There are monsters in the water. I have known this ever since I was young. I am still afraid of the deep, dark water—even when it’s summer and I’m rushing to the beach, running to the ocean that I’ve missed through the winter. The beaches are packed in the hot season, and I have to work hard to find a quiet spot. But every time, I do: I bury my phone and my keys in the sand and I slalom down past the pinktoasted tourists on my way to the water. Then it’s the wash of the surf, then a few clumsy strokes, then it’s finally just me and the darkness.
I’ve been scared of deep water ever since I could swim. But I’ve loved to swim ever since I could swim, too. At the beach I used to splash around on the surface, imagining all the things that might be down there. None of them were real, of course: real things would never be so frightening. They weren’t properly formed, either, my monsters; I never sketched out an anatomy or a motive. All I came up with were sketches: a tentacle, some teeth, spines and a sucker and a terrible eye. My body, loosely wrapped in soft and pink, would never stand a chance.
It was doggy-paddle in those days, arms flapping out front just enough to stay afloat while I stared at the darkwater beneath me. I always leaned forwards so I could see further into the blue-and-green—well, past the blue-and-green, really, into the darkness that kept going full of seaweed full of monsters full of fear. And when my imagination worked hardest: it was a darkness full of me.
Every kid’s scared of the dark, and like every kid I got over it in time. My mother told me to worry instead about the things that actually do exist. Still the thrill of the deep never really went away, even if it wasn’t quite so frantic. In my pre-teens it settled into a mild kind of fear mixed with wonder, never enough to arouse a panic. Plus the feeling came only when I was alone in the deep—and only when I thought about it.
Mind you, there were logical reasons to be frightened of the water. I learned that the term “shark nets” was a horrible betrayal, because they didn’t actually cover the whole beach and couldn’t stop sharks from coming in if they wanted. There would be an attack in the news every now and then. I was unsure of even my landspeed, so I had no right to back myself in the water. And the other thing: those toothy bastards move like lightning and grab you out of nowhere. My policy was, and is, as follows: if there is someone farther out from shore who is tastier than me and slower than me, then that person would be the reasonable choice and no reasonable man-eating seamonster should have the slightest interest in my inconvenient self. Even this method failed to settle me entirely, though.
I kept on swimming, despite or because of my fear. On some nights of regular teenage angst, I would sneak up to the pool by myself—but not to swim laps like I calmly did during the day. Instead, I would jump into the dark, clean water and duck my head under, eyes closed. The water gently resisted all my gestures, which were turned into clumsy slow-motion, and it felt like anything was possible. I moved hesitantly, savoring the touch of the cold, then I’d feel a little tension slowly rising. My body would move, just a little, then the water would ripple and dance, so I’d have to make more movements because I wanted to be in charge—but the water moved as quickly as I did. We raced each other at increasing speed until I was thrashing, splashing at the surface and taking big breaths. Then I’d swim laps until I was tired and I’d sit on the side with my legs in the water as my breathing became steady again. I felt practically omnipotent after that.
Since I moved away to the cold, I long for the beach like I never did before. I don’t swim very often: I was never all that good, so the MAC is intimidating, and the Charles is either frozen or repulsive. When I get home, I can hardly wait for the ocean. I’m not sure if I’m frightened, still, but it always feels unsettling when I swim out to the deep. I don’t imagine monsters, nor do I think of sharks. All that is part of something vaguer, something more exciting—something that makes me run on the sand and skip over the surf. The sun hurts my back and my eyes, but I know I won’t feel it once my head’s underwater. In the deep and the dark, there will only be me and myself and the slow, unnerving feeling that I’ve got something to say but no one around to tell it to.
—Alexander J.B. Wells ’13 is a History and Literature concentrator in Quincy House. He is neither out far nor in deep.