(After Ten Love Letters by Clementine Von Radics)
I’ve been taught that just throwing a book into the ocean won’t bury it. When a hundred people wade into a pool, the water level rises. When you throw our history into the ocean, Manila is going to sink.
Show me a heart accustomed to solid ground, and I will show her arteries clogged up by earth and lungs kept alive by seawater. Her heart will drum sadness and my lungs will inhale it like water, rushing through my system and keeping us alive.
When I dry myself off I imagine how I would watch you board a train. Your colour remained on the platform, a distinct shade of skipping feet, because you would finally be rid of me.
A drought is a nightmare, honey. With over 70% of the world covered in water, it’s a dark miracle to think that, at any given time, there is still such a thing as dry land. Fill your glasses, take out your hoses. Feed the grass and drown your family. Replace sun-baked doorsteps with unopened bottles of cola and listen to how they create music when you enter. Open your windows and let the rain flood your room. Let your bed be rocked by the waves. Turn your clothes into sails and dive under your sheets.
Don’t open your curtains, don’t let the sun in. Our bodies are the earth: we are 70% water and if you let the sun in, the sky will soak you up and turn you into rain.
It’s 3 am and I am still in the water. I have been swimming to you for the past six months.
I swim with the thought of you at the other side waiting with a towel in one hand and the ocean in another. When there’s a storm and I am swept away and you just wave goodbye, I grab my hair to have something to hold on to. I don’t know how to romanticize drowning.
I am 4 and I swim for the first time. My parents cheer me on at the other side of the pool. The coach keeps letting go of me. To survive, you have to keep moving.
I am 6 and I can’t swim to the other side of the pool. Mama I’m sorry that I can’t catch up but you took a plane to cross an ocean and that’s cheating.
I am 8 and I can float on the pool. My parents leave me to learn how to navigate. Ships have been built faster. When Atlantis was sinking its rulers were asking who they should put on the boats. Boats were experimental, and they were made of people and they were propelled by lungs. People choose to be vulnerable. My parents come back at midnight and I have turned the far end of the pool into my home. They ring the doorbell and they regret how they didn’t bring an umbrella.
I am 17 and we share a towel beside the pool. Memory has packed its bags and moved away. Alcohol is my water and I am too drunk to swim. She creates waterfalls with caves inside them and sings to me to get me back home. For the first time, I say no to the water.
I am 19 and I swim with the moonlight, holding it in my palm. As I hear the clamour of beer bottles and shot glasses being raised up to thirsty tongues, they heed my instructions: “don’t drink and dive.” I swim in the air as the ripples move away from me. Nobody is waiting for me on the other side with a towel in one hand and a bottle in the other.
I have drowned five times:
We created statues out of our bodies. We chiselled our skin and made our pain immortal. The sea cannot wash away immortality.
Every day, she would keep me in a bottle and place me on a shelf to remind her of what she’s never going to drink.
My skin was wrinkled and I held my breath for nine months before our lips exchanged air and I lived.
We sat on the diving board for hours and created tsunamis in our bathtubs. I summoned a wave to wipe away the house of our inhibitions.
I met you intoxicated. We didn’t drown in the bottles: we suffocated them with our feelings. Our upside-down reflections were painted grey: the colour of regret.
I thought leaving the water would be easy. I keep getting pinned down by the water in my ear and the bubbles rising from my scalp. All I want is to siphon the blood in your lungs and the water in your veins. Water was never meant to give life.
I have been dry for three months while you sit in class listening to boring lectures. The chalk drawing lines on the board and the ink flowing from your brain to your toes. I don’t understand why I keep swimming knowing that you’ll never be waiting on the other side of the ocean, but the way you talk about algebra like smokers talk about lung cancer keeps me swimming – I’d rather drown later than now. I am looking for a reason to keep waiting.
Here’s what I know: You are indecisive and you walk fifteen minutes every day to a terminal where you ride a jeepney into nowhere. Once, your feet touched the water and it created no ripples. That one time we were in the shower together, you brought an umbrella. You failed to see the point of us showering together. You were the driest thing I ever touched and because of that I drowned the next person I met (I breathed into a sponge and squeezed it into her open mouth). I don’t understand how people can write stories when they don’t even know how to inhale a cloud. You asked me why I’m never dry, so I bought myself a lighter and dehydrated myself in the open flame.
The best time to swim is at night, when the moon is high and the water is three feet off the ground. Your feet are dry at the bottom of the pool, but your lungs are still gasping for air. We created a mansion in the moonlight of the pool. I still remember where you hid your wallet with the picture of the two of us and I still remember how you furnished your bed with new curtains to keep the water out. Why do you keep avoiding me? Still, it’s nice to know that the other side of our bed is still kept and waiting for you.
I know you are never going to learn how to float, but the way you dance just to avoid the rain always makes me want to dive into the ocean.