Swimming, my old friend, it’s good to see you again. It’s been months since we last had a talk, and I feel like I’ve been able to slip into your rhythm like a hypnotizing dance. I forget how much water is a catalyst for the words to bubble up into the surface of my mind.
I was only five minutes into swimming laps when I was overwhelmed with the sensation of being pushed into my past. Remembering the tears that would well up in my eyes because it had only been two months since my brother died, and during that time I came to this pool every night. I would come to swim along the blue line designed in the tiles below, holding my breath until I gasped to the surface only to plunge under the water again. My chest would ache and my throat would tighten, not due to lack of oxygen but clenched with what I later heard described by my yoga teacher as contractions of grief.
I know yoga is the reason I haven’t been swimming in a while. I got interested in the classes at the gym, and then joined the hot studio and became enamored with the breath, stillness and centeredness of yoga practice. Instead of the wound expelling itself through my brain in words yoga granted me a piece of peace and quieted the thoughts that would come rushing out and eject themselves while running or swimming. I started going to yoga 5 – 6 times a week and even started ignoring other aspects of my life. I wanted the quiet. I needed it. But I think I forgot how much I also need those times to gush.
So I felt it when I immersed myself in the water; the old, sore, familiar wound. Focusing on the blue tile line beneath me I wanted to speak, but I regulated my breathing and let the words bubble and boil inside my brain.
“…and found myself wishing I had known him…”
The words were familiar but they came from a stranger.
The comment was unsolicited and took me by surprise. He was referring to my brother. I had heard similar things from close friends, but I had never had that response from someone that didn’t know me. It made me think that maybe this book wasn’t a bad idea after all.
Sure, the things that I have written make me cry. There are things I’ve written years ago now that put me tears. But I never stopped to think that it might evoke a strong emotional response in someone else. That maybe there was something that I was saying that resonated in the key of life and death. That maybe through my words, Paul is still able to touch people’s lives.
My dead brother still puts me at a loss. It is a loss, but one that I don’t often bring up with people in conversation. It’s been two and a half years now, so there are many people in my life that don’t know the deep impact and the crater of grief I am living with in my chest. I don’t want to tell anyone to make it a “big deal.” I don’t exactly make it a secret either. So when someone looks, asks, or dares to stare at the words I’ve left scattered all over the internet, I think I become surprised.
Last year I dated someone that told me no one wanted to hear about my dead brother. He said that it would make people uncomfortable if I brought it up. Although, to this day when someone asks me about my siblings I still tell them I grew up with two brothers and a sister. We typically don’t get to the part about the youngest dying though. In retrospect, I think it was this boyfriend that became uncomfortable with the topic of Paul and the sad girl in me that would come out even if I was recalling a happy memory. He would tell me I had to get over it. I discovered it was something I could never get over. I had to learn how to carry on. He never once told me he wished he had known him. However, there were other reasons that I left that relationship.
So with the words “…wish I had known him…” I gained a sense of hope. That I would still be able to introduce people to my brother and they would understand the importance of Paul Ernest. That somehow they would see the man that he had become to me.
I pushed myself off the wall again, realizing that I never count the laps in the pool. I’d rather get lost in thought and be driven by the need to come to the surface again to breathe. Working toward swimming an entire lap underwater, the ache in my lungs preferable to the ache in my chest. I had so many unwritten underwater words. The bubbling in my brain reached its peak when the pool became too full of very fast, muscular, male swimmers. Is there a triathlon I don’t know about? I stepped out of the pool, pulled off my goggles, and hit the steam room as I composed another letter to my dead brother in my head. I still had so much to say.