She dives beneath the waves, effortlessly. My own attempt pitiful. Sounds of the beach washed out as water fills my ears. I see her through the blurry blue water. Bubbles drift slowly up as she forces herself down, to that hostile place somewhere between water, pressure and gravity.
Did you know it gets colder the further down you go? Makes sense I suppose, but what’s these warm patches? It’s getting darker with each kick, like wandering into a forest from an open field. The sun barely twinkles down here, a constant reminder of how far back we need to go to breathe.
She’s still swimming down, relentlessly. I’m distracted and unsure, and her confidence, it strips away my own.
Surely she’s noticed my discomfort, but still she seems unperturbed; no, just determined.
Shit. I won’t have enough air to get back. She’s still swimming down. Fuck. Can’t go any deeper. Why won’t she look at me, she’s too far to touch.
She’s still swimming down.
That’s it, I’m out. Kick, scramble up. It’s getting brighter again, I can see the sun up there again, just out of my grasp. I’m feeling the struggle in my mind, as these lungs demand another breath. Just one. Then we can think about the rest.
I surface. I suck in a desperate breath as the relief slowly becomes shame.
She surfaces a few moments later. She’s hiding it well, but there’s disappointment all across her face.
Weeks pass and I’m getting better. I’m holding my breath now regularly, working my lungs, increasing my capacity.
Each time we search out somewhere new, somewhere deeper. She’s relentless, every time I start feeling confident at a depth, she wants to push more. A bit further out, a bit deeper down. These days I have to equalize three times during the first attempts.
We’ve started exploring the bottom now, scouring the seabed for trinkets of the past.
Yesterday she found an old fish lure; looked just like the one my brother used to swear by. We can barely count the golf balls, if only Dad still played.
We’ve not found anything of my mother. I’m always on the lookout, but nothing quite fits her right.
Today might be different though.
We’ve found a tunnel underwater. We’re fairly sure we know where it comes out. She’s keen to swim right through, and I’m trying to caution her back. Fool’s errand. She never heeds my restraint. Not with this.
I follow her down to the entrance. We can see the light peeking through the other side. We’ve been down here over a dozen times. Just thinking. Once or twice we’ve swam in a little, but we’ve never had it in us to commit.
Something in me gives. I know I can make it through, and this is my time. Without looking at her I pull myself in and start kicking through. I don’t even need to look around to know that’s she’s following. I almost think she’s been waiting for this.
A few seconds later and it’s starting to feel like a bad idea. There’s the proverbial light but man, it’s way further than I thought.
Somehow it’s getting narrower. It never felt like this before when we ventured in. I can’t turn back. That cold realization sends a burst of adrenalin searing into me; the worst possible time for my body to start demanding more oxygen.
I’m past halfway, surely. Yes, I can tell from the light coming through. Jesus, air. I know this feeling, the spots have started dancing in my eyes.
Escape. It’s what I’m begging for. Trapped. I can’t save myself. Helpless. Like a child caught in a rip.
I hate this kid. He’s pathetic. He’s embarrassing. He’s useless.
He’s going to die down here and for what? To prove to himself that he’s alive?
I suck in a desperate breath, I can’t help it. That horrendous moment when water fills my lungs. It burns away any hope I had left. I know what madness is, and that is all I have left to cling on to.
Convulse, retch. My stomach and lungs empty onto the warm rocks. I taste the salt and bile left on my tongue. Nothing has tasted as sweet.
She’s kneeling over me, the concern already fading away. I beg for it to stay, to comfort me a little longer, but it’s gone, with as much alacrity as she can muster.
I stink of relief & guilt. Of failure. No wonder she wants to leave. I lay on those rocks for hours, long after she left. Staring into the eyes of that ugly kid.
I never did find anything off my mother. Down in that long, empty tunnel. Nothing but that deep sense of shame. Of coming up empty handed. Of wasted opportunity. Of me, disappointing her, yet again.