It’s a hot summer morning, you can already hear the cicadas buzzing and almost see the humidity hanging in the air. The year is 1978, August in Alabama and I am at the community pool with my brother. We stand in a group at the gate, waiting to be let in as the pool opens for the day. Each kid has their towel and some are swinging their swim masks around, desperate to be the first to jump into that cool water. Our Mom has dropped us off for the day so she can run errands. Perfection.
A bored teenager lets us in and I head straight to the deep end. Today is the day; I’m going to dive off the diving board. Honestly I’ve been telling myself this all summer, but have managed to put it off until one of the last days the pool will be open this year. So many times I have thought about my dive, but there are usually too many kids jumping off the board, swimming to the side and climbing out only to jump off again, mostly big boys like my brother and his friends. I need time and some space, this can’t be rushed.
As I approach the deep end, it looks like glass, no one has entered this area since last night. I begin the short climb up the metal ladder, only three steps, but it seems like so much more. It feels sturdier than I expected, while my legs feel weaker than I would have guessed. I have never been here before, only watching others from the 5 foot area see-sawing and leaning way off the board, bending it down and looking elastic. The board itself is quite rough. Another surprise. As soon as I start to walk out to the end, I look around and see the big boys headed my way. I know I don’t have much time.
I peer over the edge of the board, my toes are hanging over. I can feel the water beckoning me to just do it, dive in like I have from the side of the pool hundreds of times before. I hear kids screaming with delight in the kiddie pool and wish I could just be little and not have to do this. I glance at the lifeguard, who seems so old to me but is probably in high school, hoping he will notice what a big deal this is, or better yet, will yell at me to get down from there. He doesn’t see me at all. The big boys have gotten distracted by some pretty girls who are setting up shop for the day in the teen corner, so I have a few extra seconds to torture myself.
I have watched others get to this place, only to talk themselves out of jumping and climb back down the ladder with shame. I decided long ago that wouldn’t be me. I’m resolute that my first time off this board will be a dive, not a baby jump while holding my nose, I want to be able to swim towards the ladder as soon as I hit the water. I try to sway myself into the water and everything within me screams NO WAY. I over-correct back to safety. I look around one last time and appreciate my life up until right now, take a deep breath and roll-dive my body into that water. It feels amazing!
I scramble swim myself to the side of the pool and hang on to the ladder while catching my breath. I look around, the lifeguard is yelling at some boys who were running, the little kids are splashing and kicking in inches of water, and the big boys are grouped up on the diving board, ready to take back the deep end for the day. Nothing is different, and yet for me, everything has changed.