I send them—one after another—until my eyes cross and cloud over. My legs are aching from hours of Indian-style hunching—waiting…tick tock…for it to finallyfinallyfinally be quitting time. No matter how good my intentions, I never log-off at four. Usually, it’s 5:42 or maybe 5:14. Sometimes, 7:02. Most days, I don’t really mind.
Today, it was 4:15. Exactly. I made a date with myself earlier today—sometime between twiddling thumbs and racing toward an impossible finish line. The way I do now. I felt proud in that odd, masochistic way that got me through childhood. Like I had climbed a mountain and sprinted toward Heaven. I raced into the bathroom—grabbed the black one-piece that’s always on the back of the doorknob—grabbed a towel and a dress and shoes. Searched for keys—locked up—staked out—and pushed the door open.
The door is heavy—dark wood with the pneumatic push of an arthritic knee stepping out of gear. Heavy chlorine pushes it back toward me like so many Marilyn Monroe vents, and I am transported to summer mornings at Garfield Park—standing in line with V—our hair wet from the public shower—quarters in hand.
Down the steps, to the chair. I slip the dress off and hang it on white plastic—kick shoes off—why did I wear loafers, again?—and circle to the stairs.
I am not a diver.
I can’t remember when I first started swimming. There are pictures of me in a blow-up pool in our backyard, but that wasn’t really swimming so much as splashing. And posing for cameras—pulling my best covergirl shot. I’d always loved water, though. Baths, showers, lakes, streams—you name it, I was in it. I think my long-lost love for rippling, babbling anything came from Daddy who spent so much time in California with all its beaches. He was a Navy man, too. Water was in my blood.
I suppose the swimming part came about because our house lacked any air conditioning whatsoever for most of my life. The floor in my bedroom would actually sweat. I’m not even kidding. We tried fans—even bought a stupid window AC—which didn’t fit and scratched up both my arms when I lifted it the five feet to its perch—next to Mama’s violets that shriveled up two weeks later. Our go-to cooling off strategy involved spraying cold water from a bottle directly into said box fans. Twenty-five cents was 1/4 of an ice cream sandwich, so the pool was a big sacrifice—but I made it.
I was old enough that Mama let me go alone with V. We would usually go to Garfield as soon as they opened—spend the whole day there—watching the lifeguards—and then walk to the penny candy store on Morrison Road. They had a Coke phone and candy that reminded me of jewels. We’d walk in the middle of the street, walkmen on our heads, singing some poppy song—mouths full of every candy they had.
I suppose you could say what I did wasn’t quite swimming. More like holding on to edges. Because I didn’t actually know how to swim. I wouldn’t necessarily volunteer that information, but I’d tell you if you asked me directly. It was kind of embarrassing, I guess. The pool people gave lessons to the little kids in the morning. I remember watching them through the bars—listening intently—sure I could listen my way to knowing. But mostly, I just held on to the edges and kicked. And got ridiculously sunburned.
When I was 10, I went to a water park for the first time and nearly drowned three times. No one noticed. I didn’t let them notice. I instead came back and kept trying to master it. After the third time, I decided to go back to the edges.
I taught myself to swim formally in college. I’d go when no one was there—slowly pushing away from my beloved edges. I was still pretty terrible, but—when I eventually traveled—I didn’t die when I went snorkeling. And then I stopped swimming—stopped for no good reason—a reason I can’t even remember. Maybe it wasn’t hot enough in my apartment anymore (yay, AC).
Two years ago, I moved into a building with a great big pool. And I thought to myself—“I should do that. I like that.” And I almost drowned the first time I went in. After that, I stuck to the edges. I then became obsessed with learning again—started reading swimming books and went every day. And then, I stopped in the summer because there was HOLY MOTHER OF GOD MOTHS (AHH!) in the pool.
Today was the first day I spent in the pool in like three months. I had promised myself I’d go for about two months, but every day, I’d make an excuse or get lost in someone else’s needs. I do that. I get lost. I forget I need my attention. I forget to breathe—to exhale.
I pushed back on that door like my life depended on it, and I carefully sank into nothing. And it was warm—like a hug from an old friend. The pool was empty—the lobby was empty—the gym was empty. And I sank more and more. Yes—I held those damn edges.
The lights were off, so all I could see was the twinkle lights from the tree in the lobby. And the windows. Runners passing by the lattice of our fence—the frosted glass distorting them into acrylic gazelles and the warm ember of the sun finally burning out with dark trees acting as picture frames.
The light from the pool sparkled through bubbles and foam as I moved. And all I could think of was my iPhone and how I could get some amazing shots. And I wanted to run upstairs and get THIS. But I told myself NO.
And then I thought about writing.
And my parents.
And how, for months now, I’ve been holding onto edges—afraid to float all by myself—and to release all of THIS somewhere.
I wrote letters and notes today. Letters and notes about real things. Letters about them. And I found kindness and hope and the me that’s been floating somewhere. And I felt myself settle into myself.
And I kicked away from the edge.
Maybe, one day, I won’t remember it’s there.