At thirteen, if I felt like jumping into the irrigation pond, off the make shift diving board just to show off, what did it matter that I could barely swim? I wasn’t going to drown. We were all too young for dying. That was an absolute undeniable fact.
That was the reason I was at the end of the makeshift diving board that one of the neighbourhood boys had made from a long 2 x 12 plank. He brought it along, tied to his car roof. His buddy held it in place as he drove over the end of it with his big old Ford clunker. Weighted down by 3000 pounds of metal, anchored between rubber tire and sandy pond bank, there was just enough give when someone bounced on the plank to get everyone’s adrenaline surging with each car-bouncing dive. Even with a ton and a half of counter weight, some of us, under the influence of too many Road Runner and Bugs Bunny Cartoons, fantasized that one of the heavier guys might catapult the car skyward landing it in the middle of the pond.
Part of the thrill of the dive had to be the sense of imminent danger, and part of it the knowledge that every eye was upon you (except for, maybe, Mary Lou and Doug’s who only had eyes for each other.) A precocious desire to gain the attention of the guy with the car (Gosh, he had to be at least 16!) had lured me out to the end of the board. I stood there briefly in my stylish American cousin’s blue hand-me-down swimsuit. I was so confident in the knowledge that the shirred bust-line gave off the impression of a future Sophia Loren that I daringly bounced two or three times before lift-off!
With a huge splash I hit the water and went down, down, down— down through the warm sun dappled surface, down through the slightly cooler water, down to the very depths of the pond. All I know is that when it was time to come up through the hypolimniom, up through the metalimnion, up through the epilimnion, I stayed somewhere underneath, vaguely aware that there was something not quite right about looking around in the murkiness with eyes wide open, and taking the time to mentally review an entire Geography lesson on the various levels of stratification in bodies of water.
I don’t recall panicking at all, just hanging around in the midzone and staring towards the murky green light, feeling like I was in some kind of suspended animation, not even going through the motions of swimming in my temporary lethargy. Kind of like the last pickled egg in the jar at that clap trap store near North Bay on our family’s last vacation. I remember thinking that had to be the weirdest thing I’d ever seen—one single egg floating in the middle of a huge jar of murky greenish brine, slimy looking dill fronds floating around it, soggy seeds, and broken stem bits silting up the bottom. It sloshed side to side just a little, as my younger sisters Jeannie, Kathy and Janice leaned against the counter, trying to pick out candy from the glass case underneath it, while my Dad paid for bait.
Finally my shock at smacking the water so hard dissipated, and the resultant brain fog lifted. I began to move. But was I swimming? Or was I trying to walk across the bottom of the pond? I will always wonder about that, as it was not by hands, but rather, my feet that signalled that I was near the water’s edge. From moving about freely, suddenly my feet felt as if they were being swallowed by the pond bottom. I pitched forward just under the surface into a face full of green ropey vegetation, freeing my feet just as my head crested through the epilimnium (a scummy one in that area of the pond). I had reached the scrubby bank on the opposite scary side— the side with the treacherously sticky blue clay mud our father had warned us about. I slogged my way out of it, hoping no one saw me there, all smeared and slimed and gasping for the air.
I was back to the painful reality of alternating, moment by moment, between wanting to be noticed and wanting to be invisible. That was the turbid waters just below the surface in the year that I was thirteen. Moments earlier, I had nearly forgotten that air was a necessary accompaniment to living, in my twin meditations on a Geography lesson and a family vacation memory. Surely someone would eventually rescue the one lone pickled egg!