Listen to the song Nightswimming by REM. Tell the story of the memory this song evokes in you. Preferably nonfiction.
I challenged Kat with the prompt: There was hair everywhere.
“You can change into your water clothes in my office,” Emma Lou told me. She was the church secretary and she wore giant glasses that magnified her eyes. “You’ll be with the other girls.”
Only, there were grown up women there, too. I had seen them before, shaking and crying at the altar. They were skinny with elbows that jutted out too far. They both had hair that was so fine and dry, I wanted to crumble the strands in my fingers and watch them turn into dust. One woman wore a pair of faded, gray underwear that sagged in the back and pulled up high around her ribcage.
Since this was a special night, I chose my favorite shirt. It was white and had an iron-on decal of a kitten. Part of the hem was ripping loose and I liked to wind my fingers through the hole, making it bigger.
I had seen some people getting baptized before, in the lake at the summer camp we rented for a retreat where we made key chains in the shape of crosses. Grown men in jeans and soggy tennis shoes, the pastor dunked them right there in the shallows where we launched a canoe earlier in the day. My brother flipped his over and had to drag it to shore.
Some of the newly baptized came up for air with one hand on their noses and the other hand raised to the sky, a single finger pointing right up to heaven.
I was getting dunked on the same night as my younger brother. I should have been ready before now. I was older. I should have done this two years ago. I didn’t know what would happen exactly, under the water in a tiny swimming pool hidden under the stage of our church. They would pull on the handle and slide a piece of the floor out of the way, and a neat blue rectangle would appear. There would be a wavering set of stairs and it would be filled with water from a hose.
I would have to hold my nose, because they didn’t let you go belly first. I asked.
I didn’t like getting tipped into water backwards because of how much it burned my nose. I didn’t see why it mattered whether I went in face first or not, but that just wasn’t how it was done. Nobody got made all shiny and new by face-planting into the water of God.
That’s what would happen, too. I would be lowered into the little pool by Pastor H. and when I came up sputtering and wiping the water out of my eyes, I would be new. I would be worthy. I would feel it in my bones, finally. I wouldn’t draw pictures on my hand during Sunday School. I wouldn’t crawl under the pews any more. Getting baptized meant that you were covered in the blood of Christ. All of your sins were washed away and the Holy Spirit could enter you and use you.
No more swears on the playground. No more stealing from my mother’s jewelry box. No more wondering what it would be like to kiss a boy on his mouth. The Holy Spirit would use me, just as soon as I was clean.
We were drunk on cheap red wine and I wanted to go swimming. There was a lake at the edge of town. If you followed the road into the dark, eventually it just ran right into the water. Our roommates made us promise that we wouldn’t. It was too dangerous and we were too reckless.
Kurt was nineteen and I was twenty-one.
We took off our shoes and pants, I let my skirt fall into a pile on the embankment. My friend from high school was there with us. We were wearing eyeliner that ran when it got wet. I held her hand under the water and we tried to swim to the other side, laughing and determined. We weren’t supposed to be there. We had to watch for the lights of a cop car on the road. There were a million stars in the sky. I loved them and their cold light. The water was freezing. I felt brave and clean in the night. I felt young and purposeful, bad and careless and beautiful.
Kurt was missing. We scanned the black surface of the lake and it was still and silent. Suddenly, he emerged, a wild flailing of limbs. Everything came to life in a spray of diamonds. We laughed, thinking he was playing. He reached for a buoy and slid down its surface, disappearing into blackness and everything was quiet again.
“Go, go to him!” I yelled. We were drunk and neither one of us could swim, not really. We dog paddled and freestyled it, back stroking like the devil himself.
Kurt's body was so thin and pale in the moonlight. We dragged him onto the rocks. I told him, “I love you,” knowing nothing of the way I would actually love him one day. How we would be up all night naked on a battered blue couch in the middle of a city where nobody knew us. How I would probe the bend in his arm for a vein and have his tongue in my mouth. How we would be married someday and sober with a garden and a white fence. I said, “I love you,” because I had saved him from drowning. He threw up in the bushes. We didn’t know that someday we would have babies.
photo by J Aaron Farr