Evaporate

By H TOMLIN | Published: June 15, 2010

A splash. All was color and light. She couldn’t breathe. Heart racing, arms and legs waving. Then her mouth came up above the line. She could breathe, but her heart was still in a panic. Somehow her body made enough sense out of the chaos to bring her to the edge where her foot met with shocking force the tile step. It scratched the skin off of her toes. They bled on the wet pavement, swirls of pink. She ran to the door, taking just a second to reach out for a towel before entering the house. Strands of hair dripped to the carpet, mixing with tears. Her whole body shook from the cold and shock.

She looked through the glass door out at the woman who had thrown her in. Anger breaking through the fear. Boiling. More determination expressed in that stare than any of the adults would expect in a five year old. The girl would never forget this.

That day was the beginning of a life with water.

The heat of summer was blinding. Dry. Slapped skin when stepping out into it. Under clothes sweating, above clothes burning. Seat belts impossible to manage, the metal clasp a fiery poker. To venture out barefoot was a challenge of hot coals, a spiritual experience, disconnecting spirit from body. Slugs, snails, and earthworms would become black mummies on the concrete if they ventured out of flower beds and did not return before the sunrise. Vampires turned to ash.

It was only after days like this that the girl learned to love the water. The heat being a powerful motivation.

There were two choices in how she could approach a body of water. Small steps, slowly lowering her skin in. This took willful determination to withstand the contrast of hot and cold as her body adjusted. Or to jump into the deep end. Not knowing what creatures lurked, ready to destroy any life that dared to disturb the silent waters. The decision was made by the circumstances. If the other children went in first, she would take the risk of jumping. Most of the time, however, the others were just as wary as she, so she would gradually enter the cool alongside them, step by step. Wanting to scream as the temperature shot goose bumps up her arms and neck. Her chest rapidly heaving against the freezing change.

Her mother with bare feet would drive them to the “swimming hole” in the small two door car with no A/C and burning plastic seats that stuck to their sweating legs and left large pink marks when they peeled themselves away.

Her mother would hand the woman in the booth the dollar bills to go in.

The swimming hole was a concrete pond with sand hauled in to create a beach. The girl hated once her feet went in too far, where the sand ended, and she could feel the rough cement. Whenever she swam she would scrape hands, toes, knees against the bottom. It was almost worth just laying down in the shallow end, where smaller children would pester and pounce upon her, just so she didn’t have to touch skin to the rough bottom of the pool.

Many summers were just barely survived. Consisting of hours upon hours in pools of water. It always began with fear, but after being in the water for a time, the fears went away.

She loved to let her body go limp and sink down beneath the surface. Allowing the blurred light and muffled sound to soothe her. Letting the cold suffocation erase the realities above. No voice yelled at her beneath the water. No one called her stupid. No person made her afraid.

Her favorite was the rain. It never rained in the summer where she lived. During the winter and spring she would walk in the rain, run in it, stand looking up and let it cover her face and hair.

She fell in love and ended love standing in water from clouds. She felt connected with downpours as though they infused her with power. Never able to get enough.

It was in college that she first discovered that it rains in the summer in most places. She traveled to Arizona and breathed in the perfume of summer soil after a storm. Fell in love with the sudden clouds and water that appeared and vanished without invitation by the heat. It was hard to leave the summer rains when she returned to school.

And then, one day, at the age of twenty-two, she found herself in a car.

The rain making streaks and shapes that danced in the light from a street lamp across her jeans and arms. For the first time in her life, the water made her dizzy. It felt like a dream she had had. A reoccurring dream where she was floating in a river with voices and colors that haunted her mind. But, she was sitting, seat belt fastened.

He had stopped the car and neither of them spoke.

At last he broke the silence by offering that they take a walk. She had been eager to step out into the rain, the water. Nearly burst out of the car, wanting so much to feel it on her skin, let the water cover her.

She knew where they were, where they would go. So many daydreams she had had of going there with him again.

He was someone who had come in and out of her life like rain. Gone for so long sometimes that she wondered if he was just an imagining, an apparition. Then he’d return and she’d soak in it. Wondering how her life ever existed apart from this.

She knew he’d leave again.

The wet and the cold against her skin exhilarated her. She followed him down the familiar path. They walked quickly along the street and under the bridge.

She listened to the river, rushing under the bridge beside the path they were on. It was night and the black moved with a low rumble, warning of its power to destroy. She had fear. Always fear. But she kept it to herself.

They had arrived.

A hidden spot under the wooden slats of the bridge. They each leaned back against the arching pillars. The cement rough and cold against her hands. She gently caressed the surface with her palms, imprinting every sensation inside her mind. Trying to make time slow down. Absorb everything. Knowing that this moment would not last long.

Usually she hardly noticed time passing, herself growing, each day turning into the next. But when she was with him time seemed to shrink in on itself, evaporate. Water on her skin in the summer sun; soon she’d be burning and dry again.

The arch of the pillar, she leaned back against, gave her the slightest sense of falling.

She took in a deep breath of the damp air. Could feel her cheeks redden from the cold mist against her face. Her heart was pounding so loud, she could count the beats. She waited to speak. Afraid he would be able to hear the excitement in her voice.

He lit a cigarette and handed her one. She did not smoke. On rare occasions she would smoke a single cigarette, when she especially missed him. It was a means by which she could quietly reminisce. Remembering when they had been in love. When she had spent a few days on end with him. When he cared enough about her, for a moment, to be completely there. The cigarette became a sort of communion only she knew about, when she would inhale, see him appear in the smoke, the fiery air sent her heart racing, like only he could do, she could almost feel him.

She took the cigarette to her mouth and breathed in the smoke, let it fill her lungs. Smoking often felt to her like a record on a turntable suddenly being spun in the opposite direction. Her senses became more alert. The world seemed to take on a different shape, sharpness. Spinning in a new direction, one that made more sense.

“What are you thinking?” She asked him. So many times she wished she could understand his thoughts. His feelings. Wished she could climb into his mind and truly understand him.

He was so hidden to her, always hidden. And yet, she felt that she knew him. It made her insane how this duality existed with this boy. She understood people so well, in general, but with him, with him she felt she could hardly break the surface, when all she wanted was to swim, immerse herself inside him.

“I’m thinking how much I’d like to kiss you but I’m not sure if you’ll slap me.” He smiled his warm adorable charming smirk that made her go numb in her knees.

She smiled back because she wanted him to kiss her. She wanted him to take hold of her in his arms. Every day he had been gone she had wished for this moment. Every time she was alone and her thoughts wandered, inevitably, to the memories she had of him, she had wanted a moment like this.

“Okay.” She stood up taking a step away from the pillar. He was already pulling her close to him and replacing the cement support with his arms. Arms and hands that knew how to hold her. He wasn’t a particularly strong man, certainly not muscular, but he fit. He fit holding her in a way that no boyfriend had ever been able to fill. Made her feel a sense of security that she could not find anywhere else. Fluid. Filling space that begged to be filled.

Taking a free hand he traced her face with the tips of his fingers, then cradled her cheek in the palm of his hand, drawing her face closer to his. She stood on her toes and he slightly bent down. Tears began to form in her eyes and sobs of happiness when he kissed her with a familiarity that felt like home. Was love.

“I’ve missed you.” she sobbed as he allowed her tears to fall against his shoulder, holding her close in a hug only his body could create. She knew him so well, the exact place where her face fit against his chest and shoulders. She felt safe with him, comforted.

Then he was gone.

And life continued to tumble by as though it had no patience for such things.

She would float on her back in a pool and close her eyes. Ears below the surface, listening to the rhythm of the body of water. Breathing slowly, calmly. Letting her muscles release.

Then moved to a place where it snowed instead of rain.

Where the rain was an inconvenience because it blocked the sun and made everyone grouchy.

No one had pools and no one cared.

Standing in the shower, she let the steam fill the space. Thawing her frozen skin and muscle. White steam on white tile, white curtain, the light from the window intensifying the sight. The heat enough to melt her. And in the steaming mist everything else began to disappear. And bit by bit her body evaporated in the light.

And she was gone.



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