John Price’s essay “Water of My Life” is distinguished twice, winning second place in the First Year Composition Maude Uhland Award contest and third place in the Y1 Writes: A Collection of Student Essays contest. John is married with two daughters and actively involved at NIU, where he is an officer for the Pre-professional Association and the Chemistry Club. John is also a member of Phi Sigma Honors Biological Society and NIU Veterans Club. John’s double major of chemistry and biology will prepare him for his goal of earning an M.D. or Ph.D. and to research in a clinical medical setting. The subject of this essay explains an important aspect of John’s life, which made writing it a positive experience for him.

My mom, a young woman with strawberry blond hair, small light freckles all over her face, and piercing eyes as blue as the sea, is holding me in the overly chlorinated, light green YMCA pool. I take a deep breath, then put my face into the mildly cool water, and start beating my legs violently. Everyone knows practicing kicking while holding your breath is a very important skill. Mom lifts me out of the water and says, “You have to come up to breathe; you’re not a fish.” That’s what she thinks!

***

I slide my bright orange, rubber goggles onto my face and the strap pulls on my dusty blond hair. I run to the edge of the L-shaped outdoor apartment pool and jump in. I swim around the bottom of the pool searching for treasure lost from the pockets of the land-dwellers that invade my pool. I swim down the slight decline into the deep water as the water changes from lukewarm to cold. I know the best treasures are in the deeper waters, and I head straight to the far corner. The corner is dark, somehow always in the shade no matter where the sun is, and there the water turns to ice. I am the only one that swims here, so this is where most of the debris settles. My labors are rewarded as I find three quarters. I swim to the surface and shoot out of the water to show off my treasure! My freckle-faced younger sister with fiery red hair and a temper to match is enraged, just the reaction I was looking for. “I’m telling Mom!” she screams. I don’t care; I have my treasure.

***

We pull up to our grandparents’ house on the lake. I dash from the van, poking and cutting my bare feet on the gravel driveway as I sprint for the lake. I can smell the breeze coming off the lake, an intoxicating aroma of fresh pine and lake water, a smell so thick I can taste it. I am almost out of breath by the time I reach the dock, but we had been driving for eight hours and there is no slowing down now. I land my first step on the reddish-brown wood planks of the dock. It creaks and bows slightly under the weight of my foot. After few more bounding paces, I am at the end of the dock. Without a moment’s hesitation, I leap into the air while taking a huge breath. The water is cool when my feet touch, but instantly I completely submerge and the water is just the right temperature. I surface to hear the sound of my three slower, younger brothers running across the dock. Conor, a tall lanky kid with hair so red it often looks orange, is the oldest and the first to follow me into the water. Conor is followed closely by Aidan, who is short and stocky with brown hair and a smile that will cheer you up on your worst day. We are all in the water when the youngest, Patrick, makes it to the dock. He has stopped to put on his shoes before running down the driveway. I watch as he finally runs across the dock and plunges into the water. He surfaces yelling, “It’s cold! Oh, man, it’s cold!” What a baby, but what do you expect from the youngest?

***

My whole family is at the lake for the first time in years. I dive in and swim all over the shore-line, tormenting my younger siblings. They can’t see me as I swim underwater and that terrifies them. I swim up close and slightly brush against their leg and I can hear them freak out as I swim away. They catch only a brief glimpse of me as I get close to them under water. I swim to the dock where it is dark, so I can surface for air without giving away my location. Then, submerging again to move in for the attack, I choose my target. Out of nowhere, Conor is engulfed in my treacherous grasp as I lift him up and dive backwards into the water dragging him with me. The surface is calm again just for a second as the survivors wonder how long I will keep him below. Then the calm is shattered as he explodes to the surface screaming and gasping for air. Banding together, my brothers and sisters, angry and terrified but ready for a fight, all look for me. Although I would enjoy the glorious battle that would ensue, for right now I will just savor my victory and their half-panicked group courage. I slide through the water slipping into the refreshing cool of the deep water where the turquoise-green fades to royal blue and then to black. Lurking there out of reach of any retaliation, I ponder the identity of my next victim. “We will get you next time, John!” they yell, half in defiance and half in relief. What pathetic land lovers; the water is my domain.

***

The gear is bulky and the straps are digging into my shoulders while I swim laps around the deep end of the pool. As I swim, I stare at the small cracks in the concrete floor that look like tiny highways as seen from an airplane. This is my favorite place to be, breathing compressed air underwater. In spite of the impending sense of doom, I am at peace. I am not alone at the bottom of the pool; several others are swimming too. We are like a human school of fish swimming in circles always aware of the threat from above. I see two dark shadows grow above me; they belong to the dive school instructors who are diving on us like sharks. I take a deep breath because I know I am about to be attacked. Carlson, my dive buddy, disappears from beside me, and I breathe again. I come around on my next lap and see Jason struggling to recover his gear at the corner of the pool. I feel the water cool, and I see shadows above me. I take another deep breath, but my regulator is torn from my mouth mid-breath. This is going to be a rough one with only half a breath. Not showing any distress and not letting go of my air tanks are all I can think about. They love to take your tanks, and then you are dead. My goggles and fins are the next things to go; they always make it so you can’t see. I remember all the times my Uncle Rob would half-drown me in the lake, and I smile. That was a mistake! As I smile, I am thrown into the side of the pool: oh great, I have pissed them off. It does not matter! There is nothing they can do to me; the water is my domain. I hear the beep of a stopwatch, a signal they have to stop, and I smile again. I am instantly bounced off the floor repeatedly, and my tanks are being pulled on harder than ever before. I will not relinquish my air; no one can mess with me in my water. I finally feel the iron grasp release from my arm, and the tugging at my tanks stops. I compose myself and recover my regulator which only takes me a few seconds. With my first breath, I look for my assailants. Locating them, I smile. I can see the irritation on their faces through the wavy blurriness of the pool water. Silly fools, they don’t know I live in the water; this is my home. I gather my remaining gear and reluctantly climb out of the pool. I hear the School Commander say, “You could hit that guy with baseball bats under there and he wouldn’t care!” That is because the water is my domain.

Published by Aaron Geiger

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