Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Drowning Matt


Summers in the 80s were spent at my grandad's condo in Bradenton, Florida. Right on Sarasota Bay, it was a great place to retire but dull as Wite-Out for a pre-internet middle schooler with no driver's license and too much spare time.

Which is why I was so excited to invite my friend Matt down for a week. We were in homeroom, gym, and math together, lived in adjacent neighborhoods, and already had a number of uneventful sleepovers, so it was an easy permission slip from his folks, though it would end up being way more dangerous than any field trip. 

We weren't even fully unpacked when we grabbed swimsuits and hustled over to the pool with a manic urgency only kids can produce. In the sunny, unsupervised water, our excitement shifted seamlessly into sarcasm, insults escalated to splash fighting, splashing to wrestling, and grappling to near murder.

I can't even remember what it wasan accidental elbow to my neck, the intensifying feedback loop of wills, maybe some oxygen deprivationbut I crossed over into a primordial survival space where it wasn't me anymore. Just animal rage personified as it held a dear friend underwater with gritted teeth and a pure commitment to annihilate. 

Matt thrashed violently below the surface... until he didn't.

His lack of resistance broke the hateful spell, and quicker than our horseplay had risen to violence, my determination melted down to horrified regret, like falling off a mountain. Thank the universe, my frenemy finally emerged puffy and exhausted but alive enough to join me in the most awkward silence of all time. 

In trying to win the moment, I almost lost our lives.

I consider myself an exceedingly compassionate soul, the guy who always roots for the underdog and literally helps sure-to-be-stepped-on worms off a waterlogged sidewalk. I feel "bad" for the last slice of pizza. To think that I nearly ended someone makes me fear for us all! If a total softie can see such red, what of the world's leaders with worse weapons than water and more to lose than face in a splash contest?

Or maybe that's all it ever is, no matter the shouting match, brawl, or all-out world war: a moment of petty masculinity exploded to savage catastrophe.

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