Notes on Terry

My grandfather is like a breath stroke when you swim; up for one breath, and down for another. Except whenever he goes up and down, he submerges and rises for longer strokes of time. I think about, get fixated on, the moments when he’s is down—submerged, withdrawn. Maybe I consider it withdrawn because I cannot see him? Maybe because when he is under, the water washes over any resemblance. The only glimpse of my grandfather that I glean is in the moments the reflection off a small wave become pale and pink; close enough to skin to make me a believer. Yet maybe, in actuality, when he is submerged, when doubt crosses me and becomes of me, he is living another life. He has become water, water-animal, hybrid-human, and at the end of it all, at the end of his stroke, he is truly alive. I wish that I could be less of a rescuer. I wish that I wasn’t wearing red, standing on stilts at the end of the pool with inflatables hugged around both arms trying to peer in. I wish that I didn’t panic and rush to pull my goggles over my eyes. Rush to spit into them and clear out the fog so that in some way, hopefully, I can see clearly. I wish that I didn’t hunch over the water and beckon like a hesitant leap-frog too afraid to make a move. I wish that I could consider him trustworthy and instead sit idly and wait for water-world to become real again. To become ground where rules and obligation and language have a structure and do not get wet and puddle onto the tiled floor. That maybe, if this were to happen, I could pin up my costume and walk around the world with him. I could ask him how he feels about it as if he were an ancient fish that I found buried in the sanded ground. And if this were to happen, he would be pleased. His gills would flap endlessly. And when I bring him to Coney Island, a place that I am just beginning to learn, his gills would flap even more. Maybe this would happen. Or maybe I will always wear red and sit at the edge of the pool slightly afraid of water. Slightly afraid of a temperature that is too mild or too cold. Afraid of incremental differences. Enough to keep me frozen while he marches on, as he strokes forward, one hand in front of the other. He looks back from time to time, lifting his head above the water to see if I am still following. He smiles when he realizes I am. He swims for hours, and even though I am only able to place my toes in the water, I don’t let go of him. I follow the glint of hope in his eyes — the small fraction of desire to show me his kingdom, his Coney Island too.