I dive under, swimming harder. Kick from the glutes and focus on a smooth pull of the arm, hourglass curve as hand passes shoulder, pushing the water behind. The next wave thrusts me back.
My muscles burn, lungs heaving as I suck in a big gulp of air every two strokes now, down from three. I am far from shore and I wish I could keep going forever, out past the Faralon Islands, all the way to the line of the earth’s curve and straight out into space.
Mom is a small figure pacing in the distance. I wave to her. I’ve made it out farther than any of the surfers, than anyone at all. I can’t see the bottom. I have missed this feeling, not knowing what’s under my feet. It is lonely—treacherous—but also good.
I tread water, using the eggbeater kick, one leg whipping around, then the other. It takes the most energy of any way to tread, and I am not in the shape I once was, but when I think of what it took to stay in shape I remember pain like this, the slow burn of exhaustion. I pull my arms out of the water and hold them up in the air like we used to do in water polo drills, kicking harder to raise my body out almost to the waist. The burning makes it difficult to concentrate on anything else.
Open water stretches around me, and I’m vaguely aware of being swept farther out. I rest on my back, thrusting my hips and chest to the sky. My breath rasps in and out. My chest rises and falls rapidly. All I can do is lie back and wait for my pulse to slow, for my body to be mine again. The sky is dotted with clouds. A gull flies over, white and yellow. I close my eyes and feel my arms and legs and head tingling, lactate and oxygen mixing. It is like the feeling after purging a too-large meal, the moment when the mind becomes quiet and listens to the flesh.