When I was younger I had the talent of opening my eyes in the pool; the stinging sensation caused by the chlorine never bothered me. Swimming underwater meant I could escape into the realm of something new. Away from this life. It was the only talent I had, and the only extracurricular sport I enjoyed. I loved the weightlessness and the freedom it provoked. I remember when I used to celebrate after swimming just one length of the pool; getting badges for my achievements and pushing myself to swim further and further until I was invincible.
A few months ago I was selected to be a lifeguard in Chicago, America. This was a dream of mine from a very early age and it was a chance to save lives whilst in the summer sun. I always felt that I was missing a purpose in life, so being held responsible for someone’s breath made me welcome the challenge and consequently fill the hole that I was sinking into. A hero. A saviour. A reward to myself that I am contributing to society. Of course whilst saving lives I thought about getting a sun kissed tan at the same time. I am a pale ghostly shade that blends into the melancholy feel of England, Essex to be precise. I longed to escape and take my passion with me.
Once I got off the plane, the air was thick with heat; my face red raw as the sun slapped my skin, attacking my foreign body. Beads of sweat slowly, yet aggressively, slid down my face, making me instantly regret wearing makeup. The residue of mascara stuck to my sockets and every time I blinked my eyelashes felt like they were cutting my eyes. I took a gasp of air before I collapsed from the shock. I squinted at the view and my eyes uncontrollably watered, “I need to get used to this” I murmured to myself.
On my first shift, my body trembled as I climbed onto the lifeguard post. As I sat there, I realised that there was no escape from the chair. My body was still. I was afraid to move in case the fragile legs snapped and I pictured myself lying face down in the water, or worse, mangled up on the side. I shook my thoughts away as I concentrated on the water. There was so much of it. So much that could go wrong and too much for me to focus on at the same time. Every particle of my hair was heavy on my neck and I fidgeted until all I wanted to do was to pull it out. I imagined myself tearing each strand out. I could feel the creases in my forehead squeeze together. My face felt tight and my chest taught, like I was suffocating on my own air, unable to taste the sweetness of the breeze. The squawks from the birds pierced my ear-drums and sent an uncomfortable hammering to my brain. I held my chest and then my throat to see if I was dreaming this, or if it was sunstroke… Or maybe I swallowed a fly or something. But no. I am the lifeguard that needs saving. How ironic. How embarrassing.
I saw a boat coming towards me. One of the other lifeguards. “Are you ok?” they shouted across the water, their facial expression growing more concerned when the saw the colour of my skin. “N-n-n-no” I answer. I hated when that happened, whenever I got anxious my mind decided to shut down, to leave my poor mouth to try and decipher what was left of my dignity. And there I was, at the back of a lifeguard’s boat. At least they got to save someone today. Unlucky it was me.
They sat me down on the side and asked what was wrong. I assured them that I lost my breath, making up excuses just to end this psychopathic nightmare. Everyone surrounded me and I felt like the air was going again, I could smell the chlorine on their skin and I smelt the perfume in the mist. I smelled sweat from the lifeguard that saved me on his perfectly toned muscles… It dripped onto my leg and I suddenly stopped being attracted to him. Their eyes looked at me how I would want people to look at my body at my funeral; not after a bloody panic attack, but they are not to know that.
At my next lifeguarding session the other lifeguard’s eyes pressed heavily on my body. I fidgeted in my seat after watching Gemma quickly turn away from me. I rolled my eyes. Everyone was still giving me that hopeless expression that I wanted to slap out of them. I felt like one of the children in the water and I felt like jumping in and joining them.
However, as the lifeguard sessions went on, the others decided to leave me alone and let me do my job. Their eyes no longer trapped me. My body sank peacefully into the chair and I smiled to myself for the first time.
I’m glad everyone believed my story. Eventually. I’m good at that. Persuading and convincing people to the point where they forget everything. It’s a matter of survival. A few weeks later I was trusted to be left on my own for an hour watching the children. I felt privileged, sitting on the lifeguard chair made me feel euphoric, like I had a purpose and position in life. Like I mattered. I looked down at the children in the water and a smirk crept onto the corner of my mouth as I flicked my now-golden hair over my fresh coloured skin, whilst the sunlight caressed my face and was no longer an enemy.
I wish I could say that feeling lasted. My eyes became lost, like I was looking through a microscopic lens at a different image, like I was looking at someone else’s life. I looked intently at my hands, staring at the creases indented in my skin and the way the lines joined together to form a fingerprint. Yet I didn’t recognise the marks at all. I looked into the reflection of the water and grabbed my face; unaware that my nails were slicing through my skin. A drop of blood fell delicately onto the water and disappeared with a blink. I felt that I was trapped in a body that I wanted to escape out of and my mind could barely handle the emotions attacking my skull. The colours of the water changed from crisp tranquil blue to an eerie grey. Everything seemed out of reach and suddenly I felt my chair was higher up. I looked down and could feel vomit creeping up my throat and my head throbbed from the stress of over thinking every moment. Over and over again.
Suddenly I spotted a boy, a very young boy, who attempted to swim towards the deep end. He had been told off for this many times before. His small body attacked the water, but his legs barely made a splash. His face was scrunched up; his determination only took him so far until his arms started to flap uncontrollably above his head. I watched as his panic stricken face turning into a more sinister fear that I have never witnessed before. Suddenly his head flopped into the water like someone had punched him in the stomach. But no one else was around him. I could see his limp body slowly sinking down into the water. The other children screamed for me. But all I could do was watch. As I tried to jump and as I tried to blow the whistle, my body froze. My internal voice cried out but my body was stubborn. My eyes became blurrier, my body became weaker and my mind shut down. And as the last air bubble released itself from the boy. I stopped breathing.
The choking sensation seemed to jolt me and I dived in to help the boy. I swam furiously until I reached him and pulled him towards the outstretched arms of the crowd that had started to gather. I could see the boy was safe and was being revived by them.
My eyes are wide open under the water but I am not breathing. I don’t need to. I am in my own world now. The world out there is fading into a bright light. My weightless body floating. And I am at peace.
I am eighteen. I am not longer a child and now have to have responsibilities. Responsibilities I have not thought of yet and will not until the last minute. One advantage that should be the case when turning into an adult is being treated with more respect. I remember in school, the teachers used to make me feel worthless, they used to scream at me when I showed emotion and I never knew the reasoning behind it. They expected me to always wear the puppet strings but I never had them attached in the first place. No one could control me. Everyone has emotions and expressions, so why belittle that? Since then, I am programmed to believe that crying is a sign of weakness, a sign of needing help or a sign that I just can’t cope anymore. Now I am eighteen, does this change? Does a number and reaching adulthood really make a difference in this judgmental world? So far I have yet to see any difference. People don’t care that I’m older, wiser or even a bit prettier. I don’t feel any different now I am eighteen. I can drink. Yes. I have control of my life. Yes. But who wants to wish their childhood away? I miss not worrying about everything. I worry to the point where I have to stop myself from ringing all my loved ones if I don’t get a reply, or if they are late home. My father was the same. It’s funny how the psychological attributes can be passed along the family chain. I miss the support of my family and relying on someone. Now I just feel alone. Eighteen should be the age where I grow up and finally know what I am doing. But I don’t. There is too much pressure on the future when all I want to do is go back to the past and relive some of the moments that I took for granted. Such as, being honest when a relationship wasn’t working, or trying too hard to be what someone else wants and in the process losing myself. There is so much more to learn at eighteen, nineteen and even twenty. Maybe then I will find the answers to the unanswered questions.
As a child I was shy. I would cover my eyes when people sang ‘happy birthday’, I was embarrassed by the attention on myself and wishing someone else could share my special day with me. Although, as birthdays went on, I found myself enjoying the occasion, inviting my friends round for trampoline, swimming and roller skating parties.
However, at eighteen, a milestone in people’s eyes, I was unsure of who I was, afraid of what people thought and ultimately terrified of the future. I wasn’t a child anymore.
That was different when I was five, I used to jump into the sea with my clothes on and my parents shouting at me to come in before the tide swept me away. I remember etching the mud with sticks and creating art with the surroundings. My imagination was always my best attribute. Yet as time went on, I lost myself. I lost the child within me, and focused so much on growing up, that one day I looked in the mirror and shocked myself. I didn’t laugh the way I used to on holidays, I never cried. I was numb to emotion. Numb to the people who left and the people who hurt me. Torturing myself by looking back to the past wishing I could redo moments, or erase them completely.
My twenties were the best days of my life; I was still young, managed to lose the weight and was finally comfortable in my own skin. Finally. However, I was more confused than ever.
Mid-twenties and into my thirties I watched as my friends found love, got married and had beautiful children. I didn’t want that. I wanted to travel and experience life to its core. I didn’t want to be in one place and be suffocated by the lifeless surroundings.
By my mid-thirties my family were asking the question “When are you going to think about settling down?” they chorused, niggling at the itch that I would never scratch. You see, I never believed that everyone should follow a convention, or have the same aspirations or life plan. I’d lose myself completely otherwise. Yet by forty, I did just that. I married, had two children that I adore. It’s funny isn’t? How one day everyone caves in for the sake of a number. A number telling you that your time is slowly wasting away, like sand in an hourglass, softly and slowly until suddenly you have nothing left.
I made the most of my time in my fifties and sixties, and by some miracle, I was still with my husband up until he died at 89. But now in my hospital bed, with my children beside me, married with their own children, careers, and a life, I write my memories down and I find myself smiling. What a life I whisper under my breath. What a life.