Zero Is a Number Both Real and Imaginary by Alaina Symanovich

photo of swimming pool

“20170310Alberca” (image via Flickr user Eduardo López López)

  1. The cyan of the YMCA pool; the clouds suffocating the sunroof; the thin ribbon of pain, fast and silver as an electric shock, that bisects my shin when I kick too hard. Chlorinated water glugs in my ears, and a whistle meant for someone else screams. This is the best part of sophomore year, will maybe be the best part of all of high school. These are the hours, sopping-wet, dreamy, where I can be somebody else—maybe scathing-eyed Alison or effervescent Gwen or even waggish Matt—or, if I want, where I can be no one at all.

 

  1. Here, I stitch together the words I learn in French class and tell myself they make sentences. Here, I count strokes and breaths and laps until numbers lose their meaning. I slice the water over and over, and I become the first person alive to divide by zero. I am a gossamer who needs snipping. I am starved small but still oversized; when I flit through cliques in the cafeteria, I find I fit in none of them. They are kindergarten chairs: compact, painted bright.

 

  1. I try doing what the all-collarbone girls do—skipping lunch—and then I try doing what the smart girls do—enrolling in extra classes during lunch—and both methods are exacting forms of denial. They refine me into someone both anorexic and smart. The trick to it is the same as swimming: learning to stay afloat, to be a not-drowner and nothing more.

 

  1. Years later, Facebook tells me that the Alisons and Gwens and Matts of my past remain friends. They have exclusive reunions. They post photos just like the ones in high school—though now they are heavier, drinking alcohol out of wineglasses instead of plastic cups.

 

  1. They look the same around the eyes. They marry each other. They post white-filtered wedding videos in spring months—videos brighter than the pool where they never swam.

 

  1. They confidently tell the videographer about their love: for bride, groom, God, others.

 

  1. They call these days the best of their lives. I hear their words garbled, cries underwater.

Alaina Symanovich studies creative nonfiction in the MFA program at Florida State University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Sonora Review, Superstition Review, Quarter After Eight, and other journals. Her essay “The M Word,” first published in Fourth River, was awarded Best of the Net in 2016.