Treading Water

Nobody heard him, the dead man,

But still he lay moaning:

I was much further out than you thought

And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking

And now he’s dead

It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,

They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always

(Still the dead one lay moaning)

I was much too far out all my life

And not waving but drowning.

STEVIE SMITH — Not Waving But Drowning

***

One familiar riff, and one that played out for the next several years, was swimming. Although I was stuck in the Fun House, I was often in water. My fault I suppose — I’ve always used the term ‘treading water’ when I’ve been stagnant in my life: not moving forward with in my career or schooling or personal life, just being comfortable with what I was doing at the time.

The water never worried me, I’ve always been an excellent swimmer. But for those first few years I spent an inordinate amount of time dreaming about water traps and treading water, until one day…

I was edging close to 30; my career was finally settling in to a good place. I had become involved in a relationship with a woman of a certain religiosity. Life seemed good. Then it all imploded. And as I started to put my life back together, during my sleep I found myself standing on the edge of a swimming pool.

***

The pool was massive, a rectangular lake of tiles. Though the water was clear, I couldn’t see the bottom. Still, there seemed no option but to jump in.

The temperature was ambient, and the feeling wasn’t exactly like water. It had similar properties to water, but the feeling wasn’t quite right. I needed to hold my breath if I went under the surface, but I wasn’t limited by the normal restrictions on how long I could hold it. I soon discovered that my rate of descent was determined by my breath — the more I released the deeper I could go, while just holding my breath I could return to the surface. Since it was a pool I felt like I should explore the bottom, but running out of air just to see if I could reach it didn’t really seem like a good idea.

Over time I may have become disoriented with my breathing, or I may just been able to control my it better, but I started to see what I felt was the bottom of the pool. While the water I was swimming in was clear, and the surface was distinguished by the dome housing the pool, I started to see what looked like coils of dark smoke in front of me. As I went closer it looked like the smoke was beneath the floor of the water. Even though I felt like I was at my limit if I wanted to surface again, I couldn’t stop myself from swimming closer. I kept going for the floor, and without any fanfare I broke through the floor of water, about two feet above the floor of the pool.

***

There was air to breathe here. It wasn’t great: dirt, dust, and smoke all blew around down here, but I could breathe. And though this was air, in that what I had just been in was water, the surface tension was all wrong — I still had to move around like I was swimming, but it wasn’t as easy as it had been: everything required a lot more exertion, and I would get tired quickly from the poor quality air.

As I slowly managed to get my bearings, I noticed a doorway/passageway to one side. Looking around, and then looking around again, nothing else was visible through the fug. So for lack of a better option, I moved toward the doorway…

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