Oct 9, 2012


When I was a kid, my cousin/ basically my brother (from this point on be under codename: Ladybug-don’t worry, it’s a loving nickname) and I were enrolled in swimming lessons. I began when I was four or five and he started a few years after when he reached that same age. I would take the earlier, advanced class and he would take the younger class right after mine, so we were around to watch each other.

The classes were held in our outdoor community pool, which was absolutely freezing so early in the morning. For whatever reason I can't feel the cold. By the time the car pulled into the parking lot I always had my jacket off, shoes in hand, ready to jump in the pool, and when my lesson was over I refused to come out.  

Ladybug, like most other kids, had a much more difficult time. He would shiver and shake and most days he would beg to climb out early, wrapped in a thick towel as his teeth chattered, while I would eagerly ask if I could take his spot and jump back in.

I excelled in swimming, could hold my breath for two pool lengths or dive off the diving board and forget to come up until a worried instructor feared I was drowning and pull me out. (That tended to make them mad) I thought diving was the most wonderful feeling in the world and I practiced all the time.

Since I grew up right next to the ocean, when I wasn’t in the pool I was at this crap strip of beach ten minutes from my house. The waves were never very big unless there was a storm coming in, and each crest was filled with kelp and/or seaweed that tangled its slimy way across every inch of skin. I didn’t enjoy the shore much, but once I got past the breakers I loved the freedom of being able to swim in the (very cold) water when the pool wasn't open for summer.

I swam all year round, and because I can't feel the cold, one stormy January day I stayed in for more than 3 1/2 hours without a wetsuit and almost came out with hypothermia. It took several piping hot showers on the beach before my skin turned pink and I could uncurl my hands. But I was fine, a teenager, invincible. I didn't let it bother me.

It was this excellence, this confidence, this arrogance, which would be my undoing.

I was 16 and "pool hopping" with two of my friends. They were both 17 and enjoying the freedom of legally being able to drive friends after dark. We were in the spa of a very fancy hotel for only a few minutes before I left them. I could never take the heat for long, and preferred the cold water of the pool a few yards away.

The deepest section was only five feet, but I was 5'1" at the time and had been in this pool many times before. Shallow diving was my specialty. I dove in off the side- once, twice, six times. The rush of bubbles along my cheeks was thrilling, the ice water refreshing against my skin. It was a cold night and the stars were especially bright overhead. My breath puffed into the air as I climbed up the ladder.

I dove again, casually, carelessly, no longer thinking or making an effort. I'd done it a thousand times before. I cut through the water, too quickly, too steep, and couldn't stop myself. The bubbles rushed by my ears and I tried to arch my back. I couldn't pull up. The angle was all wrong. A tremendous pain lanced through my head, my neck, my spine-a pain so intense I could never have imagined anything like it.

And then there was nothing.

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