In moments of transition, my mom likes to tell me about the summer she spent climbing up and down the ladder of a diving board, too afraid to jump. Then one day, an epiphany: don’t think, just go. And so, she went—inched her toes to the end of the board, held her nose, and leapt feet first into the water. The adrenaline lasted a whole week, she says.
In my mind, my mom is a kid in that story, ten or eleven at the oldest. She’s at a little community pool in the town where she grew up. The diving board is never more than five feet high. I have it all wrong, though.
Not a five-foot drop, I’m told, but ten, fifteen, twenty. Not a small community pool in Sterling Heights, but an Olympic-sized one at Wayne State. Not a child, but an adult, almost. She was in college when she jumped.
My mom says that I have a bad memory—not because I forget, but because I bend and stretch every memory into a narrative shape; I’m too interested in telling a big dramatic story than in recounting what happened. She says I’m not listening. That’s why I don’t understand her, she says, because I don’t listen.
I want to write a big dramatic story about my mom and all the ways we don’t understand each other. Instead, I write about the diving board. I approach a ledge and promise a leap. I type a paragraph and delete it. There is so much open air.
When I was a kid, I stood on the edge of a pool with two inches of air between my toes and the deep end, too afraid to jump. Then, a memory: don’t think, just go, and so I went—but I had it all wrong back then, too. My mom didn’t shut out her fear and fling herself into the water. She jumped when she was ready. It’s a story about endings, she says.
She says I don’t understand the story because I don’t understand her, and I don’t understand her because I don’t listen. I never listen, and I never remember her the way she wants me to, and I leap feet first into the water and forget to hold my nose and blame her when the chlorine burns the back of my throat.
Caitlyn Zawideh is a writer from metro Detroit. She attended the University of Michigan, where her work received a 2021 Hopwood Award in Undergraduate Nonfiction and a Helen J Daniels Prize.
Photography by: Erik Dungan