Standards Of Living

Creative Nonfiction
Riley Hansen


Photo Credit: Guilherme Yagui/Flickr (CC-by)

When I was about to turn seven years old, I almost drowned.

My best friend, Dierdre, was having her birthday party at her grandmother’s swimming pool. We kids were enjoying ourselves, though presumably our parents weren’t, as they were sitting fully clothed in the summer heat, watching us play. Only one other girl and I didn’t know how to swim, but she embodied a grace, quirkiness, and damsel-in-distress attitude that made her more endearing than me, who had the attitude of someone that desperately wanted to be in on everyone else’s fun.

The first crack-up was when Sarah slipped on the diving board, scraping her leg wide open. This instance would become my first memory of seeing Sarah cry. Every adult rushed to her aid, leaving us guppies floundering in the shallow end. Dierdre proceeded to procure herself a floatie—she was an avid swimmer, had been since birth, it seemed, and didn’t need a floatie, so I saw this as unfair. I held onto the back of it, letting her drag me to the deep end, imagining myself to be a mermaid or a fish or other things that seven-year-olds imagine. I was about to have my first run-in with Dierdre’s selfish side. She determined, in our few minutes with the floatie, that I was dragging her down. I protested, because of course best friends never drag each other down. She disagreed and pushed my fingers off, sending me to my fate as one of Ursula’s urchins.

All I remember about drowning is the spinning. I couldn’t figure out how to come up for air, so all my flailing did was turn me in circles. I remember the spinning and brown hair in my open eyes, burning in the chlorine. There were no thoughts, just me and the water, before my mother pulled me up. The air was there, mine for the taking, but I think I held my breath for long after I was out of the pool.

 

In eight years, I drowned again, this time for years that dragged out like the end credits of a pricey movie that I didn’t really enjoy anyway. The water was heavy and dark, more like a cloud. I only have a few vivid memories from that time. I was helping with the yearbook at my high school; we were doing a Disney movie theme, and we had created the cover, completely from scratch, on Photoshop. No one asked me why I missed a full week of class, and I didn’t offer any explanation to my teachers other than, “I wasn’t feeling well.” I also started a book club that year with a classmate, Greg. We were each in charge of a semester: I picked a young adult novel, and he picked 1984. I think now, looking back, that I was jealous of his choice. I had wanted to read The Bell Jar. I was told not to pitch that at my religious school.

That same year was the one where I first saw Sarah cry again, when we were outside at our school picnic tables, eating lunch, and she started talking about Boy Meets World and how she’d never experience a friendship like that. The world seemed cruel and big as we teased her for it, even while in the back of my mind I wondered how any of us could really be happy, and at least Sarah knew what she was looking for.

 

In ten years, Greg passed away, the day before Thanksgiving, and I was the first in the graduating class to find out. I didn’t call anyone. I told my parents not to talk about it. When Neil called that night to tell me, I can’t remember if I said, “I know, I know,” or if I feigned pain through my numbness. The first day back from break, most of my high school graduating class, thirteen of us, skipped school, got lunch, and visited his girlfriend at her fast food job in the mall. Months later, we would do this again. Not for a death, just for old time’s sake. We saw Greg’s old girlfriend, and Jeremy asked me if I still thought about him. “Every single fucking day.”

 

In eleven years, I stopped speaking to Dierdre, a slow fade into not getting responses from each other, and maybe the sixty miles difference between us for college was greater than I thought. We got breakfast recently. This meeting was a little disheartening, as I found the only thing we have in common is the past we shared.

This was the same year I thought about succumbing to the drowning, really coming into the spinning abyss I’ve been on the edge of since I was almost seven years old. Twenty-first century Ophelia. The difference is I never made my mind up enough to commit. I was slightly obsessed with Ophelia. I am aware this infatuation was unhealthy. She just knew what she wanted: for everything to be all right again.

 

In thirteen years, I would find myself in the hospital, rooming with a girl who heard things, alcoholics down the hall. It wasn’t like The Bell Jar. It was something new, something I’ve never read in a book. I did crafts, I read books for college. I met some of the kindest people, people that knew I was a little fucked up before even speaking to me. They just didn’t mind. I was there for three days, and I felt I had a new lease on life when I went home. It was a matter of weeks before boredom swept me up again, though, the monotony of life spilling over me like waves.

“I get so bored, sometimes.” I didn’t expect my friends to understand. Boredom wasn’t quite the feeling, but what else could I say?

“Is it because you spend every day doing the same thing over and over again? And you’re scared the rest of your life is going to be like that?” Jeremy asked.

I nodded. I couldn’t speak because I was choking on air—it was humid and thick, but it was air, and I had to teach myself how to breathe again.

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Riley Hansen is a Creative Writing major at the University of West Florida, and previously attended the University of South Alabama, and worked on Due South. Riley’s first fiction piece is upcoming in the University of West Florida’s Troubadour. Email: rileybb4892[at]gmail.com