deep lake

I grew up as a tomboy stabbing slugs with sticks and tossing them into the street to be squashed by oncoming cars. I had almost nothing to do with dolls. You can ask my friend Monica, who I encouraged to forsake them. I climbed sappy trees in worn out, boy, hand-me-down jeans, t-shirts and sneakers. I liked playing basketball, albeit not very well, and baseball (though not much better) and my dad taught me to spiral toss a football. I ran fast and hid where no one could find me. I pulled the limbs off of daddy long legs until just a bead of a body remained rolling around on the cement tiles of our patio. And I loved mud, especially if there were polliwogs and frogs in it for me to catch.

Every summer our family took at least one vacation. More often than not we drove east from our Seattle suburb hauling our twenty-one foot trailer over the Cascade Mountains to the desertous part of the state. It’s beautiful there, but in a very different kind of way than the coast. In the dry climate jagged cliffs spring up from rivers that have cut zigzags through the bluffs. High plateaus stretch for miles, rattlesnakes lurk in crevasses and banner skies gleam so spotless and blue you practically go blind gazing into their infinity.

The bunch of us kids—my older sister and brothers and a handful of friends—spent the hot dry days up at Deep Lake jumping off of cliffs. Wearing only our swimsuits and sneakers without socks we trudged up snaking dirt paths, sometimes nicking our ankles on rocks and scraping our calves and thighs against brush and brambles. At different heights above the lake jutted several jump-off points—flatish ledges overhanging the water just far enough for a body to avoid hitting the cliff wall on the way down. The lowest shelf was at about twenty feet. The highest we figured was fifty to seventy-five feet above the water. My crazy brother Matt took that one.

My girlfriends and I always chose the lower platforms. Just eleven years old, or so, we were novices. We perched ourselves up there like vultures or gargoyles hugging our knees for what seemed like a part of forever, twinges of vertigo prickling our nerves. The lake mirrored the sky and nestled itself in a canyon of sorts, steep ridges rising nearly vertical above its surface. Our voices echoed back to us satisfyingly when we whistled and called.

I’d wait for my brothers and sister to jump first from their thirty-five foot outposts. From a standing start the boys kicked out their legs as if running in air, dislodging pebbles and dirt as they did, then cupped their hands over their groins for the stinging slap into the water. After they jumped I peered down at the floret of foamy bubbles boiling at the surface around their entry point. My brothers swam to the surface and whipped their longish hair back from their faces the way boys did in the seventies, perhaps still do today. Eventually, the entire group having already jumped and waiting in the water or in the inflatable canoe below, it was my turn. I stood with great apprehension at twice the height of the highest board I’d ever dived off of.

It pretty much scared me shitless, though I felt confident I’d meet my objective. Adrenaline surged through my veins as my friend encouraged me from behind, “C’mon, Christy, you can do it!” Then, there was a split-second break in the tension, perhaps from a passing bird or a brief let-up in the wind, and I jumped. As if riding a roller coaster my stomach leapt into my throat as the water, which had seemed so very far away just seconds ago, sped toward me. I shut my eyes tightly and—SMACK—hit the surface as if it were solid mass. But the water gave way and my little body plunged deep into the lake. Once I opened my eyes I could see the muscular, sneaker-shod legs of the others egg-beatering against greenish water. I felt as if I were inside of a mossy fishbowl. Tiny bubbles hugged my forearms like barnacles or pearls and larger ones traveled up my body then floated to the surface. Down there it was eerily serene, save for the muffled sound of voices and the glug of splashing water. Ten feet under I hung suspended, engulfed in a murky limbo; I felt safe, as if no one could touch me. I kind of wanted to stay down there forever and explore the womb of the lake, to sway in what felt tepid at my fingertips and cold at my toes. But alas, my lungs began to burn, so I popped to the surface where my siblings and friends were cheering.

At times, Since Calvin’s birth, I find myself in thick despair almost with that same sense of pre-jump vertigo but from fear and worry of his next seizure, his next bad fall. Exhaustion tugs my limbs and I want to surrender to its gravity. Sometimes, to cope, I retreat to a place where I can hug my knees to my chest and let myself go numb. At times it’s in bed under the safety of covers, others it’s in some mossy garden nook and still others it’s in the pool taking stroke after stroke in a meditative daze where sights and sounds and emotions become blurred, foggy, murky, like the comfort of that lake.

But eventually I come up to breathe, knowing I can go back to that dark place if I need to, knowing I can hang suspended in a murky fog where no one can touch me. But now I don't do it for the thrill, I do it just so that I can survive.

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Deep Lake, photo by pammybay


  1. Thanks, Christy, for this memory. I had a day like that when I was nine years old at a summer day camp at Bellarmine high school in San Jose. They had a high-dive board at their swimming pool -- not super-high, just the usual nine or ten feet. I think everyone else had done it except me. I went up, chickened out, then was embarrassed into trying again by the counselor. I waited, too scared to move, for a very long time. Finally the counselor got tired of waiting and told me to imagine it was fudge or something. Didn't help much. I waited a little more. He was through waiting and asked me to come down. The prospect of embarrassment wouldn't let me. I stepped into nothing, and survived. Kept my eyes closed and surfaced right away. A little water in the nose, but not that bad after all.

  2. Christy, I wish I could write like you do. This memoir is SO VIVID, so personal, so perfect in its description....and its relation to your life with Calvin so real, that I wish there were a reward/award for you. Maybe the writing and the remembering is its own reward---I hope so. Thank you, thank you, for making me more alive, more aware, and bless you for your gifts...