I stripped to trunks and lay in the Texas sun. Hot light blasted an already reddened chest. Skin peeled off in pieces. I rolled them into balls and blew. My body sat beside a spring fed pool with dozens of others. Odd contingents of the old and homeless. After inhaling their chatter of acid reflux and diarrhea I decided to dip in.

Most days I try for an hour diced to two sessions. If not then lazy takes hold and I nap in the grass. I jumped up and forced myself to it. Stepped slow to the solitary spring. The water was cool and stretched a thousand feet. Ducks swam near but skitted as I drew closer.

I enacted small laps and treaded water. Kept in place as I watched others bounce off the board. Flips, dives, and belly flops. I’d fan my arms and push them up, sinking feet to mossy bottom. The sun beat down from above. I looked out at this orb over the trees. Received its hot shots. It was only spring but felt of summer. After a half hour I stepped out to dry in the grass. Rubbed beads of water and returned to my sitting spot.

Seconds after stepping out my body started to itch. Fire from within. Skin, hair, and eyes all as if frostbit then drenched in hot water. I lay on the towel and scratched my head. My scalp felt as if I’d soaked it in bleach. I’d swam countless times but never came across this. Never had allergies to more than cats. This felt like those animals burrowed inside but now wanted out. I thought perhaps it sunburn, that going from cold water to blazing sun set off a sense trigger. I decided to soap in the shower. Rinse bacteria from body.

In a full length mirror I looked over my skin. My arms and back erupted in hives. Raised red and white splotches. My eyes looked the aftermath of a six day bender. Vodka shots straight to the cornea. My face felt rubbery. Sun fucked meat stretching out a skin condom. I stepped to the shower and rinsed in cool water. Soaped and scrubbed myself twice. Cleaned each orifice, cock and anus included. When I finished I thought it felt better. But still my skin looked sick. Face swollen. Lips twice their size. A double shot of black market Botox.

I plugged both nose and mouth to blow. Shot pressure through ears. Steam cleaned the brain bacteria. I heard water sizzling in my head. Perhaps this was a reaction to that. Some amoeba swimming in me the same as I swam in its home. I focused on breathing. Inspected my neck. The airways felt fine. Still took deep breaths. My tongue looked chalky but not inflamed. Outsides swollen but innards the same.

I walk back to my sun spot to lay. All the while my lips turned worse. Grew bigger. I started thinking this might spread. Close airways. Despite that I stayed calm. I drank water and spit every minute to ensure I could swallow. Could coordinate mouth with tongue. When I spat it felt off, like slapping a sleeping limb.

I thought to dash and get Benadryl. But what if my eyes cemented as I drove? I thought of asking a lifeguard for help but felt embarrassed. I’m shy and introverted. Sometimes approach others but most often not. To ask for help isn’t in my nature. Makes me uncomfortable. Even in extremes I avoid it.

I once dug a hole in the woods and lived in it for five days with no food. On the third or fourth day I stripped naked and set out to swim across a river. One wide with fast current. I was weak from no sleep. Dirt pits not conducive to slumber. As I swam I went under, sucking water, almost blacking out. Somehow I made it to the opposite shore. I lay in muck for most of an hour, unable to find the strength to move more.

I was spent with no way to cross the river back to camp. But I was naked. Couldn’t walk to a farm while covered in mud with a dick flopped out. Even though I almost drowned, even though what little life force I had went into the first crossing, I decided it too embarrassing to ask for help. So I stepped to the water and swam my ass off. Almost drowned again but made it back. A poor decision that paid off. This the type of thinking that followed me to the pool. Power through and hope I make it.

I put a pillow over my swollen face. Focused on each breath. They drew in odd but not awful. If my breathing changed I promised myself to get help. I thought of being loaded into an ambulance. Of how I’d pay that bill as I’m uninsured. I told myself well I’ll just have to move back home. That’s all there is to it. I went swimming at the free pool and now have a decade of debt. And if I don’t make it I won’t even know. I’ll just stop breathing and that’ll be the end of it.

I’m an atheist but instinct called out to above. Maybe no more than an inner monologue. One that repeated the same two sentences: “Just let me breathe. Don’t let the swelling spread to my throat.” I knew this to be the thoughts of a man with no options. But a drowning rodent might cling for a rat trap if one dangled over. No shame in that. I felt calm in body but my mind raced. Its concern was valid. Not having breath would turn this from a worry to emergency.

I felt tired. Thought what if I go to sleep and never wake. The warm sun made rest as alluring as heaven. I checked the time. It’d been an hour since I stepped out the pool. If it hadn’t happened by now then it surely wouldn’t turn worse. My skin was still raised but no longer fire. I tested breath, voice, spit, and eyes. My right eye could only half open. That was new but my vision was fine. I looked up causes and outcomes. Perhaps some alchemy of elements threw my body into a tailspin. Whatever the cause it seemed I’d righted the ship.

All around people milled. No one knowing what was happening. I kept focus on my breath. Kept calm. Still, my mind flashed to images of an ambulance. Of telling a lifeguard what was happening. I practiced talking to see how my tongue felt. To know I could speak if I needed to ask for help. Help only to be called upon if I couldn’t breathe. Help asked after the point that any could be had.

Over the course of two hours the facial swelling subsisted. I’d dried out in the sun. Kettle boiled down to the burner. Looked myself over and found splotches on thighs. These remnants a reminder. I made way to the shower and stripped. Inspected once more. Found welts on my arms and around my cock. Saw my swollen face and hell-fried eyes. But my lips had shrunk. Now tingled. All senses returning.

I reflected back on my inner thoughts. How even though I felt calm I still bargained with an imagined entity. Still future tripped to a death pit of debt. How I enshrined my mind in strange tangents. Ones that bubble when options narrow and life turns uncertain. When there are no clear answers and all ahead hurdles. This all because I felt too timid to ask for help. A lifelong plague that often plays out more subtle.

That fault in my mind didn’t stick me this time. Hopefully wouldn’t the next. I felt happy for no bill but stupid for how I shrank. I took a deep breath, gave thanks, and carried on. Didn’t know how I’d react come the next crisis. Just told myself I’d never swim that pool again. Avoidance forever my one and only option. A plague I can’t seem to beat.

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