A Door in the Ocean: A Memoir

A Door in the Ocean: A Memoir

by David McGlynn


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On a warm September night in 1991, in a quiet neighborhood north of Houston, Texas, David McGlynn’s closest friend and teammate on the high school swimming team is found murdered on his living room floor. As the crime goes unsolved and his friends turn to drugs and violence, McGlynn is vulnerable, searching for answers. He is drawn into the eccentric and often radical world of evangelical Christianity—a journey that leads him to a proselytizing campus fellowship, on a mission to Australia, and to Salt Lake City, where a second swimming–related tragedy leaves him doubting the authenticity of his beliefs. In his post–evangelical life, he finds himself exiled from his parents, plunged into financial chaos, and caught off–guard by the prospect of fatherhood. A new job offers hope for a new beginning, until the possibility of losing his newborn son forces him to confront the nature of everything he believes.

A Door in the Ocean celebrates the author’s love for swimming, the enduring metaphor for his faith and the setting for many of his life’s momentous occasions, while it charts the violent origins of one young man’s faith and the struggle to find meaning in the midst of life’s painful uncertainties.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781619021631
Publisher: Counterpoint Press
Publication date: 07/16/2013
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.70(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

David McGlynn grew up in Houston, Texas, and Southern California. His story collection, The End of the Straight and Narrow, won the 2008 Utah Book Award and was named an “Outstanding Achievement” by the Wisconsin Librarians’ Association. His stories and essays have appeared in Men’s Health, The Huffington Post, Best American Sports Writing, and numerous literary journals. He teaches at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, where he lives with his wife and sons.

Read an Excerpt


Good People of the World

When the meet announcer called the race to the blocks, I lowered my goggles. I jounced my shoulders and cranked my neck from side to side — a move Jeremy Woodley, my best friend, and I had learned from watching Jean-Claude Van Damme. I was in lane two; Jeremy was two lanes to my left, in four. Between us, a skinny boy in a blue Speedo from the opposing school bounced on the balls of his feet. I had no idea if I could beat him, and I didn't care either way. After the meet, he'd disappear with the rest of his team into the yellow school bus parked outside. Jeremy and I had to see each other every day. I didn't care if he and I came in last, so long as I touched the wall before him. Beating him was the only thing that mattered.

Our coach stood beside the pool in a shirt and tie, damp beneath the collar and armpits from the dank, chlorinated air inside the natatorium, and from the lather he worked himself into while running alongside the lanes. His tan forehead glistened, and his thinning hair stuck out like the bristles of an old broom. He looked at me and clenched his fist, his gold state championship ring a judging eye in the center of his hand. The rest of the team filled the bleachers behind him. The girls' hair bulged, oblong, in their silver caps, and the boys stood together in a line on the uppermost bleacher, beneath the snarling maroon-and-white bobcat painted on the cement wall. Trey Smith's head fit perfectly between the cat's teeth. "Here we go, Woodley!" they shouted in unison as they clapped their hands. "Let's go, McGlynn!" Curt Wood, on the far end, clanged a big copper cowbell.

The starter blew the whistle, and the natatorium fell silent. Water gurgled through the gutter drains, and for a moment the pool stood so still that the surface appeared to swell above the coping. "Step up, boys," the starter said into the microphone. His Texas drawl echoed through the room and sounded as though it had been piped in from far away.

I looked down the lanes as I mounted the block. Jeremy stood with his back straight and his chest puffed out, his eyes fixed on the other side of the pool, as if getting there were his only concern. He filled his cheeks and let out a long stream of air. He turned his head toward me. His goggles were mirrored, his jaw set. He didn't nod, so I didn't either. He'd finished our freshman year with a faster time in the two hundred freestyle, had trained hard all summer while I was visiting my father and stepmother in California, and now, in the first meet of our sophomore season, he had every intention of putting this race, and me, to bed.

"No way," I whispered as I curled my toes over the edge of the block. "Not this time."

"Two hundred — yee-ard freestyle," the announcer said. "Take your marks."

I bent and gripped the edge of the starting block. My stomach rose into my throat, the muscles in my back and arms beginning to twitch and spasm. I felt the horn coming before I heard it, that insidious simulated gunshot that I'd begun to hear in my dreams.

When the sound came at last, I lunged.


An hour later, Jeremy and I stood in the locker room. Water lay in puddles on the floor and mold crept up the walls, turning from green to black as it saturated the grout. The tight space between the lockers, where he and I and the rest of the team peeled off our suits after coming out of the showers, smelled of chlorine and shampoo, the bloodlike perfume of rusting metal. They were talking about the boy who'd been shot and killed the previous weekend. The story had made the news because the boy had been a top prospect to play college ball, and because he was the second football player killed since school had started, only three weeks before. The shooting had happened at a high school inside the 610 Loop, the highway dividing the city of Houston from its suburbs. Far enough away to feel safe, close enough to warrant comment.

"I heard he was in line in the cafeteria, waiting for breakfast," Trey Smith, the senior captain, said. "He made fun of some girl's shirt or something, and she pulled a gun from her backpack and shot him."

Trey made a gun with his thumb and forefinger, turned it sideways, and pointed it at Mike Collins. "Bam!"

"You bitch!" Mike said, clutching his chest and falling backwards against the lockers. The rattle reverberated down the row. "You skanky punk-ass slut."

"I'm gonna get you, sucker!" Allen Swift shouted.

A cheap way to get laughs, but it worked. The meet had come down to the final relay, and we'd won it, and Trey's anchor split was his fastest in-season time to date. The head coach of the University of Arizona had already come to watch him practice. The coach from the University of Texas would be visiting in a few weeks. Trey's future spread before him like a buffet table: senior year, college, the Olympics hovering on the far horizon. Even the dumbest jokes made us laugh.

"Now the whole team's going to wear those lame black armbands," Jeremy piped in. Though we'd been on the varsity squad since our freshman year, we'd had to wait until we were sophomores to earn lockers among the upperclassmen. For weeks we'd tried, and failed, to participate in their conversations. Jeremy's win tonight had earned him the right to do exactly that.

I carried my shoes to the far end of the bench and sat with one foot propped on the pine, forcing my wet feet down inside my socks. Even though I told myself it didn't matter, and made a show of laughing at Trey's joke, I couldn't help feeling sullen and embarrassed: Jeremy had looked at me like he knew he could beat me, and I'd proved him right. I'd finished fourth, a full second behind him.

"They're all going to wear his number on their helmets," Mike echoed. "Take a knee in his honor after every game."

"Bullshit," Trey said. "Such complete bullshit."

Operation Desert Storm's brief, lopsided domination of the news eight months earlier had made the symbolism of paying tribute — the yellow ribbons tied around the magnolia trees along the farm-to-market roads, the proliferation of American flags — ridiculous. But at fifteen, what wasn't ridiculous? Jeremy and I could barely get through The Pledge of Allegiance without cracking up.

Curt Wood sprayed a stream of Right Guard into his armpit until the wisps of hair turned white. Trey waved the cloud away and coughed.

"Got enough on, sport?"

"It doesn't work right if I don't spray it close," Curt said.

"Man, nothing can help that," Jeremy said. He sauntered down to me. He wore his towel draped over his shoulder. "Cheer up," he said. "You were gone for most of the summer."

"I swam in California," I said. I'd taken the county bus each morning at five, from my father and stepmother's house in Laguna Beach to the high school in Corona del Mar. Remembering those early mornings, the coastline drowned in a hazy grapelight, gave me another reason to tell myself my loss didn't matter: I'd be back in California, for good, before the season was over. Even so, I'd expected more from myself.

"Your time wasn't bad," he said. "It's only September."

I concentrated on tying my shoes. Magnanimity felt like yet another spoil of victory.

Jeremy stepped past me, past the end of the bench, and stood beneath the last illuminated fluorescent tube in the ceiling. The locker room beyond hunkered in darkness. He unfolded his big white towel and turned his back to me. "Ready, Dave? Watch, watch." He swiped the towel back and forth across his back and wiggled his rear end. "I'm Zestfully clean!" he sang. A reminder that despite the hair under his arms and the fuzz on his lip, he was still a boy. As was I.

I've scoured my memory of this day a thousand times in search of clues. At first, I hoped to discover the motive and perpetrator of the crime, but later I began to wonder if Jeremy sensed the doom gathering around him, the subtle shift in the weather. Did God — as my stepmother proclaimed during the summer — post signs visible only to those with the eyes to see? Had I missed them because I was young or because I was blind? For example, I remember the white T-shirt screened with an anchor logo he wore that night: He'd gotten it for free with a pair of Dockers. He hated it, but wore it because it was his only white T-shirt, and it looked good beneath his polos.

This afternoon is also one of the last in which I'd see my old self. One of the last moments in which I'd find horsing around in a locker room after a swim meet an uncomplicated pleasure, one of the rites of being in tenth grade and on the varsity team. My ability to laugh about a boy shot inside his school was proof of my immunity from the sprockets of the universe. It was the last time ordinariness would feel, well, ordinary. My parents' divorce and my father's immediate exit from Texas three years earlier, though painful, had felt more or less ordinary. I wasn't the only person I knew with a parent in a different state. When I remember myself on that late September afternoon — the boy lacing up his sneakers, his foot propped on the bench — I wonder whether my own future self already exists there.

Jeremy zipped up his bag and we headed outside. Autumn had officially begun, but the air was still as hot as summer. A herd of silver nimbus clouds lumbered across the sky, and mosquitoes buzzed around the dim yellow bulb above the door. My mother's red Ford idled in the lot. I could hear Annie Lennox on the radio even through the closed windows. My mother had dropped off Jeremy's sister Bekki and my sister Devin at their own swim practice, at a different pool, on her way to pick us up. Jeremy's mother would pick up the girls after their workout. My mother's perfume wafted out when I opened the passenger-side door. "How'd it go?" she asked. I shrugged and pulled the seat forward so Jeremy could climb in back. I sank into the front seat, held my hand to the air conditioner vent until my fingertips turned numb. In the side-view mirror, I saw Jeremy lean his head against the back of the seat. I turned the radio to Power 104 and cranked the volume.

The phrase "best friend" suggests an unadulterated loyalty Jeremy and I never enjoyed. It wasn't only swimming; we spent more time together than we did apart. In addition to the four hours a day we swam in the moldy six-lane pool appended to the back of our high school, we carpooled to and from workouts each morning and afternoon. During the school day, we had four of our six classes together, plus lunch. He was a lean, handsome boy, a favorite among his teachers, not above ribbing me for my slower split in the relay, my double chin, my flatfooted run. He poked his finger in my stomach and giggled like the Pillsbury Doughboy. It made the girls on the team laugh, and I hated him for that.

All the same, we were friends. We'd been on teams together since junior high, and at thirteen and fourteen, proximity was the sole requirement for friendship. We were stuck together so we stuck together. Our freshman year, when our lockers were isolated from the rest of team, we listened to the older boys howl and swear and punch each other, their voices distorted and tinny from the rows of crosshatched metal grating between us. When they remembered we were there, they drifted over to steal our deodorant or twist our tits or goad us into boxing. If we stuck up our dukes, we got punched. If we didn't, we got punched. We learned to dress quickly and keep our voices low.

One spring day after the season had ended, Jeremy and I found the locker of an older swimmer hanging open. No one else was around. We pressed our shoulders together and pissed into the locker — puerile payback for the taunts and hazes, but payback nonetheless. We laughed while we pissed, spraying through the grates into the adjoining lockers. The next week, Trey Smith, Mike Collins, and Ted Reid, our team's diver, picked us up before school and drove to the parking lot behind the donut shop. Trey told us to get out. The fog in the parking lot smelled like sugar and rising dough. "Take off your clothes," he said, and from the trunk of the car, Ted Reid produced two satin dresses, castoffs from one of their sisters. The dresses wouldn't zip all the way up. They applied lipstick and eye shadow and rouge on our cheeks. They taped to our backs signs that read, I'M A FRESHMAN, KICK ME, then replaced our shoes with long black swim fins that cracked against the ground with every step. "Leave it on all day or you're in deep shit," Mike said. Trey locked our clothes in the trunk. Jeremy and I looked at each other. We had balloons filling the breasts of our dresses and lipstick smiles that stretched from ear to ear.

In biology that morning, we waited for Blaise Houghland, the sophomore who sat at our lab table. I worried about what she'd say when she saw me wearing a dress, but at least I'd get her attention. She came in a few seconds after the bell rang, her soft, hot-rolled brown hair bouncing against the shoulders of her drill team uniform. She tilted her head to the side and smiled, all sympathy and sisterhood, not a drop of ridicule. "You guys," she said. But she sat down next to Jeremy.

The bayou behind my house wound along the backside of a dilapidated strip shopping center, behind the Burger King and dry cleaner's, and under the bridge where truant junior high students went to smoke cigarettes and suck face. A twenty-minute walk, half that if I rode my bike. Jeremy lived on the other side, in a two-story, red-brick house on a quiet cul-de-sac tucked deep within a maze filled with similarly large and boxy red-brick homes. With its wide lawn and tall fence skirting the backyard, the constable precinct patrolling the streets, his house seemed to me as impenetrable as an army fort, the kind of house the Big Bad Wolf would turn away from, gasping and discouraged. Since my father had moved out, my house, though also made of brick, had begun to show signs of neglect. The roof shingles were rotting, and lichen had rooted in the damper corners of the foundation. Cottonmouths slithered up from the bayou's muddy stream and lay coiled in the sun on our cracked patio, waiting for lunch to drop in.

Jeremy had an older sister with two children of her own and an older brother fresh from the University of Texas who worked for Charles Schwab and was living at home to save money for his wedding. His younger sister, Bekki, was thirteen, a year older than Devin. His parents both worked for big downtown petrochemical companies and exuded a calm that bespoke of security. They watched the news together every night and slept in twin waterbeds in their expansive master bedroom. I thought it was weird at first, too Ward and June Cleaver, until Jeremy explained that waterbeds were more comfortable when you flew solo. "Unless you're doing it," he said. "Then the wave is cushion for the pushin."' He had a waterbed, too, and showed me how you make the wave by kicking his heels against the foot of the mattress, moaning, "Oh baby, oh yes."

His brother Greg had a subscription to Sports Illustrated, and we traded old issues back and forth, as if they were almanacs for manhood. Would Ohio State's winning streak hold? Would Shaquille O'Neal turn pro after his sophomore season at LSU? Would Mike Scott pitch as well now that Nolan Ryan had left the Astros? We debated sports trivia, lingo, standings, and statistics. The magazine even included a yearly lesson in sex when the swimsuit issue came out. In the locker room before swim practice, Mike had told me about the party he and Ted Reid had gone to in Klein, a little farther out than our neighborhood but part of the same hurricane of suburban sprawl that swirled around Houston. They'd arrived to find a hot tub full of girls in bikinis. "So, by the end of the night, I was doing this one girl," Mike said, like it was nothing, as though doing a girl was the same thing as talking to her on the phone. The idea of it was like a movie in which a car jumps across a gap in the highway and lands on the other side: not impossible, but nevertheless difficult to fathom. And before sex had become a possibility for me, it had proved itself dangerous. The inscrutable hunger that often woke me in the night had also shattered my parents' marriage, catapulting my father to a new life three states away and leaving my mother unable to speak his name without anger, resentment, disdain.

Sometimes swimming only made things worse. The boys and girls teams were scored separately, but we practiced together. We got to see Erin Montague and Nicky Delbridge in their training suits everyday, their legs tanned from lifeguarding all summer, their breasts round and firm beneath the Lycra. Even Summer Sanders' nipples were visible through her suit when she won the two hundred butterfly at the World Championships in Australia. "Ten thousand miles away, and there they are, plain as day," Jeremy said as we sat before the TV in his living room. "Ba-da bing."


Excerpted from "A Door in the Ocean"
by .
Copyright © 2012 David McGlynn.
Excerpted by permission of Counterpoint.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Good People of the World 3

The Open Door 35

The Fish Tank 53

No Man's Land 81

The Ancient Shoreline 125

The Hoary Deep 151

Wandering in Zion 169

Rogue Waves 189

Hydrophobia 217

Open Water 243

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A Door in the Ocean: A Memoir 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
DrLynnKK More than 1 year ago
I really loved the way this book navigated between several narrative threads: loss, swimming, faith, family. McGlynn does a good job of tracing these narratives throughout his life. I, of course, enjoyed the focus on swimming and how swimming & religious faith become the two main staples of his life, the things he can rely on to mitigate the normal losses of life. I had read several of these essays on their own, and I enjoyed reading them again within the larger context of the book. They all fit together nicely to create a complete story of his life. In the end, I was more interested in the swimming, and his life as a writer and parent. But, even as a religious outsider, his account of his faith made a lot of sense to me in the context of his life. Highly recommended!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A Door in the Ocean tells the captivating and interwoven personal story of its author through high school to college, into adulthood and ultimately parenthood. McGlynn's journey takes several sudden twists that visibly and violently shape his life throughout. McGlynn boldly and courageously dives deeper and deeper into his own personal conflicts and demons, and puts his entire, personal journey in discovering ultimately who and what he is out there for us all to see--in a manner that is extremely difficult to put down.