Safe Submerged

Larissa Peluso-Fleming essays

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I am obtuse.

One might assume that, given my profession, I would be acutely aware of the patterns in my world. (I am a mathematician). After all, patterns form the very skeleton of mathematics; the Fibonacci sequence reveals itself in a pine cone, a kindergarten student sets out tiles (red, blue, red, blue, red, blue, red) that will one day find new life in a linear graph.

It is not always so perfectly congruent. Life is messier than math.

The water.

Since the time I was a newborn, I have felt as comfortable (more so?) in water as on land. Within days of our birth, my mother tossed us into a pool of water and watched, smugly, as we magically made our way to the other side. My father nearly drown in his own anxiety, but she insisted. There was no way HER children would fear the water. By the time we were two, we could swim unassisted, mermaids gliding along gleefully as the adults held their collective breath. We swam competitively for the duration of our childhoods and have both chosen to spend a great deal of our adulthoods wet.

When the chips are down, when I am lost, there is always the water. There is a moment of intense beauty so cathartic, so powerful, when my body first becomes submerged. The silence is enrapturing- Marlee Matlin in “Children of a Lesser God.” Instantaneous peace. (I assume this feeling mimics whatever high is achieved via heroine, but with fewer risks to body and mind).

I have been out of the water for months. I had pretty serious knee surgery that prohibits my attendance at Master Swim Team practices or Aqua Zumba. Who knew that a good sojourn into the pool was contraindicated? Since my surgery date, there have been crises…serious, life-altering crises. I have done my best to handle them.

Yet I am obtuse.

It’s the same thing every time: I draw a bath. I close the French doors leading to the master bathroom, shut off the lights, fill the soaking tub to the brim, and lose myself. I position my body such that my ears are below the water line. I need that silence. I yearn for the feeling of the tendrils of my long hair feathering out and enveloping my face. I am a child again, back to the security of the only womb I have ever known.

I excused myself tonight and stole away to the tub. I asked my husband to handle the teeth brushing, the book reading, the cuddling. He needs interaction; I need to be alone. We learned today that a member of our family (who desires and deserves her anonymity) has a cancerous tumor growing in her uterus. Nothing else is known. We have no stage, no prognosis, no data points to usher us into a false sense of security. My heart knew something to which my stubborn brain had not yet caught on- I was hurting. I was scared. I was experiencing grief and sorrow and tremendous anxiety. Only after I had spent a reasonable enough time in the bath did I recognize the pattern.

When my step-mother told me that she had breast cancer (a mere ten days after we buried my baby sister) it was a matter of minutes before I found myself in a bathing suit holding onto a pair of Italian goggles. The morning of my second marriage, I swam nearly two miles straight without stopping.

There is a certain amount of embarrassment and shame that it never occurred to me that this aqua-based pattern held such a prominent spot in my life, yet I am profoundly grateful for the comfort and for the ability to offer myself some grace. I pray fervently that it will be many years before I need to submerge my soul again, but it sure is nice to know that there is a place to which I can go that will forever feel like home. The water creates a reflection for us all; for me, it offers a close-up view of the matters of the heart that might otherwise go unseen.


About the Author

Larissa Peluso-Fleming

Larissa is a mama of three terrific kiddos and a happily married gal. She's a mathematics specialist and has the distinct pleasure of spending her days sharing the love and magic of math with elementary-aged learners. She lives by the credo, "It is better to be an optimist and a fool than a pessimist and right."

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