And all of a sudden I’m back in the pool that’s almost too large for our modestly sized backyard. I’m six years old. Not yet taking swim lessons, but it’s hot outside and the water feels cool against my fingertips as I glide them across the surface.
“Gabby, come get in the water!” My whole family coaxes me, so gingerly, I dip a toe in, followed by my foot and then my entire left leg is in the water and I can’t touch the bottom. Nervous, I cling to the side while my brother and sister shoot each other with water guns. By the time both my legs are submerged, my siblings have grown bored and go back inside to snack before returning.
The water is still without them playing, and as I’m all alone, I muster up the courage to touch the bottom. To keep myself from chickening out, I kick away from the wall until suddenly I’m in the center of the pool, one lone green noodle floating behind me. Panic grips my heart, ice cold and now I can’t breathe. My head is submerged in what was supposed to be sanctuary from the scorching Texas heat. My toes finally scrape against the bottom and I’m urgent when I push off as hard as I can.
Air hits the top of my hair first, and the floods into my lungs- sweet relief. But then I’m back under and the only thought gripping my mind is
I’m alone I’m alone I’m alone I’m alone
-and I’m suffocating in that water still, just in a different sea where the currents are faster and my toes will never be able to touch the bottom and I’m drowning. The cool water fills my mouth slowly, like a leaky faucet that will eventually fill a tub, and when no more water can possibly fit in my body, my eyes open and my arms flail- help, somebody help- and that’s when I see.
I’m sitting in the therapist’s office, in a plaid armchair which is stiff against my back, no doubt meant to look cozy. As my vision comes back into focus, I realize I can breathe and do so quickly. My breaths come in quick and choppy until they slow into an easy rhythm. My ears pop and the water from that pool in Texas drips out and the therapist is speaking. “Gabby?”
“I’m here,” I croak to her, the sound of a river rushing through my skull. My pulse quickens and I swear that my skin is pruny from the water. I take a deep breath, pushing the sensations down. “I’m here.”