The Bottom of a Swimming Pool

by Annie Johnson
age 15, Dublin Coffman High School, Dublin, Ohio


There’s solace in the bottom of a swimming pool, that’s what I used to believe. To me, there was nothing better than feeling the water fill my ears and fold over my head until my feet scraped the concrete bottom. The feeling of disappearing.

Through the lenses of my pink-tinted goggles, underwater was magical. The cracks in the tiling lining the walls, the disembodied legs kicking for stable ground, the sun overhead reduced to a few weak rays barely shattering the water’s surface — it all created such a sublime kind of picture. When it got dark, the lights on the sides of the pool would turn on, dim yellow circles to guide swimmers to the walls. They always reminded me of the glowing eyes of deadly sea dragons, able to devour anyone (even grown-up fourth-grade teachers) in one bite.

Even better, though, was the sound. In the open air, sound was too insistent. The noises of the pool all demanded your attention: the lifeguard’s shrill whistle, the smacking of tiny feet across the ground, the hundreds of voices demanding different things. “Can I get a —” “Owww! Quit —” “Stop splashing!” It reminded me of the school cafeteria, packed full of vicious kids: no rhyme, no reason, too loud to read a book in. But beneath the surface, things were quiet. The sounds that used to overwhelm me lost all their power, garbled and muffled. They intermingled with the sloshing of the water and the gentle blub-blub of air bubbles escaping my nose. It was not random, all the noises worked together to create a symphony. Harmony.

Perhaps the best thing about the bottom of a swimming pool, though, was that at the bottom of a swimming pool, I was alone. I didn’t have to worry about anyone splashing or kicking or shoving me aside. I didn’t have to worry about anyone making fun of my dumb bathing suit or my bug-eyed goggles. I didn’t have to worry about Mrs. Mills pretending not to see me when my hand was raised, or Sasha Grey’s friends giggling when I was the first to finish my times tables. They were all far, far away up on the surface. It was only me. Just me.

I used to wish I could live underwater. Mermaids didn’t have to go to school. Mermaids didn’t call other mermaids nerds or freaks.

But once, when I came up for air, I spotted a girl my age at the other side of the pool. We locked eyes before I went back under, just for a second. I didn’t think anything of it — girls like her usually didn’t want to be seen around me — until I felt a soft tug on my ankle, and I spied her next to me. She actually wanted to talk to me. She wanted to be friends.

So we talked. And I found out that she liked Pokémon and Warrior Cats just like I did. And we begged out parents to give us $3 so we could buy Popsicles, and we competed to see who could make the biggest splash, and when it got dark and the lights came on, we explored the depths of the pool together. She never once mentioned the scabs on my knees or the gaps between my teeth. She just laughed and said that she liked spending time with me. I liked spending time with her, too. I really did.

I didn’t spend so much time at the bottom of a swimming pool after that. How could I when there was so much waiting for me on the surface?