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magic: marine mammals (a modicum of memoir)

17 March 2022

This is just a snippet of the 4500 memoir words I wrote, today. Enjoy.


Back then, Lake George’s water was unblemished, crystal clear. One day, Aunt Pam offered to teach me how to snorkel. When I was ready for my lesson late that afternoon, I wandered down to the waterline to find Aunt Pam on a rock, whipping soap into thick suds on her legs. She glided a Bic razor with expert rapidity in long, straight lines first up her shin, then along her stout calf. Her movements were deft, well-practiced, accurate, perfunctory. Apparently, Aunt Pam was no-nonsense about hygiene. I was enthralled.

She finished in the space of two minutes, then joined me in waist-deep water and guided me to affix snorkel to mask, spit on the viewing glass to prevent it from fogging, wet and press back every stray wisp of my hair to put the entire contraption on my face without my hair breaking the mask’s suction. Afterward, we entered the water shoulder-deep and strapped on swim fins; she showed me how the snorkel worked, carefully instructing me to clear the snorkel when it filled with water by forcefully huffing air from my lungs, emphasizing that I should not panic when this happens. Remain calm, she said. Lesson complete, Aunt Pam took off in the water to show me how it was done – and here's the best part: her lesson included diving. Aunt Pam didn’t just snorkel on the lake’s surface; she held her breath, dove down, then resurfaced. As she returned, she cleared her snorkel as a whale clears its blowhole, with a powerful whoosh followed by a splat of water upon water. My eyebrows lifted in awe: she was a marine mammal!

Now that I am older, wiser – now that I understand what magic is – I recognize that Aunt Pam taught me magic that evening. We snorkeled along for a while together, separating briefly at times to explore deep, as the sunlight faded…in Lake George’s immaculate, unsullied water, we could see upwards of fifty feet. I followed fish in singles, in pairs, in schools. I saw rocks, seaweed, freshwater clamshells. I dove, I resurfaced, I cleared. I breathed, I stopped breathing, then breathed again. This was a freedom I’d never experienced before. I had a superpower! I could make magic – I could become a marine mammal, like Aunt Pam!

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