My elevator has golden doors, rails covered in red velvet that feel like the hairs of a Rottweiler puppy I beg my father to buy. I am in a room of windows, rising into the clouds. To the darkness of space where my breath takes a form of its own in the etchings of the words I try to say. My elevator’s buttons are gone. I am floating until I’m not, body stolen from the floor to my elevator’s ceiling, waiting for the moment of impact.
My father betrays me from the stands encircled behind a wall made of windows to keep the chlorine and heat from seeping through. I am hoisted over the deep end by a swim instructor who insists today’s the day I tumble from the high dive. She dangles me in mid-air above another woman whose arms extend with promises to catch me. My frustrations of my father waving while I dangle in the air appear in the flailings of my helpless body falling into the open arms that await me. Arms that allow me to experience submersion before welcoming me back to the surface.
I pace within my rising elevator, searching for starlight. For planets I know the names of in English and in Spanish but can’t say which falls closest to the Earth. I’ve never been one for Science. Logic steals from the stories I live in while my father is away and my mother’s body is framed under a single light at the desk someone built in our kitchen. I search for her amongst the stars, waiting by the phone, for a call from a job I don’t understand. But I fall away before I find her, my fingertips grazing the velvet railing a moment too late.
I disappear beneath the water to avoid the horde asking questions easily answered if these girls would only see me. Why do you always wear a swim cap? Because I can’t wash my hair like you do. The warmth of water does not cause the strands of my tight curls to fall limp, instead forming knots wound tight as your grandmothers’ yarn balls in protest. To wash my hair is a process that can take hours, depending how long I stay in the shower. Why can’t you just be like us? Because my skin is the color of an oak tree when cut down and left to fall in the forest.
We are at a standoff. I refuse to approach and my elevator keeps its golden doors shut. For the first time, I am in a room with black floors that play smooth jazz with the shifting of my weight. My elevator’s revenge for my father’s stubbornness imprinted on me. I turn to leave. My elevator’s bell sounds. And we are falling together, my elevator and I, into the depths of a never ending pit to the sounds of what I would later know as Jr. Walker & The All Stars.
I am a body of numbers when my senses start to fail. I am accustomed to the slow burn of chlorine. To the sounds of fathers coaching their daughters from the swimming pool’s edge. They are piranhas on leashes, my father included. All the girls wear swim caps forming rows of yellow, white and black buoys. I ignore the fact I can’t see beyond their caps, their figures outlines of the bodies they once were. A whistle blows. I’ll lose points for my inability to dive. Points I’ll make up for in speed, my body slipping beneath the water’s surface until I am ready to reappear.
I pluck velveteen hairs from my elevator’s railing, waiting for my final descent. My words are stencils forming sentences along the windows that surround me. I know all the planets in English, that the Earth flirts with Venus and Mars. The ascension is taking longer than usual. My thoughts offend my elevator. There is no sound in space. Even when your throat extends to your stomach and your lungs collapse. Even when your screams shatter glass.
I am Jaws, scouring the depths in search for my prey, my sinking pool ring. I rise with my victim in my clenched jaws, begging my father to swim with me. He refuses from his plastic recliner. I clutch my prey and spin. Feel its weight disappear from my grasp and wait for its splash and the ripple that will sway my body. Instead, there is a clatter and the sounds of my father’s feet pounding against tile. Can’t you see me? He asks. From my hiding place underwater I answer, no.
My body is a prisoner surrounded by the glass, climbing above the clouds. To the skies where nothing exists. To space. To darkness. Then, we careen towards the earth together. My elevator and I.
I trade my curls for long strands that form after soaking in chemical baths. I am a being on fire with chemical burns along my scalp seeking sanctuary in the frigid depths I’ve been expelled from.
I go inside my elevator willingly. List the planets in no particular order, pass between my parted lips and encircle me as I rise. The walls of my elevator part and the stars reveal themselves to me. A black hole comes and I accept their invitation to float through in hopes of discovering what lies beyond the gravitational wave.
How does a swimmer survive without water? My boyfriend asks from our sanctuary on the sand. I run his fingers through my damaged hair. He holds me close, whispers swim with me. I tell him I can’t see anymore. He kisses the surface of my eyelids. We jump through waves, form maelstroms made of salt and the incoming tide. I sink beneath the surface with a promise he won’t let go. The ocean is a fog I welcome while strands of my hair dance in obscured light.