My wife is sitting at the bottom of the pool, her knees pointed upward and her arms wrapped tightly around her legs. She isn’t drowning, she just lives there.
A few weeks ago, she packed up her makeup, underwear, jewelry, and medication into resealable plastic bags, adding enough rocks so that they would sink to the bottom. Then she got on her hands and knees and began swallowing stones from our garden. She said she was trying to make herself less buoyant. I never thought it would work.
From the bottom, she can’t hear a word I say, which I guess is the point. If she glanced up, she might be able to read my lips, but mostly we communicate through text. She triple-wrapped her phone and brought it with her.
I send a photo of our six-month year old daughter twice a day. Once in the morning and once at night. I add messages like: “trying to give you space” or “do you need anything?” until she hits back with a request that I not “use our daughter as a bargaining chip.” I send her a picture of the neighbor’s cats, donuts from the bakery down the street, and the Wi-Fi password printed on the side of their router. I stop texting words.
I see her laughing sometimes. I press my ear into the water, my neck and shoulder digging awkwardly into the pool’s concrete edge, but I don’t hear anything. I stick my head in to call out to her, gurgling and blubbering, rendering myself ridiculous.
Our six month year old scooches through the grass, nearly depositing herself into the water before I scoop her back into my arms. My wife glances up to the surface. I start dancing with our baby and singing sweetly right into her ear.
I worry about nose hairs—that watching me from the bottom of the pool is catching me at the worst possible angle.
After a few weeks, I reach my entire arm into the water, soaking my long-sleeved shirt, swinging it back and forth like a rope, and hooking onto my wife’s hand. I pull hard against the water’s resistance. She locks her fingers into mine, but allows her body to become limp.
Her head bobs to the surface, but it isn’t enough. Even though her bare feet will burn against the concrete, I beg her to come up onto dry land.
“I can bring you a towel,” I say. “I can bring sandals.”
She pulls herself up. Her pale white body drips. She wraps her arms tightly around her skin to shield herself from my gaze. She is in a bathing suit, and she is shivering.
“Everyone is cold when they first get out of the pool,” I explain. For some reason I am yelling.
She rolls her eyes. She feels lectured to. She feels pressured.
Concealing her butt cheeks with a seat cushion taken from a plastic chair, she searches for our daughter in the lawn. The grass has grown taller in her absence. She finds her and presses her into her shoulder but then gazes back at the pool. The sun has already turned her skin a hot pink.
“It’s really common to go through this,” she says.
I nod my head vigorously. It feels good to agree on something.
“There are blogs,” she says, “There are whole books about it.” Her voice isn’t the way I remember it, but it’s been such a long time that I’m not sure what’s changed.
There’s a cold gush of wind. I can tell she’s uncomfortable.
“You have to towel yourself off,” I warn. “Put on warm clothes.”
Her muscles tense.
“Sometimes you act as if my job is to have all the problems,” she says, “and yours is to pick them apart.”
“You’re living in the swimming pool,” I remind her.
She starts to cry, but the tears blend with the pool water dripping down her face.
“I’ll hold my breath as long as I can,” I offer, enraptured by my own capacity for self-sacrifice. It was her turn to be grateful. It was her turn to repent.
Instead of diving into the pool, she sits down at the edge and dips her legs in. She submerges her body slowly without making a sound.
Every once in awhile, the surface of the water ripples, and I peer down into its depths, fearing the worst. But my wife is still at the bottom, basking in the glow of the pool’s florescent light.
It’s not her body’s movements but the wind that chops the surface. Our daughter laughs as the breeze caresses her hair. She stares intently at the swaying branches as it pushes through the trees.
My life doesn’t matter anymore, I want to say to her, only yours. Then I notice that her pink onesie is stained blackish-green from her hip nearly all the way up to her armpit. She stares at me, perfectly calm. A second later, she is screaming.
I race her inside and tear off her clothes, getting baby shit beneath my fingernails and all over the buttons of my shirt. She keeps screaming as I change her diaper. She screams when I give her a bath, when I feed her a bottle, when I read her the first few sentences of her favorite book.
She keeps screaming and screaming and screaming.