Elementary

Lopsided, I lug my tote bag and clomp into the change room of the community swimming pool half an hour late – because of work. The lane swim began at 11:30. I like to get there for the start,  be the first one to break the surface of the water, make the first wave, set the pace. I tiptoe through the heat-fogged room in winter boots, careful not to slip on the slick floors. I love the smell of chlorine at high noon. I’m in my element.

Three other women in the room are naked or nearly so, their swimming done. They half tuck themselves into lockers, stand behind skinny doors that only partly shield their nakedness. They shimmy into their panties that get stuck on still damp flesh, wiggle their derrieres back and forth and pull up their underwear. One woman puts on her bra and, with the agility of a gymnast, reaches behind and closes the clasp. I have never in my life been able to do that. I have to wrap the contraption around my ribs, back to front, close the clasp, swirl it right way around again, stuff the girls into their cups, and hook my arms through the shoulder straps.

My shoulders often let me down. For instance I could never water ski. I’d be in a crouch, skis pointing up like a couple of wagging fingers, clutching the bar attached to the rope that was attached to the boat. Then the boat would take off and my ass scooted along the surface creating a wake of its own. I never got out of the crouch. I could never manage a push-up or a chin-up either. But I can swim. I can swim a kilometer faster than my uber-fit husband. I love that.

I change fast, snap on my bathing cap. It pulls the skin around my forehead tight and my eyebrows raise and a few wrinkles disappear under the rubber cover. I could use one of these every day.

On the pool deck, I survey the lanes. Which has the fewest people? Who is swimming at a pace I can keep up with? I slide into the water and gooseflesh covers me head to toe. I push off the wall. In a few strokes, the only work I think about is the business of supplying oxygen to my brain. Goose bumps melt with each heart beat.

Everything is muffled except my breath. I’m in a bubble. Along with gravity, work is gone.

The first four lengths I negotiate  with myself. How long will I swim? How far? By the eighth length I’m a seal, sleek and fast. I feel a flow I never feel on land. Motion and breath are fluid, timed with the turn of my head, the stroke of my arms above and then through the water, the pull forward. Shoulders that never work for me under gravity’s pressure, lift out of the water as my thighs kick, knees bend, feet flutter.

I see my shadow on the bottom rippled with waves and light from the surface. I sweep aside water with my hands and discover motion has a shadow, like a cartoon with speed lines blowing back off a runner.

Then I feel it – the endorphins. I smile at the bottom of the pool, stifle a giggle, blow out air and watch bubbles surface as I turn my head, gulp another breath and keep moving. I swim and swim and swim. I forget everything. My old body is swimming in the fast lane, shoulders strong and powerful. I feel fine! Just fine! Everything’s fine!

Afterwards, I stand under the shower, every muscle full of air. I feel as though I’m still floating. My flip-flops slap the floor. As I dress, my clothes feel like anchors.  My grace is lost in garments. I stand behind a locker door, stare at my clunky winter boots. They’ll walk me back to work. I wish they were fins.

Image result for old woman swimming

 

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34 thoughts on “Elementary

  1. Pingback: Fiction is a whale – The Mexi Movie

  2. Skin cancers ended my retirement beach life here in Florida. Sharks and fish pee-pee deter me from comfortable entry into the Gulf. Arthritic spine and degenerative disks allow only gentle walking in the shallow end, but out of the sun, of course. So? So much for swimming that I so loved, though was not so good at. (I did, however, earn the proper Scout merit badge.) Thank you for the delightful reflection. Now, about the bra… I have always been quite adept and nimble-of-fingers to unclasp clasps in the back. Just one of those skills… One-handed. My wife of 53 years is still awed that I have not lost the touch. :o)

  3. I wish I could get those endorphin things people talk about–especially when that chilly wet stuff you have to go through is so awful. I want to be that person who LOVES exercise. heh

    • It is an uplifting form of exercise, eh? I feel light as a molecule when I come out of the pool. Do you have a favourite stroke, Hilary? I’m a front crawl person with a few breast strokes when I need a break. Sometimes even a lazy sidestroke.

  4. Oh Susanne you are blessed to have the love for water and the ability to swim! I never stepped a foot in our backyard pool which I got my husband to get filled and had lawn laid where the pool used to be!! Our boys had outgrown that pool and I would take them to the Council pool and as they swam laps, I walked and walked with them! The lifeguard there had once complimented me saying that I was the only mother he saw doing that. Getting her exercise this way! And irony is that I am a huge supporter of our swimmers when they participate in events and in my prized possessions is a photo of me with Liesel Jones and Grant Hackett – both Olympic gold medal winners 🙂
    Enjoy your swimming and writing.

    • My sister-in-law just filled in her backyard pool last summer and is now happily growing veggies where water used to be. Everything has its season, right? What a wonderful image of you walking up and down the pool as your children take their lessons. Sports fans are an interesting bunch. I’m familiar with following a sport devotedly the way you do because my middle daughter is a huge figure skating and hockey fan but has no interest in doing either activity. Her whole schedule revolves around the hockey season, though.

  5. I think I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating – you have an Alice Munroe thing goin’ on here.

    I don’t swim – I’ve never managed to coordinate the breathing part. Anxiety builds and I flounder and in water, that’s not such a great thing. So, I envy you your ability – to swim, to feel the endorphins, and mostly, to express it all here so beautifully.

    • I took up swimming again recently as a way to get a cardio workout with minimal stress on my joints. Funny thing is, last Wednesday my back decided it wasn’t happy and I’ve not been in the pool since. But still, its the spirit of the thing, right. And I’ll be back, dammit, come hell or -ahem – high water.

      I am flat on my back because of the aforementioned injury otherwise I would have to lie down from the beautiful compliment on my writing. You are too kind!

  6. Are you sure you are not a Selkie? I too feel a similar lightness of being when swimming, even though I am not that super fast. I sympathise with your ‘bra putting on issues’ and am now pondering wearing a bathing cap at all times. Seriously, this is one of my all times favourite posts of yours
    Susanne, loved it.

    • Hey, maybe I AM a Selkie! Maybe that’s why I so often feel like a fish out of water, eh? Swimming makes me happy for so many reasons.

      I really appreciate your comment, Lisa. I never know what will click with folks and its a pleasure to know you liked this little piece.

  7. You perfectly capture the sensory swimming pool experience in winter. How I miss it! Used to go to the YMCA pool in downtown Toronto early in the a.m. – sadly no French pool has ever lived up to the experience. But you sure make me want to try and find one. Enjoy the endorphins!

  8. So evocative. I love reading you. Now I miss swimming. Isn’t it terrible to be landlocked and cold when you miss swimming? I keep saying we should join the Y. One day.

    • Many winter days I have to do a lot of talking to myself to get out the door and over to the pool but once I’m there I never regret it. I encourage you to jump in! Thanks you always for reading and saying nice things about my writing. I get high here and in the pool!

      • 🙂 I don’t think I’d struggle with the going there, but rather, the leaving part, at least when it’s this kinda cold. Still, I want to…

  9. You write so well Susanne! I so loved reading this – I was right there in the pool along with you as svelte and lithe as a dolphin! In reality I hate chlorine so my water ventures tend to happen in the ocean, though I’m more of a dog paddler and puffer – but I love to walk beside the sea and breathe the salt air 😀

  10. A beauty. Throws me right back in the pool when I used the go. The pool belonged to the Faculty of Sports. When I exited once, similarly full of endorphins, I was approached by a young, handsome fellow, obviously a student. He asked for my phone number. Hm? For the research, the overweight? He would help me with my diet.

  11. I’ve heard about people like you … in fact I’m married to one. Always in anticipation of the next swim 🙂
    I can swim, I’m actually not a bad swimmer even if I am rather slow … but I’ve never reached that point of sublime oneness with the water.
    I loved reading this post. I spent many early mornings in the pool for my workout before the work day began. You described the experience very well. I’ll never be as graceful on the land as I feel in the water.

    • I never have that sublime oneness on land or when cycling. Sometimes when x-country skiing on a quiet morning in the woods and all you hear is the shush of skiis on snow and the occasional blue jay or the rat-tat-tat of a woodpecker. But I’m totally a lubber on land. I bet you feel good when you’re on a good long hike, right?

      • Your description of being a ‘lubber’ describes me well 🙂
        … but hiking along a quiet forest trail with the only sound being the birds and squirrels combined with our own breathing and footsteps is just about perfection!

"The river flows both ways." (Margaret Laurence)

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