by Jim Belson
The winter is long in Idaho, the summer brief and blazing, the nights cool to chilly.
On a Sunday morning in July my father turns on the garden hose to fill the back yard pool. The water spurts out cold and then just gets colder. It would take hours for the water to fill up the small, 12’ x 15’ concrete pool Pop had built with one of his a farmhands, using hand shovels, between the lilacs and the giant oak, then hammered the forms and poured the cement for the floor and walls and whitewashed it smooth. This morning, I check the water level incessantly as it inches up the sides of the pool. Once you turn off the running water, the sun has a better chance to heat the pool. By the time it’s full, the sun is high, filling the water with light and warmth, another an agonizingly slow process.
Around noon Mom decides the water is warm enough (meaning she can bear to hold her hand in it for five seconds) to allow my brother and me in the water, where, for thirty minutes, we can jump around to keep from freezing and fight over the little raft my older brother has been struggling all morning to inflate. Then shaking with cold, wrapped in thin, striped beach towels, we go inside for peanut butter and jelly washed down with a glass of milk, and try, half-heartedly and unsuccessfully to take a nap before the cousins arrive. Anyway, you have to wait at least an hour after eating before you get back in or you risk getting stomach cramps and drowning in two and a half feet of water.
But all this waiting, anticipating, as the water level in the pool slowly rose, then warmed, was the finest part.
Mid afternoon, honeybees are swarming the lilacs, the water is warmer, at least you can stand it for short spurts. The cousins have arrived and the insect buzz is replaced by shrieks and laughter from the children crowded in the pool (including five cousins). The oldest cousin, Marilyn, takes up half the pool, floating in the coveted raft; a cousin my same age, Ida, is not acknowledging my presence; a younger cousin, Karen, with an eye condition, is trying to keep her eye patch dry. And there are others, among them Steve, a slightly older cousin who is visiting from California. He’s an acknowledged bully — not a scary bully, an obnoxious one — a tall, skinny, red-haired kid, who taunts the cousins and my brother and I from the edge of the pool. He is afraid to go into the the cold water himself, so I’m not sure what was feeding our resentment. Maybe it was enough that he was afraid to go into the water but that he was not sufficiently afraid of us. At one point he digs up a handful of mud from under the lilacs and throws it in the pool and some of it inadvertently hits Karen. I ran up behind him and pushed him in with a muddy foot. The others laughed and cheered while he screamed, gasping.
Maybe I’m the bully? it felt very good doing it, both the act itself and the general approval of the others. I didn’t receive any punishment from the grownups either, no reprimands, unless I’ve just forgotten that part. I remember the water felt very comfortable the rest of that afternoon, even though Mom made me get out when she noticed my lips were turning blue.
Jim adds a related note on this phenomenon that he experienced as a child:
It’s called micropsia.
When I was little, a boy, an intense feeling would come over me from time to time, rarely, maybe a few times a year, a brief stillness, followed by a feeling that would render everything I touched — a pencil, a fork, a wall — seem huge. They felt many times larger than I knew them to be. At the same time, everything got louder. Sound was magnified, but what mattered was the physical sensation of touching something that was transformed. I don’t remember whether these experiences were especially joyful or fearful. Neither, I think. But they were all encompassing and I treasured them as something very special. They were bizarre and somehow wonderful. Never threatening or scary as you might expect. In fact, as I recall, if I had wanted to break the spell, I felt I could have done at any time. But I didn’t want to. I moved slowly, if at all, in order to maintain the spell for as long as possible, although it may be, when I first experienced this state, I might have been afraid. I don’t remember back that far. I was 5 or 6.
These raptures became few and far between as I aged, so that when it happened again at the age of 12 I had had no such experience for years — I may even have completely forgotten about them — but when it came back, I asked my brother if he had ever experienced or even heard of such a thing. He hadn’t. But I was recently happy to hear, from Oliver Sacks, that my experiences had an actual name — macropsia; it was a real disorder, not a common one, very uncommon in fact.
Sometimes, a hint of this ecstasy revives, I sense a stillness, the husk of the experience, almost a smell, though I don’t think there was ever an odor attached to it, and it flows back over me as memory.