When I leave the main beach the bubble man is playing Pied Piper to a gathering of kids. I watch as large colorful contours float aimlessly above the trees shimmering with pinks and blues, colors not present in the sky. The clouds threaten rain. The sand below already sodden and turned dark with it.
The swim ropes and buoys bob aimlessly. The lifeguards perched on their stands in their bright red shirts survey the empty spaces of their jurisdiction. The pond, fringed with pollen ebbing and flowing like yellow lace along the shore is old and grey beyond it.
I am wearing a light shirt over my bathing suit. I carry only a plastic bag with goggles and cap and a towel bundled tightly against whatever weather may break while I am swimming. Yesterday I threw off the neoprene, surprised at the increase in water temperature to the degree my body was comfortable. But today the temperature is lower and the sun absent. I do not feel cold though. My stroke feels unbalanced as I reach through the dark opaque green into the depths below.
I do not look up. There is no need for when I swim I am have horse eyes. I turn to breathe and see left then right but never where I am headed. Now I am nearing Throeau Cove and I remember two days ago hearing voices and looking up to find a dingy with a young man standing watching me. He is calling out, “Hey. Watch out.” I am heading straight for him and his fishing buddy and under ten feet from him. I look up, “Thanks,” too startled in fact to feel fear until I change course and realize what a headache I would have if I collided with his boat. Now I see something grey to my right. And in my next breath one to my left. They are similar but the right one is closer, resembling a tire with bright orange flaps. A dark line extends below it. I see what I think is a black shape hanging longitudinally from one side. I am not sure as I am breathing and turning and I don’t get long enough to really look. Fear rises into my throat. I grew up in Australia and was taught to be fearful of black shapes in open water and although I am not in an ocean the terror rises faster than the logic to quell it.
I turn left and raise my eyes above the level of the water enough to see the beach, Sandy Point and a row of diver fins lined up along the rocks. It’s John, the words take shape inside my head. I have seen John the past two days as I have been coming or going. We trade greetings in the car park. John free dives in Walden and tells me about water temperature. I swim on.
About five strokes past the divers I startle. A turtle makes for the bottom of the pond. My first thought, “Is this a snapping turtle?” I have heard they can be pretty vicious. But it is his shell and tail which I see paddling away from me. So my quickened stroke eases and I realize he is actually quite cute.
Looking back on this swim which took place a couple of weeks ago now, I realize the fears I hold inside have been emerging lately. I wonder whether this is a function of increasing age or whether it is that I have come closer to my own mortality as a result of losing Jesi.
It has been nine months and I think of her always. I know she is present in ways I cannot conceive. I believe she protects me while I swim. But I also know that it is up to me to protect myself. Yet there is an increasing fragility inside me; an intimate knowledge of the potential I did not sense so poignantly before.
I do not think I am alone in feeling this. I think it is the mandate of all mothers who have lost children. The natural order of our lives has been shaken and needs to be reassembled in some way we will never quite come to terms with but neverthless learn to live alongside.