Summers were filled with a bright outside, layers of concrete and sunshine; and dark shadowy insides. My mother would sleep, shades drawn; grey on grey shadows filtered from room to room as a fan thumped stale, humid air out onto city streets. I would leave our apartment in the morning and walk to my best friend's house while it was still cool. Together we made the journey over steaming sidewalks to Tenth Avenue.

There, a midwestern paradise reigned. Damp wet concrete tunnels housed the changing rooms. A horrid lack of privacy, a bank of public showers, then a wide stairway led toward filtered light. The smell of chlorine and the wet smack of bare feet on rough cement.

And then a brilliant glare.

A bright white-hot sun ate the heavens, washed away all color. All that remained were white and aquamarine. Now you could taste the chlorine in the air, mingled with the soft fragrance of Coppertone suntan lotion.

Water splashed. Children yelled. Mothers and teenagers lounged on carefully spread towels.

My best friend and I entered a magical world. A world of liquid imagination. Here we could float away from the reality of the blue-collar working class. The stench of machine oil and factory dust evaporated. Gone was the feeling that I didn't fit in with the rest of the two-parent world. I walked through crystal water and everything changed. Fairy tales came to life as we imagined we were princesses; my black hair transformed to platinum and like a mermaid, I wore crowns encrusted with aquamarines.

Light played on the water, on the surface that was our skin.

And always, as the day progressed, I grew bolder. Crossing rope boundaries into ever-deeper water. My friend would protest, but I would swim, heedless, under the rope—from the shallow end, where we could easily touch the bottom, to the middle, where we could barely stand on our tiptoes. And then finally to the deep end, where the bottom was legendary, a mythical kingdom where the water changed color, where the water grew cold.

And then, when I had had enough with diving below the ropes and reaching new limits, then I would climb up the ladder. I would pad my way to the diving board while my friend watched.

I would get in line behind the other kids, my heart thumping, my arms wrapped around myself as I shivered. I waited. And waited. Moving a foot at a time. Then finally I would stand at the bottom of the ladder. Here it was impossible to tell when the person at the top had jumped. I had to wait. I had to get the message from someone who could see.

Go! Jump! They would say, as soon as the person above me had left the board. Even before I heard the splash, I was scrambling up the ladder, rungs slippery, hands reaching for the sky.

When I reached the top, everything changed. All the shouting and laughing turned silent. Everyone and everything became small. I could only hear my own breathing.

The board stretched before me, narrow and long. It bounced as I walked. There was always a moment when I stood at the very end that I wondered why I was here. Why had I agreed to climb up here?

But a horizon of water called to me from below. Deep. Cold. Challenging.

A bounce and a jump.

Falling. Lightning quick. Holding my breath.

A splash. Then silence. A turquoise world. Falling down. Farther and farther. One toe touched the bottom. Deep blue. Icy. Then I pushed off with one foot and I would shoot to the top. Lungs screaming. Arms pulling.

Another splash and I was on the surface. Gasping. Flailing. Pretending that I knew what to do. I only knew a little bit about swimming and now I had to do my best imitation. If the lifeguards saw me struggling, they would kick me out of the deep end.

And I had to stay.

It was a point when I was out of control; I was literally in over my head, pushing every boundary, pretending to be something that I wasn't. At that point in my ten-year-old life I had just mastered an awkward dog paddle, a stroke that could barely keep my head above water, as long as another kid didn't make a huge wave. I drank chlorine by the mouthful, coughed and choked.

And I always kept my eyes on the ladder. My goal.

Sometimes I feel like I'm in the deep end today. When an unexpected challenge looms ahead. It's funny, but I'm not as brave as I was at ten, back when I only had my life to lose. Things like getting lost on uncharted freeways or flying across the country seem much worse than not making it to the swimming pool ladder.

But back then, risking my life was always accompanied by a moment of peace.

Under the water, all sound disappeared, everything slowed down; it became another world, my body changed into something amphibious. Breathing stopped. Thinking stopped. It all become a wondrous gelatinous moment-of-being, separated from everything and yet surrounded by everything at the same time. Light filtered down through rippling blue. Bodies flew past like we were in outer space, like we were all flying in slow motion, like we had all entered another dimension.

Like we were created for another world. And for one fraction of a second, we all acknowledged it was true.

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