Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Unofficial Lifeguard

Part Three

Summer, 1977

   Also this summer, after saving the kid, one humid Friday night, I am relaxing in the pool, floating on my back, occasionally propelling myself off the side with my toes, away from Dee sitting on the edge with her feet in the water. We are joined by five black women. One I recognize from nods in the laundry room and along uneven sidewalks; the other ladies seem like visitors and all of them are unaccustomed to the water. They swim awkwardly, arms chopping at the water, their kicks creating turbulence but little forward movement. One of the ladies refuses to venture in the water any deeper than her thick waist. They laugh and tease and cry out to each other. Amused, Dee and I sip our beers and watch.
   Dee says she is not comfortable swimming either. She looks at me and nods for emphasis.
   The women squeal like girls--their voices echoing from the walls of the apartments surrounding the pool. Two of the women race the length of the pool--their thrashing along a crooked course causing a choppiness in the entire pool.
   I hold on to Dee's toes and float on my back. Ears under water, the noisy women sound like barking seals. The closer sound of Dee's voice brings my head up.
   . . . brother Petey drowning, my parents instilling such a fear in me. These women lacked opportunity, too.
   One lady veers off course so badly that she swims into the side of the pool. Her companions hoot at her.
   I'm going for beers.
   Dee nods.
   Coming back down the stairs, beers in hand, drops of water from my suit still running down my legs, I hear Dee call me.
   The cries of the women have changed.
   She's in trouble, Raymond.
   Dee's voice is surprisingly calm.
   Two of the women struggle in the deep water. One has panicked and grabbed the other. By the time I reach the deep end, one of them manages to free herself and makes it to the side. She holds on, both arms stretched out on the wet concrete, screaming rage and panic and worry and relief. I think once of the long-handle pool net but instead jump into the deep water near the woman. She grabs me immediately in a fierce stranglehold around my neck. A surge of panic and I start to rip myself free. Facing her, my face buried between her breasts, I wait until we sink deep enough to propel us off the bottom with my toes. We gulp air and sink again. She tightens her hold and her legs come up around my waist and lock behind my back. She no longer struggles but holds on and waits for air each time we bob to the surface. Locked tightly together, I use my arms and begin to move us to shallower water. Her soft breasts cocoon my head. Finally, with her up on me, her head above mine, she is able to gasp for air and cry out once. I tip-toe until my head is out of the water.
   It's okay.
   We're in shallow water.
   Okay now.
   Feel better?
   Slowly, slowly, staring, the woman loosens her hold around my neck and leans slightly away from me. Slowly, finally, recognition, like waking from sleep, comes into her eyes, across her face.
   The woman is embarrassed.
   She releases her legs and backs away from me.

   Later, in the pool, alone, thinking over the events earlier, the panicky feeling of the woman's fierce hold around my neck, I remember, when he was still alive, Dad's main expression of love is always in the form of a dilemma: imaginary situations involving choices equally unsatisfying. What if two of his sons are drowning, who to save? What father doesn't know about his youngest son, Raymond, feeling trapped because of his adolescence, too scared to strike out on his own like his brothers, staying on instead, is that he feels that he and his parents, the three of them left in that small house on Bernardo are all drowning and can no more save each other than express their love openly.

1 comment:

  1. Love this. Keep it coming. Like the line about expressing love in the form of a dilemma, a condition that rings all too true.