It is Saturday night and I’m attending to my new-old treasure; my wooden dresser stands at the foot of the bed. I kneel in the hallway with a stack of dresser drawers. The friend I am living with now took me to retrieve it and I am unreasonably excited to have a piece of my own furniture back after all this time. I am scouring every inch of the dresser to be sure I’m rid of the mold from storage. While I work, I’m seeing an image from earlier in the day.
He stands at the poolside and lifts his arms. An instant later he’s flown over the shallow end and plunged through the entire backyard pool. He emerges grinning, and I smile too. I walk around in the shallow end, never fully submerging myself. Everyone is new to me and I’m a little anxious while enjoying the hot, lazy Saturday in Durham. When I eventually decide to leave he sees me out and tells me, smiling, that now I know where he lives I’m welcome to come swim any time. I hug him goodbye.
I remember the image of him diving, the way his eyes twinkled saying goodbye-and something familiar about being welcome any time. I sit on the floor holding a wet paper towel, blinking.
I dive into the deep end of the neighbors’ outdoor pool over and over again. Plunging into the water seems to slap my face, but the neighbor is teaching me to dive and I want to learn. I try again and again though my face hitting the water doesn’t feel good; I don’t know how long I’ll be allowed this indulgence or whether it will be permitted to me again. Later I lay in my small bed alone and weep with the pain in my eyes and head and neck–as well as the loneliness of having left an attentive adult who was happy to spend her afternoon teaching me to do something fun.
I never did learn to dive well. I was always afraid after that from the way it hurt. I didn’t fully register the pain while she was teaching me. It wouldn’t even have occurred to me to ask her to do something else, so anxious was I to show myself worthy.
I wipe some more at the wooden dresser drawer I am cleaning, compulsively checking and re-checking to be sure every surface is clean and dry. I hear my mother’s voice saying;
“That was just something people say, Laura. Of course they don’t want you showing up bothering them.”
I recognize the familiarity of a rejoinder I must have heard a lot of times, and remembering it is heavy. I sit, aching with the weight of my mother’s unaddressed insecurity heaped onto me.
I remember the last time I saw my childhood neighbor, how she seized me with tears in her eyes and held me to her like something precious.
I remember the smile in my new friend’s eyes and the brief pang of how words like “you’re welcome any time” are familiar, and accompanied by secret skepticism. I was taught to doubt longed for words of reassurance as I was taught to question my own value to another person. I know my mother never meant to hurt me, but I review a life of relationships in which I’ve struggled to prove my worth. I am heavy with a lifetime of asking for too little and giving too much. I sit, dazed, on the floor–suddenly exhausted.