Sunday, June 28, 2009

My Last Swim With My Father

When I was a boy, I used to watch my father dive into the waves off Montauk Point, the strong muscles on his back and shoulders glistening with salt spray as he emerged from the sea.

He'd swim in the ocean for hours, and I'd watch from shore as his arms flashed white in the sunlight against the dark blue sea, and I thought he'd stay strong and young forever.

He taught me to swim in our backyard wading pool, his hands beneath my belly, urging me to kick.

Years later he pulled me in the deep water of the community pool, teaching me to breathe and kick at the same time, advising me when to turn my head, when to take and release a breath, when to lift and lower my arms.

When I was older, I joined him in the waves off Montauk, amazed at his strength as the waves swept me off my feet but left him still standing, still smiling at the next wave and the next, laughing, his mouth open, as the waves crashed over him and then tumbled past and crawled harmlessly up the sand and then retreated into the sea.

A little more than a decade ago ago we swam together off the New Jersey shore--a summer afternoon that I wish could have lasted forever. We bobbed and floated in the waves just beyond the breakers but in front of the swells. The sea lifted us up and then let us fall, and it felt like we were swimming in the heartbeat of the sea.

That was my last swim with my father, though I didn't know it that summer.

He went into kidney failure soon after and spent the next thirteen years on dialysis, not strong enough to withstand the waves, but still in love with the sea and the sand and still strong enough to drive to the shore to stare out at the ocean that he loved.

The man who taught me to swim--who gave me my first dictionary when I was thirteen and urged me to follow my love of language and stories--swam into the dark sea of death three weeks ago on the morning of June 7th.

I heard the news over the phone and pictured my father not in death but swimming, arms flashing in the sunlight against the dark blue sea, until he was out of sight beyond the waves, a tiny speck of light on the horizon, then gone, part of the beating heart of the sea that he so loved.

My family and I returned to Florida a few days after the funeral. On Father's Day we went to the beach, and I swam with my wife and daughter in the Gulf of Mexico, the waves much warmer than the waves off the Jersey shore.

But it was the sea, and my daughter and I were floating together, and I thought of my dad, still swimming in the waves, still with us.

In the water... in us... still still swimming in my words, my stories, my heart.


Tricia said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. I too lost my father this year, on May 7th. I appreciate the thoughts you have shared and so love the notion of "swimming in my words, my stories, my heart."

Jack said...

God rest him, Bruce. Wonderful memories of him to carry forward.

Jenna said...

I'm so sorry for your loss.

What a great tribute to your father.

Bruce Black said...

Tricia, Jack, Jenna...

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

My dad made it to 94 and lived a life filled with blessings, but it's still hard to say goodbye.

laurasalas said...

Bruce, I'm so sorry to hear about your father's death. Thank you for sharing some memories and a bit about the gifts he gave you. In this short space, you made your father live again--beautiful post.

Bruce Black said...

Thanks for the note.