‘So how do you feel?’
I don’t know. How do you possibly expect me to be able to answer that?
I should’ve known something wasn’t right when my standard greeting of Hi, how are you? elicits a most non-standard response of I’m fantastic. How are you today?
‘Ummm, not bad,’ I reply already knowing that is not the correct answer.
‘I’ve got 1pm appointment,’ I continue on valiantly. ‘I’m a bit early, I know.’
‘Grab some water or tea and take a seat. Your room will be ready soon.’
‘No thanks, I’m fine.’ I flop down in an over-sized neutral-coloured chair which matches perfectly with the neutral-coloured surroundings. Kicking my shoes off, I relish the cool concrete beneath my feet. I search my bag for my book but come up empty. Meanwhile a tattooed young man in shorts, striped t-shirt and worn-in thongs enters and greets the receptionist by name. Reluctantly, I resort to messing about on my phone. Was electronic stimulation advised at this point? I’d read the FAQs last night and had avoided a morning coffee but eaten a small meal a few hours prior as recommended.
‘Amanda? The Atlantis room is ready for you.’
I resist the temptation to make any lost city jokes as I follow the lithe, leisure-wear clad receptionist.
Inside the Atlantis room, I discover THE POD. Smooth, white and egg-like, it is everything I had hoped for. I am almost surprised not to find Mork from Ork sitting inside. A soft blue light twinkles off the shallow water. Flat, shiny beige tiles line the floor and walls of the room.
‘ . . .trust me, you’ll be thanking me for that later,’ she carries on though I know I’ve missed something vital. ‘Then use the pre-float soap on your body and the pre-float shampoo on your hair and then you’re ready to hop on in.’
I nod as though this is all expected even though she knows it’s my first float from the online form I’d filled out when I booked the appointment. I’m looking directly at her now so I don’t miss any more information that I’d be grateful for later.
‘Once inside, you pull down on this handle gently to close the lid. This button on your left is only for emergencies you understand. If you press that, I will come in assuming it is an emergency.’ She stares at me and I duly nod.’
‘And press this switch here to turn the lights off.’ Multiple pressings of the switch are doing nothing for the lights but she soldiers on anyway. ‘Press it like this . . . Hang on . . . Like this.’ With still no luck, she steps behind my egg and turns the whole thing off at the wall then back on again.
‘Ok, you turn it off like this.’ This time, the lights go out first time.
I almost put my hand up but figure it’s only me and her here so I can interrupt without repercussions. ‘And if I don’t want the lid down, that’s ok too?’
‘Are you claustrophobic?’
‘Kind of.’ I have experienced claustrophobia before but not sure that makes me claustrophobic. I’ve smoked a cigarette before but that doesn’t make me a smoker.
‘Sure, you could do that if you want to.’ Though clearly she doesn’t think it’s the best idea.
‘The session starts with five minutes of music and ends with five minutes of music. So when you hear the music the second time, you know it’s time to get out, have a shower and get dressed. Any questions?’
‘No, I’m good.’ I’m already taking off jewellery.
‘Oh, one last thing.’ She reaches into my egg and grabs a small spray bottle hooked onto one of the suspension struts that holds up the lid. ‘If you get any of the water on your face, spray this on your skin. It’ll help, trust me.’
She pivots, her sneakers squeaking on the tiles and is out the door in seconds. I start to peel off my clothes in this humid, too warm room. I try to lock the door behind her but can’t figure out if I’ve done it or not. I give up after a couple of attempts, assuming no one is going to accidentally walk in on me and more fool them if they do. Clothes hung up, I step into the shower area to begin the ritual. I can’t imagine what it was she first opened her spiel with that I’d be thanking her later for. I soap my entire body and wash my hair.
Careful not to slip on the tiles, I gingerly step over to my egg and place one then two feet inside. Crouching down, I grab the handle and pull the lid down, closing off the world momentarily. I press the plastic coated button and my thumb slips off it. I try again and then again with my other hand. I’m flailing around trying to stay upright and put all my weight into making that damn button responsive. It doesn’t work and briefly I wonder if this constitutes an emergency and should I attempt to press the button on the other side and summon assistance. I decide against this. A non-functioning light switch is hardly an emergency and I don’t fancy subjecting the receptionist to seeing my naked body.
I lay down on my back and automatically my arms shoot out sidewards, palms facing up. My fingertips touch the edges of the tank and I figure this isn’t conducive to my intended sensory isolation. I wedge my hands onto my chest, interlocking my fingers. This feels too rigid so I place my hands lightly crossed between my breasts. This feels slightly vampirish and I smirk and keep them there. The magnesium salts which are mixed with highly filtered water provide the flotation mechanism as well as acting as muscle relaxant. My skin feels slippery, almost slimy but I like it. My eyes are closed and I wonder if I’m moving in any one direction. Occasionally my toes bump the far wall to let me know where I am.
Although my shower was a cool one to help combat the mid-30 degree temperature outside and my five minute walk in the sun to get here, I’m still too hot. I sit up inelegantly and open the lid. This in turns triggers the sensor light in the room which lasts a few minutes before cycling through dim to off with a click. I lie back down and try to find a comfortable position again. Arms out, arms in, arms crossed, arms behind head. I settle with resting them on my belly-button. The salts begin to dry out on the portion of skin which is exposed to the air. My skin itches so I wash more water over my body to keep it damp. Images of beached dolphins are hiding somewhere in the back of my mind.
‘Ok, mind – go blank. Well, not blank but at least quieten the chatter please. I’m here to relax, to switch off, to tune out or is that tune in?’ My neck feels odd so I grab the inflatable pillow tucked under the left hand strut and splash about getting it comfortable under my head. Water has splashed onto my cheek, so I wipe it off only to figure out that is not going to help. I paddle across to the other side gently and unhook the tiny spray bottle. Eyes closed I spray my face. Nothing comes out.
‘This is going well,’ I think sarcastically. I open my eyes and sit up awkwardly. The salts make any movement clumsy. I try the bottle again. The lever won’t compress. It is multiple attempts later that I realise a small pin needs to be pushed to one side to allow the pump action to work. Ok, lay back down, spray face more than is possibly required and return spray bottle.
Hands gently resting on my abdomen, eyes closed and I’m determined to find oblivion in my egg – now that everything is sorted, well, apart from the light and the lid. My stomach growls. That sushi hand roll two hours ago may not have been enough. My 1pm appointment was probably not the wisest in hindsight. I’m a late breakfast eater cause I find food too violent in the morning (I’m not getting into that discussion here). As per the FAQs I was mindful not to float with too full a stomach. Hence the one sushi hand roll. Tuna with brown rice, in case you’re curious. I choose to ignore my digestive system and chase nirvana again. But maybe my digestive system is trying to communicate something to me? Maybe it is the seat of my nirvana?
In an attempt to sidetrack my mind, I let my hand wander along my skin, enjoying the silky feel of it beneath the heavily salted water. Reconnecting to my body, I decide piping a guided meditation track into these eggs would be a solid idea. Maybe birdsong or a whale singing soundtrack would be good instead of silence?
My mind wanders and I remember floating off the bayside beach my family would frequent when I was a kid. On hot days, the water was flat as a tack and you’d walk out to where the sand dropped away and the water changed from clear to a deep teal. It was here, too far out for little kids to follow and annoy you, that you’d find a quiet place. Lay back and close your eyes. Hands outstretched and let the water cradle you. No waves to upset your float, you’d keep your eyes closed for as long as you dared. There was usually someone sneaking up to scare you. But not here, not now.
It is the low rumble of a passing tram that lets me know I’m not at McCrae anymore. A shower is running in the room next door and Miss Squeaky Shoes is walking down the hall. I spray my face again with water and wash my body to halt the salt crystallisation. I can’t quite grab that childhood beach memory back again no matter how hard I try. Momentarily I think about driving an hour down to the exact location to recreate it but then realise there is no point. I can enjoy the memory from a distance without the disappointment of a failed recreation.
I now begin to wonder how long I’ve got to go on my one hour introductory float. I run through the rest of week and its commitments in my mind. I plan out the week’s dinners and what I need to get from the shops. I tell myself to remember to email Nick this afternoon and transfer the rent tomorrow. I flirt with the notion of standing up and showering now anyway. The post-float soap, post-float shampoo and post-float conditioner are waiting for me.
‘Don’t be ridiculous. Just wait.’ And I do.
Several minutes later, standing in front of Miss Squeaky Shoes who is seated behind a ridiculously large computer screen, I hear her ask again, ‘So – how do you feel?’
‘I honestly don’t know,’ I reply. This time I manage to respond, though I keep the honest answer to myself. I feel like a Seinfeld episode.