A Story of Water
I lingered in my mother’s womb a week longer than I was supposed to, according to the medical professionals. In my culture, we frown upon lingerers and late arrivers. In some places we’ve decided lingering is illegal and call it loitering, a sin against productivity. Thanks to my lingering, they drained the water of my first dwelling, rendering it uninhabitable and forcing me to find a new home. Apparently, I didn’t do this fast enough either because the Houston medical staff grabbed my head with tongs like a tender piece of Texas barbecue and pulled me into the room full of harsh fluorescence, a room rendered scientifically sterile. Then they made sure I cried, so they knew my lungs worked in this new relationship to unbound oxygen. This was maybe my first experience with water as a being on this earth, a displacement from my home due to scarcity, a fracturing of hydrogen from oxygen, but horrific photographs are all I have of a conscious memory of the event. Perhaps I’m being dramatic; every baby eventually emerges from the womb and I was arguably growing too big for the space. Perhaps I needed the extra help to get moving along through the story of life.
Moving to Colorado before my fontanelles fused, my brain still sponging up the world’s information at waterfall rates, I became quickly landlocked but continued to be shaped by experiences with water. There were traumas, like being held under the bath spigot in all the wrong ways, an accidental waterboarding as my parents, too fractured by cultural mythologies of individualism, fought. Or the aquamarine memory of falling into the deep end of the chlorine water my first day of swimming lessons and proceeding to flunk the class. I have grey-tinged memories of swimming through dead water at the trailer park pool where I learned, only after we’d cleared out all the giant brown and yellow clingy leaves, that my father can’t swim. The bright Jersey shores of my stepdad’s childhood taught me water could leave sticky salt kisses, sparkle for shape-shifting miles, and tumble a body into quick humility, rounding and smoothing the rougher edges of the soul over time. When I started looking back to map out my relationship to water, I found the life-giver dripping everywhere.
I learned to be a stronger swimmer, albeit jostled and distrusting of water’s seemingly foreign environment, the whole time wondering – is this what it was like for my nonhuman ancestors to learn to walk on land? Is this what it’s like to remember the origins of life? The water? I remember first loving water in the bath, a personal steaming hot spring inside the home, accessible at any moment. I have some friends who take baths almost daily and never at the same hour. Artists. Feelers. The bath a healing space, regenerative, redemptive, purifying.
I love baths. I’m fortunate enough to be able to access hot baths whenever I want, a benefit to my survival in this world, a kind of water few have access to on the global scale of humans. I’ve also been fortunate to never fear drinking-water scarcity unless I’m on a self-imposed trip to the desert, and gratitude for the potable provider of my life rarely entered my mind growing up. My father works, and has worked for as long as I can remember, for the people who ensure that our faucets flow forth with water whenever we command: the city utilities. Maybe because my dad worked for the people who wrangled a source, I began to think about a source. Or maybe I thought of water because water was thinking about me. The more I try to find the story of my relationship to water, the more I struggle to trickle a linear narrative, because there isn’t one particular type of experience with water, my own constitution its own slosh bucket of the wet stuff.
Now I ski on water shaped by the earth’s forces into snow and relax more easily into a dance with desert river waters via boats, both legacies I attribute mainly to my dead (ex?) boyfriend. I struggled for years to figure out when the dead become “ex.” Seems simple at first glance, but I’m still not fully clear on this. Each relationship fills in the porosity of definitive boundaries uniquely. The physicality of our relationship ended in 2012, in both dream and waking life. I suppose Adam became an ex-boyfriend when we said goodbye in a dream a few months after his death, our relationship then transitioning to something else. We’re still friends. He’s still around. It’s weird to tell people that one of your friends is dead, so I generally don’t. “Death is a bodily catastrophe,” writes Eduardo Viveiros de Castro when describing a way of knowing the world where there exists a “sociological discontinuity between the living and the dead.” The presence of a body, he notes, being “the fundamental distinction between the living and the dead” (482). So my boyfriend is still around, but he exists as a spirit, and my culture doesn’t have much to help me define the materiality of this. If an interaction between two beings is an echoing of self off the Other, creating a song unique to the two, I’m not entirely sure how the dithering of my being echoes off of spirit matter. Mine is a culture of scientific mythology, and science has yet to give much definition to the dead, or tell us precisely when the abiotic becomes biotic and vice versa.
Water arguably holds the oldest memories of the world and the most complex range of emotional experiences, making water the wisest elder. In Dwellings, Linda Hogan writes, “Between earth and earth’s atmosphere, the amount of water remains constant; there is never a drop more, never a drop less. This is the story of circular infinity, of a planet birthing itself” (106). All of my memories float in the story of water. When Adam burst into a disembodied form, the community of embodied beings instantly bloomed shares of resources for me while I grieved, recycling strained aspects of our relationships into warm rains of affection and support. In the community I gained from his death, I shed a layer of individualist skin grown from the mythological meals my culture feeds me. If the fracturing of my relationship with water occurred at my birth into a culture stubbornly prizing isolation of the self from other life, then Adam’s death helped to recycle my understandings of life’s animate interconnectivity. Community helped me out of the eddy of his death and back into the moving current of the living again, to keep experiencing the vibrant songs of the embodied. Water was there the whole time, in all the bodies, transitioning form to suit different purposes and objectives, in constant renewal, one of the oldest ancestors, who knows how to keep moving.
Water never left me, and most likely chuckles at my early fears of such mild experiences of water’s power. Without Adam’s death, I don’t know that I would be able to really understand what water protectors meant when they said “Water is Life.” Without trying to understand my relationship with water, I don’t know that I would be able to define what it means to feel throughout all the vibrations of my being that the materiality of the world is a constant changing only in form. If Adam’s body was over half water, as humans are supposed to be, then I imagine parts of his spirit are recycling through the ancient water systems of the earth. Water systems that work hard to clean up my culture’s messes, like a mother waiting with a patient sigh for her children to grow up enough to be less clutzy and less experimentally disastrous with their art supplies and their cooking methods. Water takes care of me more than I can even understand. As I begin to senesce in the cycle of aging, I wonder what more I can do to help water out, what my role in water’s cycle might be. Worrying I’m doing it all wrong, water bathes my firing brain and whispers, “relax, I’m here, I’ll move you through it.”
Hogan, Linda. Dwellings. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1995.
Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo. “Cosmological Deixis and Amerindian Perspectivism.” The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, vol. 4, no. 3, Sep. 1998, pp. 469-488. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3034157.
Amber Aumiller grew to her current size on Colorado's front range. She's slept outside under stars more than inside under ceilings and swears it's better than skin cream. She's tramped about earning a living distributing resources and skills to homeless humans as a social worker; guiding at-risk youth through therapy plans as a wilderness guide/experiential educator; listening to patients play guitar as a psych hospital tech; and howling for owls or counting dead birds for dollars as a wildlife biologist. She's currently studying Environmental Humanities at the University of Utah and almost feels guilty for enjoying it so much. Almost.