Errr . . . evidence of my diminishing coherence?
I have memories of drowning.
Ever since I could remember water has scared me. Not ‘scared’—as in sweating hands and racing heartbeat. ‘Scared’—as in can’t breathe, brain shutting down, skin getting too small.
When I was little, I would break out in hives at the sting of a raindrop. They thought I must have been allergic to water. There are strange allergies like that, you know. The doctors did all kinds of tests. But they found nothing. The only possible conclusion was psychological.
It must be true. I am deeply somatic on so many levels. Even my own tears scare me.
I have never taken a bath.
I have never been to the aquarium.
I have never learned to swim.
“That’s all going to change this year.” Coach Blaus says when I tell him why I can’t join the class as they splash around the pool. “Water safety is mandatory. District wide policy.”
I don’t move. I can’t.
“I want you dressed out and back here in ten minutes.”
My muscles are petrified. I feel the water molecules already penetrating my blood cells, bloating them until they explode like tiny red fireworks.
“Did you hear what I said?”
I fall to the ground with a dry sob. The words burn like vomit coming up my throat. “I want to die.”
Coach Blaus laughs. “Freshmen. Listen, if it won’t kill you, it’ll make you stronger, right? Jackson, Johnson, help young—um—” he flips through his role sheet, “Marlberry up to the locker room. I’ll sign permission slips when you get back.”
Two seniors grab me by the armpits like gym equipment. “Listen, if you make this hard for us, we’ll make this hard for you.”
They tell me about something that is important to them—something they can only get through my cooperation—but all I hear is my own death knell over the sound of their cannibalistic screeching.
I change with their weapons held to my head. Invisible hands close around my throat, choking out my vision and making my ears ring. I must look like everyone else from the outside because no one else notices the knives in my chest or the fact that my head is spinning three sixties.
My wardens drop me on the edge of the pool where I dry heave into my own hands. My heart is beating so fast that I can feel it in my eyeballs. I wish that I could just pass out. I wish I could pass out every day this semester. If there is a God, if there is any benevolent force in the entire universe, this would be possible.
“There isn’t.” A voice whispers through my panic. “I should know.”
A violent pain rips through my head. “I am the one that drowned, not you.”
The memories of drowning come back fast and furious now. But I am not in water. Where I am is dark and warm. I do not breathe in this place. I—
My hand flits to my belly button.
This is what I did in that place.
“Not you, you idiot. It was me. It was always me. Nothing happened to you.”
There is something hard closing around me like the shell of an egg. But it does not protect me. It consumes me like the whale from Pinocchio, sucking me deep into its monstrous cavern. When it finally closes its horrible jaws, my life line snaps. It’s then I drown.
“But it isn’t you. It was me.” There is hungry pleasure in that voice that rips through my brain tissue.
“Who—are—you?” I say again. What I mean to say is Why do I have your memories, if I never drowned?
The words are slow and precise as if the speaker were talking to an idiot. “It was your skull that closed around me, brother.”
When he says it, I remember him. Or maybe he remembers himself. Four hands. Four feet. So much alike. We nuzzle each other forehead to forehead, never moving from that position. We can’t. We are blood and bone and organs fused.
But I take the blood. And I get big while he stays small. My body sucks him inside. And in that dark place, no one ever knows.
“Okay,” Coach Blaus blows his whistle. “Everyone in the pool.”
“You may be wondering why I’m talking to you now,” my brother says. “We need to show them.”
“Hey Marlberry!” Coach yells when I don’t move. “In. The. Pool. You won’t melt.”
“Show them what?” I don’t care that I am speaking out loud. Voices ripping through your brain tissues change things like that.
“We need to show them. We don’t like the water. Do we brother?”
“No we don’t.”
“Now Marlberry!” The coach’s voice sounds so far away. Like I am sitting dry and clothed in my nice safe English class. Maybe now I will finally pass out.
“We don’t like the water one bit.” I feel my brother reach into my limbs and pull my muscles like strings. My body jumps into the water. Gulps a breath of air. Dives deep.
We don’t know how to swim. We don’t know how to swim. We don’t know how to swim. We don’t know how to swim. We don’t know how to swim. We don’t know how to swim. We don’t know how to swim. We are going to drown. Drown. Drown. Drown. Drown.
“Relax. I have been drowning for thirteen years. I know how it’s done.”
In a second, he is at the bottom of the pool. From the very back of his eyeballs, I watch him pry off the enormous drain cover.
It takes a second for anything to happen.
In that second, we are back where it is safe, dripping on a patch of tile at the pool’s edge.
We watch the pool give a giant belch. And then . . . the whirlpool starts to spin.
It spins, catching each boy. Spins. Spins. Spin. Until the pool is empty.
Coach Blaus has stopped screaming. Stopped calling for security. It is too late.
Together, my brother and I get up from the pool’s edge. He is one on the right and I am on the left, fused in every cell. Sharing this strong body. The only one that was born. We say the words in unison because there is no other way to say it.
“Did that make you stronger, Coach?”