Scene One – PLAYING IN SHALLOWS – Sarasota, Florida, February 1949
“Time for deeper water Bobby,” Dad says. He lifts me from cool water above turquoise-blue tiles in Holiday Inn’s outdoor pool. Strong arms spin me over his head like a baker twirls pizza dough. Above me palms and clouds swirl in a canopy of mint leaves and marshmallows in an upside-down bowl of blue Jell-O. “Ha, ha, Daddy,” I laugh. “Pizza, pizza, but no deep water.”
“You’ll be fine,” he says. “You’re a swimmer. The only difference between shallow and deep water is you can’t touch bottom.”
Another spin and Dad lowers me back into the water. I shiver in early afternoon sun. “I’m afraid of deep water,” I say, looking up at Dad.
“You’re scared of what you don’t know.” He places broad, sun-tanned hands on my lean, pale shoulders and smiles. “When you’re in water over your head you can’t rely on what you’ve learned playing in shallows. You need other ways to survive. Come on, we’ll practice new swim strokes, how to tread water, and float.”
Dad cradles me in his arms. Fragrance of Old Spice aftershave comforts me. “We’ll do this together,” he says.
Scene Two – AGAINST THE TIDE – Milwaukee, Wisconsin, December 2019
Sally leans forward. Elbows on our maple dining room table and the white-stained coffee cup at her lips form the upper angle of an equilateral triangle. Like the eye above the pyramid on the back of a dollar bill that sees all, my wife knows me. “I’d like to talk, Bobby.”
I sip Kenya light roast coffee. Not a favorite. Hands shake. “What’s on your mind?”
She flips long, raven, black hair and turns – Helen of Troy in three-quarter profile. “The dinner party. I’m upset about your behavior last night.”
The ladder-back chair groans as I lean away. What now? Recall of previous conversations flood like a coastal tide invades a saltwater marsh. I’ve drowned in these talks before. My eyes meet hers. “Say more.”
“You spoke with Tom all evening. You excluded me from conversation. I felt like I wasn’t seated at the table. I was invisible to you and Tom.”
I rub my temples with trembling hands. A swimmer needs new strokes to survive a rushing tide. One deep breath, then two more, and I dive in. “Sally, I want to clarify what I understood you to say.”
Fingers comb her hair. She nods.
“I heard you say you were excluded from my conversation with Tom and you felt invisible.”
Seconds pass. Sally turns to me. “Yes, that’s what I said.”
Relentless tide tugs at my legs. Arms of eventuality pull me toward deep water with no chance to breathe or escape. I struggle to swim to safety, beyond the marsh to solid ground. “How was that for you, Sally?” I probe.
“Terrible!” Tears streak her makeup. “You’ve excluded me before. I feel like you don’t love me.”
I pass a floral green box of Kleenex across the table. Sally loves spring blossoms. When did I stop listening to her?
“Remember New York?” She reaches for a Newport cigarette. “You flirted with a waitress. You ignored me.”
I lean in to light Sally’s smoke. A new stroke lifts me against the ocean of her disappointment. “I understand why you don’t feel loved. I can imagine how you feel being ignored. I’m sorry I neglected you. How does feeling unloved affect you?”
She blows smoke between us, wiping her tears, “I’m angry with you. When you ignore me I’m devastated.”
“I understand your anger,” lifting my head. “It must seem like nothing changes.
Anything else you’re feeling?”
She stares at the wall behind me. “Hopelessness.”
“A lonely place,” I empathize. “What would it take for you to feel hopeful?”
Sally snuffs out her half-burned smoke. “To be heard.”
Clock above the hutch marks time with each electric tick-tock. “Thanks for listening,” she says. “I’m still hurt, but willing to move on for now. Let’s take a walk.”
I feel beach beneath my feet, firm ground beyond a receding tide. Sally’s
grip is tentative, yet warm, and comfortable. We walk on a new beach together.
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Richard Wilberg, MS, PLCC, ACC
Creativity Coach for Personal Fulfillment and Career Success
About the Author
I write personal essays, creative non-fiction, flash fiction, and self-development articles from my home in Madison, Wisconsin.