An excerpt from a much larger story. The whole piece has a long way to go, as it’s being written just a few hundred words a day, but even that’s a major accomplishment in discipline for me. You’re reading Caleb’s thoughts.
We agreed not to do anything about it until after dinner. That was the best time. Until then, Beth and I separated.
After what she had said, I wanted to explode. But not here. I needed to get somewhere else, and quickly. I grabbed my swimming gear from our boat, and ran all the way to the drop spot. It only took a minute to change into my suit and without thinking, I jumped the 15 foot cliff and placed the goggles over my eyes as I fell into the blue water below.
It was so cold my ears rang, but it felt good on my skin. I let the momentum from the fall take me further under the water and let myself go by exhaling all the air I had in my lungs before moving towards the surface. I let my body rise slowly. Even in the cold, the familiar movement brought me towards calm.
I inhaled slowly as soon as my head broke the surface. Boats peppered the harbor and the only swimming path had always been beside the cliff walls that made up the coast on this side of the village. I took off swimming as hard as I could.
There’s something truly beautiful about swimming. It’s the calm really. That’s the part I crave. Having my face in the water, a steady breathing pattern, and each of my muscles from my neck to my ankles contracting and releasing in unison. My body rotates around my core and allows me to breathe without lifting my head. My arms relax in the air, and contract when they sink into the water above my head, anchor, and pull my body forward into the empty space. My legs don’t kick hard, but they stabilize my rotation and don’t lag. They’re strong enough to go for hours at a time -something I’ve tested when swimming the distance races.
But most of all, when I’m in water, I’m me, and I can react to what I’m feeling. At this moment, I’m angry and that fuels my muscles as I slide through the water one steady arm stroke and rotation at a time. Breathing to my right side, then a few strokes and breathing to my left, lifting my head to spot my position every once in awhile. The routine of it counters the anger that makes me want to explode.
Rotate, anchor, pull. Rotate, breathe, anchor, pull.
My subsiding anger turns into concern. She was right, everyone is going to hate her. They are. Even the parents will call her a whore under their breath and tell their children to stay away. That bad company corrupts, and she was bad company now. They will, because they love to hate.
I feel again for the calm, but I can’t. A few years ago a wife slept with a ship hand. Everyone said the husband had it coming and that the wife was a rotten sinner for letting her worldly lusts destroy her. I remember the day the two came to the church. It seemed to me he was trying to make things work again. But during the service, the elders quietly came and asked them to step outside. There was a long conversation and the last I saw, they were loading a truck the next day.
I was getting angry again and I pulled harder and faster. They love to hate, I thought. They’ll love to hate Beth. Sweet Beth. My lovely popular sister. It made me hurt on levels I didn’t know existed and I screamed with my face in the water, took a breath and screamed again, letting the feelings run through every piece of me and into the water around me. The feeling felt so good I didn’t stop. I was afraid it would end too soon.
I don’t remember at what point I turned around. My body must have known it’s limit was coming, or I was reminded that it was close to dinner, or I thought of Beth being alone. Any one of these would have done it. I turned around and started swimming back. In my exhaustion, it seemed to take forever to make to the drop in. By the time I got there, my body was tired enough that I couldn’t feel.
That’s maybe the most beautiful thing about swimming. When it’s over, I don’t feel anymore.