It’s 3:30 a.m. and pitch black. The balcony door is open in my room and I see stars. I lay alone in inky silence, starting to simmer from the deepest core of my being. A heat so deep my bones are sweating. I’m wrapped up tightly in layers of hot, wet sheets and heavy blankets with hot water bottles at my feet, back and on my stomach, I can’t move any part of my body and I feel crushed. I have to focus my breathing and attention so I don’t freak out. My heart is racing. I am a dim-sum dumpling steaming inside a bamboo basket…I laugh out loud. I wonder if the other Dumplings in the hotel just heard me?
I’m glad to know there are others wrapped up like pigs in blankets, sweating out toxic paradigms in hopes of clarity and salvation.
Maria the “wrapper” has left to attend other guests. I’m the first of her seven “patients” every morning for the next six days. My lifeline to the outside world, she’s given me a button to hold in case I need to call her. Why would I need a red emergency button? Just the thought causes my heart to burst through the gates, racing toward panic. I want to break out of this white cocoon, but I’m paying good coin and some irrational feeling wants to succeed and survive the 90-minute induced fever. This method has been practiced medically for 180 years, the results are proven, but on this first morning, I’m not sure of anything. The steamy straightjacket is making me woozy, I feel nauseous.
God, I hope I don’t puke and choke inside this suicidal cocoon.
What they don’t tell you is that the initiation is a mental game, a hardcore rite of passage in the German health world. I had to learn this on my own. If you make it through the first wrap, you keep going. Germans don’t pat you on the back and give you lollipops and gold stars either. Suck it up buttercup is their gentle bedside manner. I don’t know how it’s going to play out because I keep replaying two death scenarios: this is how it feels to be buried alive by feudal overlords or the Mafia. And: this is how it feels to be buried in sand at the beach but you can’t get out in time and the tide comes in and drowns you. If the mind chatter keeps on like this, I’m going to press the red button. I am a nanosecond away from totally losing my shit.
Thankfully, some benevolent presence arrives in the nick of time, taking me gently by the hand in a grandmotherly way, walking me to a comforting and calm memory deep in the forest of my childhood. Or maybe it was the heat-induced hallucination that brought the vision.
Either way, I was thankful for the relief Charity’s pond brought in the wee hours of an August morning in Oberstaufen, Germany.
Charity and I are galloping down the hill along thin grassy strip toward the water, a perfectly circular pond with a short sandy wading area descending quickly to deep. The water is crystal clear. We throw our towels down on the little shoreline with its tufts of sweet grasses, dandelions and plantains cleaving the rim, dashing into the pond like wild indians, disappearing into the cold blue. We resurface with unanimous aaaaahhhh. The water is so fresh, much more refreshing than any of the other ponds in town. My 9-year mind knows this pond is different, it looks different, feels different and this is where I first learn to distinguish waters. People think water is water. Not true. Not for a minute. This pond is spring fed. The water hasn’t been forced, pumped, dredged, nor is it fed by surface waters.
This pond is pure, innocent, alive and sparkles like a crystal gem.
I always wished my family had a pond like this, especially this time of year. Our pond is a stagnant murky leach infested mud hole—totally unswimmable. The last time I went in I was so desperate to cool off, but I came out covered in blood suckers and decided that was the last time. Barbara Sargent’s pond on her sprawling hill estate was a delight, but the crayfish always bit our toes and I broke out in an oozing impetigo rash one summer after swimming lessons because too many kids were peeing in the pond. Nasty. I was covered in weeping sores, itched for weeks and had to take antibiotics or ‘devil pills’ as one neighbor called them.
Charity’s pond water feels like liquid velvet. It turns us instantly into mermaids with magic powers and we dive down toward the bottom where tiny air sacks are bubbling up, thousands of them rising to the surface, filling the pond with effervescence. That must be why the Lawrence Welk Show was so hypnotic, it was the bubble release at the end I wanted to watch.
When water rises to the surface on its own volition (without pumping) they say the water is mature and molecularly different from other waters. Just take a look at the work and photography of Masaru Emoto and you will see. Spring water has a levity, an etheric lightness that is buoyant. I didn’t know these esoterica then, but that’s exactly what it was. That’s why this water felt wetter, it’s why we felt more alive, each swim a christening in a veritable wellspring of healing.
Charity and I don’t need goggles or toys, gadgets or plastic floaty things—useless distractions. The water is so clear, we open our eyes underwater and swim below the surface for as long as possible on one gulp of air. Somersaulting and diving down down down and back up again reveling in our youthful freedom.
In the middle of the pond, long elegant plumes of greenery sway like tall fronds of hair in the current, mesmerizing in their back and forth rhythm.
We play tag in this freshwater forest, though we’re not allowed to go through the green pillars, the rules require maneuvering around them like slithering eels.
We decide that mermaids are dancers, sinking down with our arms overhead facing each other and dancing like the exotic WWI spy-dancer Mata Hari. It’s a contest to see who can dance the longest holding their breath. Usually Charity wins because I start laughing and blow out my oxygen. She is composed and competitive, her style in all things as we got older.
It’s time to go ashore for a break to have a sandwich with cold lemonade spiced with ginger and honey. The sandwich has grass in it! Charity laughs and tells me they are seed sprouts with chickpeas and avocado and cheese. I have no idea what these things are, but it’s delicious. Looking back now I realize this is my first healthy, alkaline meal, the way I will be eating this week at Hotel Rosenalp. Everything at Charity’s was fresh from the garden. No meat, no sugar, no caffeine, no soda, no packaged store-bought anything. Not like at home where undoubtedly my mother was busy roasting a sweaty pork shoulder in the dead of summer accompanied by depressed vegetables and buttery white rolls to be washed down with a jug of Crystal Light, the engineered chemical brew we guzzled by the gallons.
After our snack, we’re back the water, but this time sans suits. The water glides over our silken bodies. Without care in the world, just the pure joy of innocence washing over us, we devise another game this time lifting our bottoms out of the water and diving down, over and over. We are bum bobbing for apples and we find this hysterical. Years later, Charity’s mom would tell me the adults watched from the house, laughing at the two white cheeks bobbing up and disappearing. I had the bigger rear-end, they said.
That first morning thanks to Charity’s pond, I was able to pass through the flames, a few layers removed, lighter and ready for more.
I wasn’t a butterfly yet, but well along the journey toward that inexorable transformation.