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Swimmin' in the Deep end...
"...held my breath, and kicked my feet, and moved my arms around"*
There is nothing better than swimming in the hot summer when you are a kid. Such freedom in the lithe swirling of a log rolling challenge, such exhilaration in that moment your toes grip the end of the high dive and you lean just beyond their ability to hold you to that ledge.
The summer I was eight I practically lived at the on base pool. I was proud of the scratchy, iron on patch pinned to my swimsuit and prouder still of the fact that I was there alone. It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized this was unusual. That summer it didn’t matter. There were two places I belonged in the world-one was in the library with its antiquated coolness and solitude, and in the water. The pool had a loneliness all its own, but I was never alone. Screams and squeals and adult swim horns populate these memories. As do lifeguards saving a small boy and the sound of their whistles attempting to slow down too many kids hopped up on sugar, sunshine, and the double dare high dive.
I think it was a good thing I was oblivious to to the nature of my pool membership for one. And to the freedom I had roaming the base between the pool and the library until whatever time I was told I would be picked up. I kept my mickey mouse Timex, with the stretchy silver band, tucked safely at the bottom of my tote bag next to my library card, a peanut butter sandwich with the jelly all soaked into the bread, and my terrycloth cover up when I wasn’t wearing it. Everything you’d ever need to survive on your own, at eight. Sunblock was never an option back then and the inevitable sunburns of summer were worn like a badge of honor, as were the peeling nose and freckles that followed.
You get wiser as you get older. You realize that your freedom was something other than it was-and something you would never do to your own kids. You learn to wear sunblock and you at least covered shoulders and noses when your children were small. Now you slather your grandchildren in the sticky white film so that they look like they’ve been rolled in mayonnaise and grass, or sand depending on what part of the yard they are playing in. No matter, they are safe. Protected. I still get the occasional sunburn of the absent minded but the roses and new Guara are worth it.
I don’t swim anymore. I’m not lucky enough to know anyone with a pool and the days of a public pool just down the road have passed. I know there is one somewhere in town, but it’s expensive, indoor, and feels like an amusement park on steroids. Somewhere along the way we’ve lost the idea of play—now the bells and whistles belong to the ‘water features’ and not the lifeguards. I do go to the beach occasionally but it’s hard to swim with your eyes open and and screaming under the water at the top of your lungs, alone, is disconcerting for the unaware observer.
This summer I’ve been doing a different kind of swimming. Or at least diving into the deep end, unaware I was doing so. And apparently the aforementioned deep end is reserved for the expert divers. It doesn’t matter that I learned to jack-knife, swan dive, dive without making a splash, as well as free fall from the highest platform-The Swimming Song by Louden Wainwright III* captures this feeling as well as any photo album of old. I wasn’t even aware I was swimming at all this summer-until someone felt duty bound to tell me I was.
If it is possible to backpedal mid-breaststroke, complete with the sound effect of a needle scratching across vinyl, that’s what I did. I wonder if all that freedom to just go about the doing of summer all those years ago lingers in the way I do things now nigh on fifty years later? I’ve never been one to be too afraid to jump in-sometimes with both feet, sometimes head first…and sometimes I’ve gotten hurt, but that was seldom from the jumping-it was more the nature of the pool I was trying to jump into. Some folks like to keep their pools to themselves thank you very much, now go home.
The water here is warm, vast, like a smooth summertime lake-at least that’s how I saw it. Plenty of room to back stroke, or float, or sit on a dock with feet swinging and toes tracing tiny wakes along the surface. It’s a companionable place, this lake. The conversation relaxes its way out and occasionally it’s fun to just launch into the darker depths and cool off. No pool float lines to demarcate ownership, or differentiate between the soft sandy bottom and the weedy depths beyond-just slick, swimmable space. Until you catch someone flailing their arm and yelling from the shoreline to get out of the water. Their panic is catching and before I know it I have raced back to the safety of dry land, out of breath and perplexed..
I know, for a fact, there are no fresh water sharks so I wasn’t afraid of being eaten but what I didn’t know was that I had jumped into the deep end. A space more rarified than I realized. And I didn’t belong. The awkwardness I felt was palpable. I hastily dried off, and left. It wasn’t until later that I saw the moment for what it was. I did make respectful apologies and there was grace extended, not judgement, for which I was grateful. I had allowed myself to become a victim of someone else’s fear of the water, not my own. I’m not afraid of swimming, I have been swimming so long I don’t even give it a second thought. I don’t dive the way I use to but I carry the knowledge of how it feels-that sometimes you have to lean way out, feel nothing but the air surrounding your body, and being enveloped in water before your body feels the cold.
Sometimes you just jump, just let go. How else do you learn to swim unless you let go of the side, unless you venture out, wade into the space where your feet don’t touch and you are forced to paddle until you learn to stroke? Maybe I am “a self destructive fool”* but I’m a fool who knows the joy of flying, the thrill of breaking the surface and rising back into that thick summer heat, flailing my arms, shaking the water out of my hair, and swimming.
The only thing I regret is that I no longer have that Mickey Mouse Timex watch…man, it was super cool, and so was I.
What’s on my nightstand…
I just finished reading This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel. This was a perfect summer read-I couldn’t put it down. It addresses the very real experience of being a trans child, and of being the parent. I’d like to think that the light hearted touch this book has is truly indicative of how things really are, but having friends with a trans child I'm aware there has been much less humor in their lives. That said, reading I found myself smiling, crying, heart aching, but cheering so loudly for Poppy. Read it and you’ll see why.
Taking The Arrow Out of The Heart, by Alice Walker. I picked this signed copy up at my favorite local indie/used bookstore (Bluestocking Bookshop). If you don’t have a great, local indie shop you love yet-get out there and find one. Supporting small business matters and, besides, you can find amazing books like this from time to time!
Keep swimming friends!
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