mother broke explosions of Spanish as she inspected me. My father grabbed me in a bear hug and gave me a kiss on the forehead, his mustache scratchy against my skin. Then my mother descended on Mark and I thought I might truly die of embarrassment as she hugged him and kissed his cheek and told him that he’d saved her “baby girl.”
I tried to push off their affection as we left the pool, my face burning as I said goodbye to Jake, Allison, and Megan, and then to Mark.
“Thank you,” I mumbled to him as I walked by. I couldn’t meet his eyes.
I had no idea how I would ever show my face near the pool again.
Look for Part Three, which will be posted next Tuesday, March 26, 2019