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.