A Night Swimmer
A Night Swimmer
by Esmé DeVries
My father is a creature of habit. I understand I’ve inherited this from him. He wants the best for us, his family, and he strives for it in everything. This I wish I had inherited. Where my dad is habitual, my brother, Oliver, is spontaneous. I see this difference as the reason they bonded so easily. I, in my similarities, wasn’t as lucky as to have the close-knit, macho connection. This combination of my father and brother’s two personalities made for interesting family vacations in the Floridia Keys nearly three times a year for most of my young life. It was on this triannual pilgrimage that I came to closer know my father and brother in a way that, at the time, was beyond my comprehension.
It was some spring break, many years ago. In those years, back before my brother and I became our own people, grew flaws, and went our separate ways, vacations ran together. We always stayed at the same hotel: the Chesapeake. It had a certain charm that comes with a low budget. Stray cats roamed the property and my brother and I took to naming them after Harry Potter characters, though perhaps most memorably, there was a little pool out behind the place. It was a perfect rectangle and, if memory serves, lacked anything that could be distinguished as a “deep end” or a “shallow end”, yet much of who I am is dedicated to it. Memories of my brother roughhousing with me and the pair of us trying to coax our mother to swim with us span my recollection. In every way, it was a majestic expanse of sea.
"It wasn’t often I got to stay up long enough to see the sun disappear into the Atlantic."
One night, after my mother had gone up to bed, my brother, dad and I stayed in the pool. The darkness was thrilling, terrifying, and intoxicating. It wasn’t often I got to stay up long enough to see the sun disappear into the Atlantic. Oliver and I drifted eagerly throughout the pool, keeping our heads just above the surface of the water. Something about the cool saltiness of the pool was safer than the eerie blackness hanging heavy over the ocean. We were in our own little world, blanketed and isolated together.
Dad, under the chillingly adult cover of night, was teaching us to swim the length of the pool in one breath. He could do it easily. Several quick breaths and he dipped gracefully under the water. Even in this, he was habitual, masterful. Oliver and I watched him push through the pool. Time went slowly. With Dad underwater, the two of us were silent, watching and learning. Our breaths mingled with the spring air, our heartbeats in time with Dad’s swim strokes. He made it to one side, then the other, and halfway back in one breath.
Oliver was next. He mimicked Dad’s movements perfectly, naturally. Thin as a beanpole and quick as a bullet, he darted through the water like a pale silver minnow. Even in this recreation, I saw our differences. Where I was clumsy, he was tactful. When I was quiet, he was noisy. He swam to the other side and halfway back before resurfacing.
Finally, it was my turn. I did just as I had been shown. Short breaths, then the plunge. Underwater was another world. I strained my eyes to see through the chlorine. The light embedded in the side of the pool gave the water an eerie green glow. I swam without grace, the only thing driving me my burning intention. My lungs, limbs, and eyes seared. Above me, I could hear my father and brother yelling. Perhaps encouragement. It didn’t matter, because I didn’t make it to the other side. I resurfaced, completely exhausted and utterly devastated. It hadn’t occurred to me that this was something Oliver and Dad could do that I could not. I had watched them execute the task so flawlessly and had, foolishly, thought I could achieve the same. I turned to face them, pushing my hair from my eyes as the graceless child does, and waited for their disappointment. But Dad and Oliver, simultaneously reliable and shocking, merely beckoned me back to the other side and told me to try again.
This I did, to no avail. Yet my family pushed me to try again. I got no closer. I can’t remember if I ever wanted to give up. If the inclination was there, it was chased away the second I broke the surface of the water and let Dad and Oliver shower me with teachings and encouragements. Countless efforts pushed the hours later, to the point where I don’t know if I was driven by the need to reach the end and know success or my family never letting me give up. If they never gave up on me, who was I to give up on myself?
I felt, as I swam, that I was becoming something new. As I acquainted myself with the water, I became amphibian and as I acquainted myself with the night, I became more adult. That night is my earliest memory of being with my dad and brother alone, in pursuit of a common goal. This would soon grow into a strange, inconsistent relationship. There was always something for the three of us to team up on, yet our collective dynamic was an uneasy thing. To look back on it is to watch myself wobble on a tightrope in a swaying trio. We could not all be balanced at the same time.
Such it was with swimming. Dad and Oliver did it with gentlemanly grace, while I dogpaddled through a thick sludge at a snail’s pace. Though what I lacked in power, I made up for in passion and at some point, late in the night, I decided I was swimming my last night. Hearing their voices break through the water, I swam on, though the end seemed to grow no closer. I knew if only I reached it, I could seal my fate as a night swimmer with my father and brother for the rest of my life.
I felt the dry crumbliness of the wall beneath my wrinkled, outstretched fingers. I broke the surface of the water, exhausted, yet triumphant. The water that drained off my face was a burden set down. Oliver and Dad were yelling unintelligible things, waving their arms in the air and high fiving one another. Together, we celebrated my victory, though it was a small one, practically meaningless, with no one there to see it. Tired and giddy, we went up to bed, climbing the stairs in the mysterious florescence of the hotel hallway lights. Towels hung limply on our bodies, wrapped across my bony shoulders and my brother’s narrow hips. My body ached, but it was an ache of accomplishment. I had earned the right to my weariness. Inside, Mom said she could hear Oliver and Dad screaming through the walls. I know now that she knew, as mothers often do, that that night marked the beginning of our schemes in a group of three, though I was unaware.
About the Writer...
Esmé is a sophomore creative writer at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts who has been recognized previously in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.
About the Artist...
McClain Allen put, I've been inspired by art my entire life and precisely the way it encompasses our world and everyone in it. Art can completely change the way someone thinks as it pushes the boundaries we establish within ourselves, to see beyond the picture and find its hidden meaning. My art expresses my reality of the world in a creative light through its composition and use of colors to emulate realism and depth. It displays my individuality by bringing life into my work that feels real to everyone.