Once when I was a child, I spent an entire afternoon in the kitchen doing nothing, but feeling warm. I watched people come and go out the back door. Every time they would open it, a cool gust of wind would blow through, and I’d feel this relief. This subterranean relief. I think that might have been the first time in my entire life I’d felt that sensation. That something was wrong and then something was right. I didn’t even know the word for it. I’d open my mouth to try and name it, and the door would close again. Back to the heat. Back to the oppression. Back to not knowing why I was the way I was.
Finally, I just kept opening the door myself and shutting it—over and over again, inviting all that cool air inside. I don’t remember when I saw it exactly, but sometime during all that opening and shutting, I spotted a pond in the distance.
Just a little pond, nothing too grand, but I was curious about it. You see, I’d never noticed it until that very day. I suppose when you’re a child, everything’s new. Everything’s a…discovery. I set out from the house and walked all the way to the pond, which seemed to be much further away than it had originally appeared to my young eyes. The mind tricks itself sometimes, doesn’t it? It does a wave of the hand and distance grows or people vanish. My father would puff out smoke into dragons and I swore they’d come flying at me as I screamed.
Stop all that screaming! What’s wrong with you, girl?
When I finally did arrive at the pond, I remember stripping down to my undergarments, because the heat was bubbling up on me like scorpion bites. I took the new dress my mother had bought me earlier that week, and I laid it down gently on the grass so as not to stain it. I dangled my right foot gingerly in the water.
My goodness, it was so cool.
So cool and so alleviating after the afternoon of torridity I’d endured. Without any hesitation, I flung my body into that pond. As soon as I did, I realized it was much deeper than I had previously supposed. I sank almost instantly and I kept sinking. It hadn’t occurred to me that I wasn’t a very strong swimmer. Occasionally as a child those little technicalities slip by you. I felt like Alice descending into Wonderland. By that point, I was certain this was it, that I was going to drown. Then, I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was pulling me--yanking at me almost--up and out of the water. If you could feel a flash of light, that would be the best way to describe it. It was a flash. I saw it even more than I felt it.
Suddenly there I was on the grass again. The calid grass, scorched by the sun, right next to where I had removed my clothing. Except now I was no longer a girl, but a young woman. Why, I was nearly nineteen or twenty. I looked up and the hand that had grabbed me belonged to a man. A man of what appeared to be thirty or thirty-five. I was lying there on the ground and he was standing above me with the sun coming around him to blind me like a saint.
He had on brown pants with the cuffs rolled up, gray suspenders, and a white shirt that—even though the day was boiling—didn’t have a drop of sweat on it. His hair was jet black and a lock of it hung down over his forehead, over his eyes, almost to his nose. I remember him having the deepest brown eyes—eyes that reached out and pulled you back into them. Before I knew it, there were hands and arms, clumsy limbs, gangly fumbling, mumbled protestations, and then surrender. Dandelion surrender. When it was all over, he got dressed, and I lay there, laughing to myself.
What an odd thing, I thought, What an odd thing to have happen.
Then my body started to shrink back to its original form—that of a child without much to show for herself besides a few splinters in her foot and scuffed red shoes. As I felt myself growing smaller and smaller, I cast my eyes over to the water in the pond, and I remember more flashes of things I wanted and things I didn’t want.
I felt the urge to go back into the water. Back into the never-ending fear. A fear of drowning. A fear of the thing I knew. That I could name. Drowning had a word. It had letters. I could say it. What was this other? What was this uncertainty? Who was the woman of nineteen? What was relief? All I had were questions without question marks. I never got to the end of them. If you can’t get to the end of a question, how will you ever receive the answer?
Perhaps if I were small enough, I told myself, I could just become the water. Turn into a few more drops for the pond. Nothing more.
So that’s what I did.
I rolled myself right into the water, and the brown-eyed gentleman didn’t even notice, or at least, if he did, he didn’t say anything or try to stop me. Once again, I sank—down, down, down—like Alice and her pretty blue dress. And just as I felt the dark of the pond grab the last of my breath, I closed my eyes, and when I opened them, I was back in the kitchen. Laid out in front of the back door with people stepping right on over me like I wasn’t even there. My dress was stuck to my body from all the perspiring I’d been doing, but other than that, I was seemingly unchanged by my little fantasy. I remember being so unsettled by the dream. After all, I was just a child. I couldn’t have been more than fourteen. But even now, it feels like I shouldn’t remember certain parts of it as vividly as I do. The cold of the surface, the depth and the heaviness, but most of all, those eyes.
Those brown, brown eyes…