Me and my shadow

crowded poolI am a strong swimmer now, but before I learned how to tread water I nearly drowned, and no one knew anything about it while it was happening. I was four, maybe five, and had gone to a crowded community pool with my cousins, both big shots. At one point, I found myself separated from them and bobbling frantically in the deep end. I don’t know how many times I went under or how close to drowning I actually was, but I remember being swamped by a feeling of intense confusion, a feeling I was too young to understand: that I had somehow gotten myself into a kind of trouble I could not have forestalled. Before I knew, I was back in the shallow end, crying, and my older cousin—the younger one still off somewhere splashing and flirting—seemed not to understand (as I, myself, seemed not to understand) how grave things had been just minutes before.

A handful of years later, I was helping to set the table for a holiday meal and had gone to get out the good plates from the oak hutch in our dining room. One minute I was pulling on the sticking door; the next minute I was on the ground and a piece of furniture weighing hundreds of pounds was about to fall on top of me. Luckily, my brother pulled me away before it, and its contents, came crashing down. Afterwards, all I could do was cry, though mostly, I think, because he had called me an idiot.

Throughout my life, there have been innumerable calamities, and almost always these have arrived at moments when I was not quite there to greet them. Only now, for instance, a decade later, can I see the truth of my second marriage—that I had allowed myself to be snookered by a con artist. For the few years I was with him, and for years after, it was as if I were two: one who knew full well what kind of man he was and one who had unknowingly ventured into the deep end of the pool when she hadn’t learned to swim properly.

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