The water was muddy the day we waded from the shore and into the lake. The soft moss strings wrapped our ankles like tentacles and the rocks’ sharp edges bit at our toes, making our knees buckle. We were laughing, folding our arms across our chests to stay warm though how could we in water that cold? A habit, I suppose. A display of preservation.
We took a few steps forward, then back, screeching from the temperature but also because we felt young and alive. Finally. How long had it been since we laughed together this way? Giddy with wonder. I saw you as a child just then. Your grin covering your face, your eyes squinting with surprise and pleasure. It was so cold. Yet you stayed with me, never left my side.
“Go under!” I said after I dove down first. “It feels refreshing, I promise!” Or maybe I didn’t go first and only chose to remember it this way. Being brave is difficult; remembering yourself as brave is much easier. Either way, my father always taught me to follow through on the promises made aloud and in secret.
“I’m going to swim in the lake today.” I had said this to you in the car like a proclamation, strands of hair catching in my mouth and sticking to my lips from spit and wind. You nodded knowingly, your grip loose on the steering wheel as we barreled around winding roads, making our way down, down, down until it felt like we’d reached the bottom of the earth. You looked so relaxed, the sun reflecting off your face, bouncing on the dashboard and windows.
It was barely summer. The mountains still shedding ice and snow. The lake was for fishing and reading a book in the sun. Everyone was wearing light jackets. Swimming season hadn’t started. Not yet. Not until a few weeks later. Still, we ran like kids from the car, bouncing across the sand, tossing our totes and bodies on the inlet near the bushes where it felt like we were hiding. Our own secret corner. A plot of land to stake for ourselves.
You gasped when you broke the water’s surface, droplets dripping from your skin like glitter, now translucent and covered in tiny goose pimples. I laughed, then dove again, this time forcing my body out past the boulders and moss, where tips of grass tickled my legs in the current. I’m unsure how long I stayed there, staring at the clouds, balancing myself in the soft waves. Did you see me out there when you returned to the beach? Did you wonder if I would come out of the water a different person?
On the way to the car, I grabbed a handful of rocks and shoved them in my pocket to place them in a small pile on my nightstand at home. The dirt and sand fell away like breadcrumbs through my fingers, catching under my nails. I fought the urge to pick it away, fought the urge to suck on a strand of hair during our drive back. I used to do this when I was a girl riding in grandpa’s boat, my pigtails dripping with green water. How good the lake tasted in my lungs, an elixir of youth and innocence. I left it this time—the water dripping down my temples and neck, the dirt stains on my knees and fingers. I wanted the day to last as long as forever.
Always remember, I would tell myself that night, later that week, when summer finally came and turned to fall, then winter. Remember the cold and how it wrapped you in warmth, despite what others warned. The pain and breathlessness only lasted a moment. Then your lungs filled with air. Your legs grew fins, and you learned to live in the depths. You re-entered your skin, baptizing yourself the only way you knew how—with silence and nature and cold water. A small voice from above or below or within reminded you it would all be okay. You would wake up again. After so many months of sleeping, your eyes would remember how to open.
But you had to go out into the water first. Together, you had to go out into the coldest of waters.
I just started I Keep My Exoskeletons To Myself, and it’s inspired a lot of second-person ideas in my own writing (like this piece). The writing is different and edgy and challenging the way I view storytelling.
- is now writing on substack and I love this piece on finding inspiration in the potential of what could be.
This new release from Aisha Badru:
This really encouraged me to remember consider the sensory experience of going out into the cold and the unknown. "You re-entered your skin" is language I've never heard, and it feels so true to my own experiences. - And thank you so much for mentioning my Substack! I figured I'd give it a try :)
Bracing and beautiful! I was right there with you entering the water. Living in a place with a long and cold winter, the first outing in warm weather can feel like an awakening after slumber. Very relatable. Thanks!