By Amie Reilly
“Watch me, watch me” you yelled and in my head I started singing that pop song that came out a few years ago, the one you learned at summer camp and then taught yourself to play on the saxophone. The song wormed its way into my ears, sloshing around the same way water does after I swim.
You were spinning somersaults in the pool. Holding your nose while you did it, trying to do two in a row. I watched you (watched you, watched you), and counted your flips on one hand, the seconds you were underwater on the other. I still fear for your life the way I did when you were inside me, a fear that loomed larger after you were born and your skin stretched translucent over your skull.
There is a part of me that wishes you would stay above the water, where boy lungs belong. “I’m gonna try for three now,” you said. Your thumb and the knuckle of your pointer finger were still pinching your nose closed, the rest of your curled fingers blocked your smile. I used my hand to shield that old fool sun from my eyes. When you came up for air I clapped.
My dad could somersault under water, when he was young and still sober, so many we thought he would die. Twelve, fifteen, maybe more. I wish I could remember his record or whether he turned more going forward or backward. He churned the air and water until bubbles filled the pool, made it carbonated. The light soles of his dark feet would break the surface, prune-y and pickled.
When he came up for air he’d be dizzy. Sometimes big green snots plastered across his cheek and I was mortified that such a human thing had happened to someone with his superhuman power. My friends would cheer him on, beg him to do it again and again. Their dads stayed out of the pool.
I have an uncle with Down Syndrome and he can’t get dizzy. I don’t know if this is because of his extra chromosome or his chronic ear problems. He memorizes birthdays– dates stick in his head the way pop songs and pool water stay in mine. Birthday cards come through the mail, signed with his first name and last initial always, Chris T, but he’s never put a space between the ‘s’ and the ‘T’ so the cards appear to be deified. Perhaps they are, celebrating the miracles of memory, birth, and the United States Postal Service.
Before you were born I felt you. Not (just) in a metaphysical way, but your actual soft and hard outsides mashing against my soft and hard insides. You were an oddly familiar mystery; elbow, spine, rump roiling like waves beneath the swell of my midsection. Such power to move parts of my body I have never seen. The you within me grew the knot of your heart and spongy lungs that knew not to try for air, not yet. You were a gilled fish and my body an aquarium made from my womanness.
On the day you were born I was the only one who heard the soft gasp of your first dry breath. My own breathing got caught on your beauty and I heard you become. Become what? Mine.
My father was not an alcoholic until I was nearly a teenager. Unless he was. Unless there was always a soft part spinning inside him, waiting to harden him against himself, making him need Budweiser and schnapps the way others need air and water. It was there. I know, because it spun inside his father, too.
Could it also be in you?
On the day he died, I climbed into the shower, folded my knees up to my chest as I sat down on the fiberglass floor and let the water run hot down my head, over the bumps of my spine, into the split of my body. My wet sobs echoed against the tiles and then swirled down the drain. I wanted absolution. I thought maybe he could hear me.
Inside you, zipped up DNA strands pirouette invisibly. Each of your cells a tiny world, blood and air moving through your fist-knot heart and pinked lungs, swirling as you somersault in a pool that sits on top of the earth as it revolves around itself and around the sun, spinning and spinning and spinning like time and love unbroken.
Your eyes used to be navy, like the sea. Once, when you were still new, I saw a shadow flicker behind them and then disappear, a ghost in the corner of an old house. I blinked with you, slow and dreamy, and they turned a lighter shade of blue.
Amie Souza Reilly lives in Connecticut with her husband and ten-year-old son. She teaches in the English departments at Sacred heart university and Norwalk Community College, and is the Feminist Fridays writer at The Adroit Journal. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in Entropy, Toasted Cheese, and Pigeonholes.
Jen’s book ON BEING HUMAN is available for pre-order here.
So touching and poignant. I loved it.