Saturday morning, early. I’m at my sister’s house where I’ve come to celebrate our mutual birthdays. She turned 50 on August 30th. One week later I turned 55. The 14th is the 21st birthday of Molly, her daughter, my niece (though Molly is celebrating with her old college buddies at Radford). Every woman in this family is a Virgo, including our mother, who would have been 83 on the 10th.
Later, I must drive 2 hours home to Nelson County, but I don’t have to be there until late afternoon. Michael, Laura’s husband, is off working on a Habitat house. It’s just my sister and me and this cloudless September morning that spreads out before us like syrup on a pancake.
We drink our coffee, walk the dog. She runs a load of laundry, hangs it on the line. Sheets float lazily in the breeze.
We decide to wash our cars. We suds and scrub, wipe and rinse, and talk of kids. We talk of parents, now gone. We talk loss fresh and loss looming. This morning news comes to us of a high school chum who died today after a week in a coma. A heart attack while riding his bicycle. Massive head injuries from the resulting crash wrote the closing chapter of his rich life story.
We speak of a relative who elects to step off the roller coaster of cancer treatment after 3 long years. Or were they short years? Time expands and collapses unevenly with the humidity this low, the sky this blue; September days always seem more like a snapshot—sharp and bittersweet— than they do reality.
We give the cars a final hosing and as we walk back into the house, I notice the swimming pool, sparkling blue. “Did you do your flips this year?” I ask her. Each year, before the summer is over, my sister steps up on the diving board and executes first a front flip, and then a back flip, just to prove that she still can.
“No,” she says. “I didn’t get much pool time this year with the surgery.” Her seasons in the sun caught up with her this year. Early in the summer she had 2 skin cancers removed from her pretty face. My own nose has been carved up twice, several years ago. After all, I am the older sister.
“Well then,” I say, “There’s not much summer left —we’d better get flippin’.”
We look at each other. We look at the pool. The air temperature is in the 60’s, no warmer. The utter lack of humidity makes it feel even cooler. She kicks off a flip-flop and dips her toe in the pool. “Don’t even bother,” I tell her. “We have to go through with it, no matter what.”
We run upstairs and change into a couple of her bathing suits, grab towels on the way back out and throw them onto the waiting deck chairs. Laura thinks front flips are harder. I think back flips are more difficult. She elects to go first with a front flip. She steps up on the board, bounces a couple of times to test the spring, then up and over she goes, converting water droplets to sequins in the sun. She nearly makes it all the way around. “It’s not that cold!” she says as she surfaces. “I’ve got to do another, now that I’ve got the feel for it.” She does. The crowd goes wild.
It’s my turn for the front flip. I perform my first, then my second with similar results. Now for the back flips.
She stands, toes on the edge of the board, back to the pool. Bounce. Bounce. Up and over. She makes it look easy. Now me.
I have a fear of hitting my head, even though as a high school gymnast, I used to do these off a 4-inch wide, hardwood balance beam. I’d take a couple of skips, do a round-off—landing with both feet at the very end of the beam— then I’d somersault backwards off the edge into the air, onto the floor, nailing my landing.
So what’s the big deal now? It’s a springboard with a soft water landing. “I’ll do a couple of practice jumps backwards,” I tell her. “I’ll mark the place in the pool where you land,” she says, to give me confidence. I jump high off the board. She marks the place on the side of the pool where I land. “You’re a mile from the board,” she says.
I make a few more false starts, then I do it. Not quite all the way around, but now I know what I have to do. Another one. “Perfect form!” Laura says.
We both execute a couple of back dives for good measure, then we wrap up in the dry beach towels and lay back in the deck chairs, soaking in this rarified day. What comes next, who can say? But right this moment, we’re flippin’ wonderful.