I sat on the dock with my feet dangling over the edge. Wisps of my red hair that had mixed with the salty sweat on my forehead and neck had practically glued themselves to my skin. I tried to pry them away by piling the mass of flames onto the top of my crown to cool myself but they just kept tumbling back down again. I felt sticky and it made the humidity that much more unbearable. Maybe that’s why the idea popped into my head in the first place. A combination between the wicked Tennessee heat wave I had been enduring and the stress that war had brought into my life.
Fear constantly played in the background of my mind like static taking over a good song on the radio. Somehow the events of the day had subdued it for the time being. It was as if someone turned down the volume just long enough to quiet my insecurities so I could enjoy myself for a spell. The worry that my husband might not make it home was still there, it just played a little softer. My irrational fear of deep dark water was still there too. The fact that I never really got the hang of swimming any more than I could flail my arms during a doggie paddle. A graceful swan dive wasn’t within my skill set so it probably wasn’t the best idea. I also never really got over that weird self-conscious feeling whenever I was forced to undress in the girl’s locker room.
I swirled my toes around the murky darkness at the edge of the bank. It was a fear facing kind of night. The stars danced on the water like fireflies in the middle of summer. The moon shattered into pieces of light over the lake and three of my favorite girlfriends gathered around me. We laughed together after a full day of trail riding horses and eating buttered popcorn for dinner. We smelled like manure and bug spray which made me happy even though in the back of my mind I knew that somewhere in Afghanistan my husband was probably running from mortars. Every day without him was a struggle. I thought a lot about death in between the moments of living my life and I needed an escape.
I was the girl that never really took risks- unlike my husband who pulled me out of my comfort zone whenever he had the opportunity to do so. Mid-twenties at the time and I had never been drunk (I still haven’t). I had never so much as considered trying drugs, and I certainly never put a cigarette to my lips. I was proud of that (I still am), but I wanted to know what freedom felt like. To not be so wrapped up in worry that it prevented me from actually living my life. To all my church friends I was the “bad girl” who made inappropriate sex jokes because I grew up in Chicago. I thought they were funny… they didn’t. Yet to all of my non-Christian friends, I was the religious kill-joy who played it safe and ruined their fun.
All of those things encompassed who I was to some degree or another and yet none of them expressed me at all. There was a whole other version of me that very few got to know. Sure, I was uptight at times. Yet my soul had been searching for the kind of freedom that came with letting go of what was expected of me and finally doing the things that made me happy. I needed liberation from the prison I had built within myself. I looked at the water rippling below me and I couldn’t shake how good it might feel to be fully submerged. To quench the heat of the day. To put a stop to thinking endlessly about what could go wrong and just enjoy everything that could go right.
The tree frogs serenaded one another and the crickets joined in harmony. My friends and I talked about our lives. We cried over things we had never spoken out loud before. We howled over shared memories that had long-since passed and the mood of the night unchained me, link by link. The background noise in my head sounded a lot more like my husband’s voice of reason and his endless support.
“We should go swimming.” Did I say that out loud?
“We don’t have enough swimsuits.” My blonde friend replied pouting with disappointment.
“Do we really need them?” I pondered.
“You mean like… skinny dipping?” My brunette friend giggled.
“Why not?” My heart was racing as I said it.
How deep was the lake again? I couldn’t remember. Could my feet touch the bottom? Doubtful. Weren’t there fish in there? Probably.
Snakes? Most definitely.
It was too late to take it back; a pact of trust had been made. All four of us left piles of discarded clothing on the landing. I pulled the hair tie from my tresses and curled my toes around the edge of the pier. My stomach lurched and goosebumps sent a shiver over my spine but the rest of me was still. My bare-bottom faced the woods but I was locked on the rippling reflection of the sky beneath me. I took in several gulps of air, squeezed my eyes shut, and squealed before launching myself into the milky way.
Twisted red locks suspended like a halo and my heart paused for a moment. I left everything I had been afraid of behind me with the heap of laundry that I didn’t need. Within that moment I was the brave one. Within that moment, I could do anything I set my mind to and I could do it on my own. The lake kissed my flesh with ice water as I plunged below the surface. It was a shock to my mind. I was swimming naked in an inland with no bottom while facing some of my biggest fears. My soul had never tasted such joy… right up until my foot touched something slimy.
My pale legs danced beneath me and parted water to keep me afloat. I imagined that I looked something like a gladiator or a goddess because that’s how I felt. To everyone else I probably looked like a fish slapping its fins against the shore and begging to be released… but it didn’t matter. A whippoorwill cried out from the darkness like my soul had been reaching towards the light.
I didn’t need anyone to help me get there. No hand holding was required as I stood at the edge of the pier. I did that all on my own. There’s a sense of empowerment when you tackle things you didn’t originally feel comfortable doing. You become washed in pride over having proved to yourself that you could do the unthinkable. A caged bird no longer, fear facing nights are the kind of nights that set you free.
So tell me, what fears have you faced and how did coming to terms with those fears help you?