Book of Days: October 24, Take a Breath

There is a place called Nightwater, where even on the brightest day the water is dark as night. You can never see down to its base, shadows permeate the pool, and sometimes it seems as though anything could be swirling in those depths.

When I was a child, I lived within a few hours’ walk from Nightwater. It was a rite of passage for all the children of the village to walk there on a day when we knew our parents would not be watching, to stand at the edge, looking into the darkness, and to dare each other to swim. 

As far as I know, I’m the only one who ever took the dare. I can remember the looks on my friends’ faces when I said I would do it. Even when I pulled my shirt over my head, it was clear they didn’t believe I would actually go through with it. Not even when I was down to my skivvies. They only believed when I jumped, when the water splashed up and they danced back to keep from letting even a single drop touch them.

I had expected the water to be cold. I had braced for the frigid temperatures of any other lake, but it was warm as any bath water heated by the fire. When I jumped to keep myself from changing my mind, my head was under the water in an instant, and I was completely surrounded by soothing warmth and shadows. I was surrounded and cradled, and under the water, I felt at peace.

It was shattered, of course, by the needs of my lungs, by remembering I had to breathe, and I kicked my legs to force myself above the surface. I burst forth, took a deep gulp of air, and looked to my friends who were standing on the shore staring with amazement and fear. I laughed, when I saw them, but then, I hadn’t known how long I’d been under the water. I hadn’t known it had been almost a minute, that if I hadn’t at last thought to move, I’d have stayed under the water forever.

Thinking back, it should have been painful, it should have been an effort and a strain to have stayed under the water so long. But it hadn’t been. It had been easy as anything, easier even than jumping in. My lungs twinged, but hadn’t hurt as much as they should have, and certainly not enough for me to give any credence to my friend’s entries and attempts to lure me back to shore. It was only when I considered diving under again, when I thought I might like to stay there and not ever return, that their fears seemed reasonable.

The hardest thing I have ever done in my life is to swim to the shores of Nightwater, to reach my hand up to my friends and let them pull me from the water. I never went back, not even to the shore, and my friends never again dared anyone to swim. And while I was the only one who entered those dark waters, we all learned that day that danger is not always sharp and cold and threatening. Sometimes it is warm and soothing, sometimes it lulls. It was a good lesson, in the end, but one I’m glad I learned after breaking the surface of the water and not by sinking further under.

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by | Oct 24, 2021