Marco Polo

It was back a few years ago when I first figured it out. I stepped out from the pool house half naked in a bikini top and board shorts, clutching the towel that cloaked my skin's presence tightly with my left hand. You, on the other hand, had no modesty. You were already in the pool, beads of water dripping from your hair and pooling in the hollows of your collar bones. Statuesque was the word of the day, I decided. "Come on!" you shouted as you waved for me to enter the water, your smile showing teeth white as pearl.

You had no idea the depths I was about to dive into, nor did I have any idea how cold the water would be.

There were eight other people there, already wrestling each other like the animals we were. The sun was high in the sky and the perfect shade of lemonade yellow. The trees cast small shadows that skulked off in the distant woods, the air had a lazy, warm breeze that spelled summer in the way it whipped your hair. The sun came out from behind a cloud just as I relinquished the towel and jumped in, cool water swarming against my now unprotected skin.

We laughed and swam and talked and reveled in the idyllic summer day. School had just let out. There was a tangible sense of levity in the air—we could taste it in the hamburgers and feel it in the water. There was something free in the way our bodies moved lithely in the water—so close but never touching—each our own person, liberated.

"To freedom!" Someone shouted after a long discussion of how we thought we did on our finals.

"To freedom!" I joined in yelling back, even though I had never felt more naked in my life.

Then you suggested a game of Marco Polo. Great, I thought. Just another way I can feel more uncomfortable. I'm already in a pool wearing something skimpier than a bra and underwear. Now the want me to blindly search for someone I know I'm not going to find? But I agreed anyway.

You were Marco first. We all swam to the other side of the pool so everyone could start from opposite ends. "Marco!" you yelled, swimming eyes-closed, trying with all your senses to detect our motion without eyes. "Polo!" Everyone's voice rang out in unison, but my throat, dry with the freedom of air, croaked in some augmented harmony.

Like everything else, even pool games came easily to you.

Within seconds I felt your hand on my skin and my heart skip two beats. It's got to be the heat, I told myself. It's the heat of the game. It's all a game. Everything you know right now is a game, my heart responded as it regulated itself and I desperately tried to detach its telephone line to my brain. I turned and smiled at you, then swam back towards the opposite end of the pool, closing my eyes even though I was already blindfolded by the haze of the chlorine in my eyes.

"Marco!" I shouted.

"Polo!" cried nine voices in unison. I couldn't even pick one out. I was listening hard, trying to discern a splash or a rushed breath from the white noise in my head. I swam blindly, periodically repeating my cry for echolocation. But wherever Polo was, her cries kept echoing farther and farther off into the distance until I couldn't tell whether she was still screaming or if it was just my own cries reverberating through my brain.

I never stopped shouting "Marco."

This is what it has been like, trying to find you.