I swim out beyond the little cove at the local beach. Past the dock, past the lifeguard and past the other swimmers enjoying their holiday. Even beyond the kayakers and the sailboats.
The water is cold and clear swirling beneath my near-numb fingers. Looking up with my tired eyes, I see that on three sides of me the mountains are encircling the lake. I’m in the amphitheater of an ancient glacier, I am one of the youngest living things in this valley.
I try not to imagine the black depths beneath me, the idea that something might suck me down into the darkness.
I submerge my head up to my cheekbones, keeping my eyes just above the surface of the water. Half squinting, it looks as if there is a solid line between the lake and the huge, blue rocky peaks.
And above that, the sky, soft and cloudless, all the way to infinity.
I see Mac back on the towel watching me. I swim out farther. It feels like I could swim off the edge of the lake and up into the clouds. I am here on Earth but in between elements. Earth and sky.
My heart aches but is being tugged upwards, look up Beth, look up. The sun. It shimmers off the lapping ripples all around me. It is so quiet out here, just the splash of a diving loon a few yards away.
Where are you Mom? I am suspended in the question. And where am I?
Treading water between two shores, or maybe even three – water, mountain and heavens. It’s a metaphor for my life right now. Suspended from real-time in the U.S. and barely hanging on to anything solid in my heart and in my head.
I try to stop kicking, stay still like a slim oar at rest in the water. And my body seems to want this, air fills my chest, inflates my limbs. I’m a bobbing thing. But then my neck and head want to twist away and thrash. And the fight between air and muscle brings me back into myself.
I keep feeling that if I let go I will be closer to something real, more true, more me.
Honestly, I don’t know why I started writing. I knew that leaving the country for nine months was a significant event, and that I wanted somehow to record it. And I knew I might be lonely with a lot of time on my hands. But I never imagined this.
I didn’t expect to wake up in the morning with ideas in my head and move straight to my laptop before the coffee even finished brewing. Feeling like I wanted to find words for everything inside.
I never anticipated that the writing could make me feel even more lonely. That tapping on the keyboard would be like continually poking at the bruises.
I tell myself that the pain is what makes it real. Like my legs kicking beneath me and my lungs filling with air, it’s just the work of my body. That I have to tread water here along with everyone else. To share the uncertainty, the fear, the bone-tiredness of the whole endeavor.
I really didn’t think I had much to say. A lot of people have been to Paris. Many of my friends have hiked in the Alps. So many of us have lost a parent or a loved one.
What’s new in any of it? Writing, losing a mother, raising children, making sense of the past, loving a partner. Being lonely.
Nothing new. But I never expected what happened next: I never expected people who I haven’t seen in years to reach out and read my stuff. And for their reactions to be so amazing. I never anticipated that anyone would actually be listening. Not just scanning over the surface of my life.
When I woke up this morning I didn’t see a point to sitting down at my laptop.
But I opened it up anyway, and I saw a note from my librarian friend E. She commented that she was reading my stories, like a string of lights as the summer unwinds.
And something about that lovely image made me feel hopeful. I could just see those tiny, twinkly lights. And the cheery idea of them made me want to keep writing until the season here ends.
So I want to say thank you to E. And thank you to all my family and friends – and whoever else is out there reading.
With your words of encouragement you have kept me doing this, you’ve kept me feeling confident that I can do it. That I can tread this sometimes scary and uncomfortable line between earth and sky. And I can keep swimming and looking up and telling you what I see in the clouds.
And you are listening.
And you are right here in the water next to me, and we are all simply treading the water together. And knowing this, that I’m not out here all alone, makes all the difference in the world.