Sindee Ernst and Joanna Lee

Joanna Lee



Memories of Water

by Sindee Ernst


Splash.  Andrea stands at the edge of the diving board, hovering high above me.  Her arms form a point over her head, her knees bend, and her feet press down on the flexible white board until she is flung into the air.  Without hesitation she aims her body straight at the water.  I watch the blue and pink blur that is my sister as she swims underwater, and then emerges to shake her curly brown hair from side to side.   She is smiling.  Two diving boards – one high and one low – stand like sentinels at my grandparents’ country club.  I am afraid of the high diving board; of the skinny metal steps you have to climb to get there and the dizzying gaze into the aqua blue pool water.  I am mostly afraid of how the water slaps at you when you don’t get it right, how it turns whole patches of skin bright red.  I know this, because it happened to me when I tried to dive off the low diving board.   As I watch my sister, I pretend I am having fun hanging out at the side of the pool – facing inward with my elbows bent, the bottom of my forearms resting on the rough pool deck, my legs kicking gently to stay afloat.

Splash.  The rain on the windshield forms a thick solid film.  Thunk.  Thunk.  The rubber spider arms of the windshield wipers fling back and forth in an arc, allowing glimpses of the road ahead.  I can’t understand how my mother can drive in the rain.  How can she see?  I think it is a miracle she can follow the road.  She is like Superman, with special powers that get me home from kindergarten on rainy days.

Splash.  I listen to the sound of water against the plastic walls of the shower stall, on the cement floor, and against the flimsy white shower curtain.  I am eleven years old, at summer camp in Maine.  The shower stalls are not in our bunk; there are four of them lined up in a row in a separate building.   A group of us are at this bathhouse.  My scalp is covered with the sweet smell of Breck shampoo, and I am rinsing out the fluffy suds.  My head is angled back, and my hands play with the long brown strands of my hair to help wash all of the soap away.  The voice of the splashing water changes to a higher note and I feel a cool sudden breeze.  My eyes sting as I open them.  Two girls from my bunk are staring at me and laughing.   All I was doing was rinsing my hair.

Splash.  A steady rain falls and I watch as my front bicycle tire parts the puddle water.  Any part of me that had hoped to stay dry has long since given in to the inevitability of wet.  Now instead of avoiding the puddles, I seek them out, just to experience the power of forcing the water to move aside.  A thick spray rises from my rear wheel and lands in a solid stripe along my buttocks and back.  The cold wet sliver whips at me before it is absorbed by the heat of my body.  Later, I will strip off my damp clothing and feel it tug against me, full of complaints.  But for now, happily drenched, I am riding through puddles.

Splash.  My mother jumps into the lake water.  With all your clothes on? Even your shoes? Yes, all of my clothes – my shirt and skirt and even my shoes. When I am young I ask her to repeat this story at least one hundred times, about the time when I was two years old and fell off a dock.  How she saw my face, eyes wide open looking up through the water as I sank towards the sand, and she jumped in to save me.  Fully clothed.  Every time she tells it to me I wonder how she could swim with shoes on.

Splash.  As an adult, I dive into that same New Hampshire lake water.  The night is dark and the air is cool, but the water is warm silk.  I turn over to float on my back and watch the stars.  They flicker at me in some kind of Morse code, and then play hide and seek on the surface of the water.  My long brown hair drifts in swirls around my head if it is an underwater creature with a mind of its own.

Splash.  During the last months of her life, my sister’s hair was washed in a basin placed at the top of her bed.  Her body, frail and paralyzed, was carefully moved up the length of the mattress so her head could hang above the water.  With strong, safe hands, a loving aide massaged my sister’s scalp with shampoo lather.  Then she used pitchers of warm water to rinse out the suds.  By then Andrea had lost her signature curls, but she still loved the motion of the warm fluid running over her head, the ritual of being cleansed by water.

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  1. Posted October 31, 2010 at 1:21 am | #

    Spectacular image of a splash and the response gives us even more dimension.

  2. Posted November 23, 2010 at 6:45 pm | #

    OH, Sindee, I am weeping at the end of the piece of writing, so beautiful and so beautifully crafted. Andrea, beginning and ending, your hair and hers, your Mom saving you and Andrea dying, no saving from death possible.

    Just stunning, so understated and so …the cause of weeping by the end.