As I look back through my mental picture book, I keep dead-ending at this image of me and my parents in a pool. I’m sure if I really press, I can find something older, more significant, like the first time I ate _____, or my first experience with ______. My grandfather was a Shriner, and my grandmother owned her own business and held extravagant Christmas parties every year at their home in Oklahoma; surely some earlier experience from them has found a permanent place in my brain.
But what I keep coming back to is this memory of my parents and me swimming in the pool near our house. It’s dark, I have little floaties on my arms, my hair is nothing but a jumble of curlicues sticking out maybe an inch or two from my head, and both my parents are there, one on each side of me. We’re treading water in the deep end of the pool, slowly making our way to the light that shines brightly just beneath the diving board.
My mother and I used to swim our summers away in that pool. Even though we lived across the street from Lake Buchanan, it was in the pool that we chose to swim. For one thing, Buchanan is rarely full, as it is the first lake in the chain of man-made lakes in the Texas Hill Country, and thus feeds all the other lakes down the line.
For another, fish poop in lakes, and that is gross. My father told me this at a very very young age, and I have avoided going into lakes as much as possible ever since. Besides, I don’t like the slimy texture of the bottom of a lake. The sandy texture at most ocean beaches is more tolerable, so I don’t get the same feeling of disgust, but sticking my toes into the slimy, poop-filled muck along the lake floor makes me cringe.
So my mother and I chose to swim in the pool, one so close to the lake that you could practically fish in the lake from your floating recliner in the pool.
And since my mother and I always swam during the day, I had never noticed the light before, and it scared me when it came on. My mother and father had decided to have a fun family moment and went out of their way to get permission for us to swim after hours at the pool, and the sun had gone down. In my mind’s eye, the moon is out, so it’s late in the evening.
This was back when my parents were happy and still loved each other. Who knows how they feel now; they hardly speak to one another as far as I can tell.
But on this evening, they were happy. We were happy.
I remember my Dad’s legs, all fish-belly white and so different from the dark tan of his face and arms. I remember Mom and I got a good giggle out of how strange he looked in his swimming trunks, and he laughed with us.
I remember the feeling of fear because I didn’t know what the light was. It had never done that before, shone all bright and white. Maybe it was the eye of some monster that would eat me up if I got too close. But my parents were there, and they took me slowly closer so we could all put our feet on it and see that it was the same as it always was.
In my mental memory book, that is the image I see: a family of three smiling and giggling with their feet on a light and the moon shining bright overhead.
The feeling that accompanies that memory? Well that is pure love, and it’s what I keep searching for: a feeling of safety and laughter co-mingled in a moment that stretches to the edge of eternity.
In the early days of the Boy, I felt it. Most notably I felt it on the night we put together that damned bookcase from Ikea. It took forever, and I got grumpy, but I felt needed and safe in my position as his lover, and there were giggles galore.
I felt it every time I was out with Superman, too. I would begin the date full of anxiety, because I didn’t know why he liked me. How was it that he’d come to find me desirable when so many others pushed me aside? But by the end, I always felt safe, and giggly, and, well, loved. He had told me he felt it, too, in fact he was trying to convince himself it wasn’t real… But maybe that was just a fib to keep me around.
Each time that I think I’ve found it and then it goes away again, it gets harder to trust. I fear that one day, I’ll be sitting there looking love straight in the face and I won’t believe it. I won’t allow myself to believe it because it never lasts. It didn’t last for my parents, who were so very happy on that night so long ago. It didn’t last in any of my other relationships, and even the ones where I think it was more real than the others, I still got pushed aside for someone else, someone who requires less work or reassurance.
So I cling to that memory and that feeling, hoping one day I’ll find it again.