Writing Is Like Swimming for the Surface

water

So much of writing the story of mothering my medically complex child is like being underwater.

I sit down to write with a combination of resignation and anticipation. There are other things to do — work, digital errands around planning and research for my family, Facebook, the news — and I hover above the keys, unsure of whether this really is the moment to submerge in my manuscript. I think, then, of my friend Andrea, who gave me great insight when I complained that I always got new clients just as I was recommitting myself to the writing.

“Maybe,” she said, with a glint in one eye, “that’s the universe asking you if you’re really serious.”

am serious. Most days, I open a document in my manuscript folder and dive in. Or, maybe that’s not always true — maybe sometimes I dive in gracefully and sometimes I jump in with my eyes closed, a cannonball, splashing words in every direction. Sometimes I open a file, dip a toe into it, and sit on the edge of the writing shivering, waiting, trying to get used to the idea that I’m going in, again.

The words are so, so cold at first. The shocking language slaps me in the chest: aorta, incision, punished, tears, ignored, dismissed, esophagus, swallow, hurt, anger. I am lost in it, the edges of my body liquid, the edges between myself and my younger daughter blurry and moving in the displaced water molecules around me. In the distance, I can sense but not always see the shapes of my husband and older daughter, our friends, and our larger family, but at first, it’s always just me and Sammi, grasping for each other, just out of reach.

As I learn to accommodate the temperature and breathe underwater, the turbulence calms. I navigate around the sentences, tugging, re-ordering, pressing and waving them through my fingers. I no longer notice the cold. Swimming past me are piles of medical bills, calendars full of doctors’ appointments. I sift through them to find the doctors’ notes in haphazard stacks, attached with bits of suture and sticky IV tape. I squint at numbers rising and falling, photos of the insides of my daughter’s gullet, and turn in nauseating somersaults as I read, detail by detail, the path through an operation according to a man who has never seen my daughter smile.

There are times I stare for an hour into the underwater caves of my messages to friends during the hardest years of Sammi’s medical trials. Following the thread of instant messenger chats, I am lost in the whirlpools there, re-reading my own desperation, searching for a detail but sidetracked, until I find the date or the sequence I need. Bubbles of connection form between me and the friends who tether me in time and space, caught in a summer rainstorm I can see just above the surface, a discussion of someone else’s daily life obscuring the turmoil of my own in a sea of emojis, recipe links, and smiling photographs. Returning to the manuscript, I find mirrored surfaces where the reflections of this moment are within the text, where I read with my hand over my mouth: “Ignoring the sound and falling into a drugged sleep was like drowning, slowly, as someone who needed me desperately grabbed at me — fruitlessly — from the surface of the water.”

I could hold my breath down here for hours. Sometimes I do, not realizing that I’m not meant to live underwater. Coffee I’ve left at the surface grows cold. Emails ping at me, music plays in faraway earbuds, barely heard. I grow waterlogged with memory, heavy and impermeable, saturated, thousands of characters of journey floating through the ocean around me.

In the end, though, I pull myself out, or life does: a ringing phone, the call of work, the hour growing late and beckoning me to car pools and dinner prep and the real-life, healthy version of my daughter before me, home from school. I have come up from the deepest part of the sea of my memory.

I shake off the water, rise up from my seat, close the document file and re-enter the world. My eyes are still wet with words.


This is a Finish the Sentence Friday post. There was a photo prompt, but we’re also invited to respond to the name of the photo only, which is “up.” You can link up on Kristi’s site, Finding Ninee, or Mardra’s site, MardraSikora.

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4 thoughts on “Writing Is Like Swimming for the Surface

  1. Oh.. my. That visual. And having your eyes still wet with words. Simply beautiful. And it truly truly is the best analogy that I really needed today.

  2. OMG to the holding your breath. I get lost in old messages as well. Old fears… and the whole pulling yourself out of it. I get that hugely. I sometimes feel like such a different person than the one who started blogging whether it was autism. THis essay is amazing. <3 YOU.

  3. Gorgeous and true. This is so relatable for those who are writing through the memories.

  4. So true.Writing Is Like Swimming of the words.We can easily go with the flow of the words.
    Amazing post.

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