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February 5, 2014
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Tuck, somersault, explode.

These motions govern my life in the pool and on the page.

Tuck. I brought my knees and head to my chest, watching the bubbles stream from my nostrils. We only trailed Stuyvesant High School by four points, which meant my race was critical. Yet I went through the flip-turn’s motions without thinking. Twelve feet below me, at the bottom of the pool, I imagined my family’s disapproving faces. I wanted to look away but I didn’t dare look up; if I did, the tuck would be disrupted. I trusted that my body knew what to do.

The crisis started weeks before, with the first sentence: “Repetition numbs.” That was the tuck. I typed without thinking, my eyes glued to the keyboard. I wanted to see my words materialize on the computer screen but I didn’t dare look up. If I did, I would see my family’s disapproving faces in every word. I would stop writing. I trusted that my fingers knew what to do.

Somersault. As I turned through the water, every sore muscle in my body burned. My need for air tore my abdomen apart. I was upside down. In that moment, I was hyperaware of my emotional pain and knew that my memoir had humiliated my family. My throat constricted; I was almost out of air, but I wasn’t done somersaulting.

I cried when I wrote it. The memoir was about the deterioration of my relationships with two of my closest family members. A burning sensation radiated through me as I typed. I was writing the memoir with the intention of sharing it at a public reading. My parents were going to hear it. Was it ethical to reveal private family moments for the sake of my own catharsis and writing career? I didn’t know the answer, but I plunged into the memoir anyway. I was upside down. Recounting the painful memories tore my gut apart. Physically and emotionally drained, I couldn’t take a breath. I was still somersaulting.

Explode. BAM. I am reading my memoir aloud in front of two hundred people. I didn’t warn my parents. When I see my mother’s hurt face in the crowd, I choke on my words. Her expression cuts into my skin. I exploded too soon, without considering the consequences.

Audience members begin to whisper. I continue reading. When I leave the stage, my family’s disappointment and rage greet me. From then on, my ethical dilemma plagues my consciousness. My parents weren’t ready for this story to be released into the world. But how can I be a memoirist if I stifle my voice to protect their feelings?

I stop mid-turn and my feet hit the wall. Shock radiates from my ankles upward and my feet slip. The world is a frenzy of bubbles and blueness and I choke on the chlorinated water. Muffled shrieks reach my ears as I struggle to orient myself. The plastic lane line rips the skin from my left shoulder but I keep swimming, ignoring the tears filling my goggles. I can see my opponents ahead of me and I know that my disastrous flip-turn will cost me the race. My team might lose the meet because I wasn’t concentrating. When I climb out of the pool, I am facing another disappointed family.

Tuck, somersault, explode. Writing and swimming are not individual acts. I would not be a swimmer or a captain without my team, just like I would not be a memoirist without my family. There is no such thing as an individual act.

Everything I do has a ripple effect.

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