Alexis and the kids lived at my parent’s house for a year and a half. By the time Drew and I got back from our honeymoon, she had moved out into her own two bedroom apartment: bunk beds in one room, queen size bed in the other. She taught preschool at the YMCA and went on dates with men she met on Facebook.
One Friday, Drew and I drove up for Grace’s birthday. It was late, we hit traffic, and didn’t get to Donato until after eleven. I drove him downtown, showed him the old opera house, the hundred-year-old bank, the hotel everyone swears Buffalo Bill stayed in. We drove past my old Girl Scout cabin, the wall Luke and I threw dirt clods at to see if they would shatter, the high school.
“There’s my pool,” I said, “The place I got my first job.”
He asked if we could go inside and I said they used to hide the spare key in the drainpipe out back. We parked the car and tip toed around the building.
It was dark, and the pool was covered in blue plastic tarps that looked black under the faraway streetlights. Occasionally, a car drove by, and crickets strummed in the nearby soccer field. We crept around the stucco building and I poked my fingers into the opening of the drainpipe, felt the familiar brass key.
“You’re in luck,” I said.
We walked back toward the front entrance and I opened the lock on the chain link fence, the door whined on its hinges as we stepped onto the concrete. The lights were all off, but I could see the high dive silhouetted between the two diving boards, knew where the guard stands were chained to the fence, knew exactly how many paces it was to the starting blocks.
“I haven’t been here in years,” I said, “But I’d know that smell anywhere.”
The chlorine that burned the preschooler’s eyes in my swim class and made them refuse to count my fingers underwater, even with goggles. The bleach we glugged into the water after one of the kids pooped. The water that shredded my racing suits every six weeks like clockwork and streaked my hair and bleached the hair on my arms startlingly white and leaked out of my pores when I was on land and smelled exactly like that pool.
“I can picture you here,” he said, “It’s weird. Like the ghost of your high school self running around.”
“No running,” I said, “Pool rules.”
He laughed and started walking along the edge of the pool, peering down at it.
“Can I put my feet in?” he asked.
We rolled up our jeans and sat side by side under the high dive, our ankles dangling in the water, pushing the tarps with our toes.
“We used to run across these every summer,” I said, flicking the tarp with my foot, “Right before State. We’d all come here at midnight and run across the tarps naked.”
“Yeah. It was stupidly dangerous, actually. You can drown. The tarps can suck you under.”
“You guys were all lifeguards though.”
He leaned back on the balls of his hands and looked up at the sky, at the outline of the diving board blocking out the stars.
“Did you ever do diving?”
I shook my head. “I dove off it, but just because I had to for my WSI. To teach swim lessons. But I just swam, I was kinda scared of the high dive.”
“But you did it?”
“How do you teach someone to go off the high dive?”
“Start them on the steps and the side of the pool. Then the low dive. Then you just tell them to go to the end of the board and do their flat hands and fall straight down.”
“Fall straight down?”
“Yeah. It’s not hard, it’s just scary.”
He asked what ‘flat hands’ were and I interlaced my fingers like I was saying a worried prayer, straightened my arms and flipped my hands so my palms faced away from me, forming a flat plane.
“Like this,” I said.
His teeth flashed in the darkness and he asked, “Can we try it?”
“The high dive?”
“You’re crazy,” I said, then jumped up and walked to the corner of the pool. I told him to go to the other end and we hooked the corners of the tarp to the metal reel, turned the handle until the tarp slid off the pool and wound around the giant cylinder, over and over itself like a jelly roll, and the water shimmered below us, dark and bottomless, though I knew that it was exactly twelve and a half feet deep. We shimmied out of our clothes and approached the high, narrow ladder.
“I’ve never gone off a high dive before,” Drew said.
“I’ll go first.”
“How high is it?”
“Seven and a half meters.”
“It looks a lot higher than that from down here.”
I kissed him and climbed up the ladder. At the top of the tower, I looked around, at Drew and Donato below me: the headlights on the cars, streetlights in the parking lot, the shine in Drew’s eyes and off the tips of his teeth. I felt like I did the first time I dove off that thing, the day the instructor said, I’m sure you guys already know how to do this, but we have to do it anyway, go ahead and dive off, and my mouth had gone cold because I had never once done it, had only jumped in feet first with Luke cannon-balling after me, Alexis tanning below us and scoring us with her fingers, 8, 8.5. I ground my toe into the sandpaper grit of the diving board, planted my back foot, blew out all the air in my lungs in one big rush, knowing that before I hit the water I’d suck it all back in without even trying, and took off running.