By Mark Reels
When I was twelve years old, I learned to dive. This was also the summer that my dad left and moved to California with his girlfriend.
Whenever my friends and I went to the small community pool, they would do cannonballs or tumble comically into the deep end. That’s not how I wanted to dive. I wanted to enter the shimmering water with my hands above my head and with my palms pressed together like a child in prayer. My desire was to merge with that vague image bouncing gently below me and to swim away as a cleaner, better version of myself.
My Dad had sent me postcards of the California coast. I daydreamed that someday he would send for me and take me cliff diving. We would stand on the warm rocks and feel the sea breeze on our skin. Then I would jump far from the ledge and fall without a splash into the ocean. When I resurfaced, Dad would be looking down amazed and laughing. I’d smile up at him with the sun setting behind me.
I never made that perfect dive. I was never able enter the water in sync with the reflection that raced towards me as I fell. I’d always be a bit off center and hit the water with a clumsy splash.
At night, I looked at Dad’s postcards and peeled off my flaking, sunburnt skin. The exposed flesh beneath the burn would be tender and itchy. I felt uncomfortable in my own body.
Of course, Dad never sent for me and I have never been cliff diving, but now I have a six-year-old daughter, and I am teaching her to swim. She adjusts her goggles and jumps from the edge. I catch her before she goes under and toss her into the air. She squeals, and I catch her again.
Someday, I will take her and my wife to California where we’ll play in the surf while the sun sets and the tide rolls in.