There’s no other way to get into the pool than to jump. Kick off from the gritted surface of the pool deck and follow the lead of your arms to cut through the water. It always is cold but it always feels good. The weight of the water surrounds your face and presses on your body, weighing down as your lower back arches upwards. With a few flicks of your ankles your head is slanted upwards and you’re surfacing. You begin to swim: take your first pull, your first flutter kick, your first breath. You’re going fast but you find your pace. Taking rhythmic strokes you glide through the water finding the air to get you through your first flip turn and onto the second length. Your eyes follow the navy and white patterns of the brick tiles on the floor in front of your face and they begin to fly past. You stop having to tell your your limbs what to do and your mind allows itself to wander. He wanted me to cut practice yesterday. I should have: we haven’t spent time together in so long. You swim six or seven laps until you stop, holding onto the gutter ledge of the pool wall and clinging to it. It’s too hard to.
Eyes focused on the blue and red timer on the tiled wall, you duck your head under the surface and kick off on your side as the hand hits the thirty. You glide and flatten out within seconds and instead of surfacing, you rock your hips and let the movement fall down to your toes. You don’t get to breathe. I hope he passes the test today. Your fingers cling together tighter and tighter out in front of you, elbows locked, and as your hips pump faster and faster you inevitably surface; gasping for air and ducking down once again. I picture his mother tearing up when she smelled the smoke on his sweater. You do this probably two more times and then before you know it your knuckles hit the wall and you made it. Waiting for other people to hit the wall you fixate on the clock at this end. 4:45; he’s there by now. The whistle blows and you’re swivelling across the pool again. We used to spend afternoons after practice in the park and he’d kiss me between drags of his joint. You can see the flicking feet of the girls in lanes next to yours and you kick harder. We used to fight and he’d scream and then leave me flowers on my stoop when I got home from dinner. You flip off the wall and aim further under the surface this time. Last week he cut rehab and showed up on my stoop in the pouring rain. I had been doing homework in the kitchen with my sister, opened the door, invited him in, and made him instant mac n cheese while he joked about his parents freaking out. It wasn’t funny.
You’re hanging onto the gutter at the deep end with one elbow and gulping water from your bottle. The whistle blows and the person in front of you kicks off, reaching almost ten meters before she takes her first stroke. Her strokes are systematic: following through with the first freestyle pull, touching her palm to the top of her other hand before beginning the next pull–”the catch-up drill”. The stroke appears standard until you realize it’s a modified, distorted version. You watch mindlessly. If his system isn’t clean, he leaves. Before you know it you’re swimming and within the next thirty-six minutes you’ve done everything: side-strokes, breathing on one side, tennis balls in your fists, sprints. The fluorescent lights paralyze your thoughts and the straps of your suit cut into your collarbones. How the fuck did we get here?
iv. Cool Downs
It’s 5:21 and it’s almost over. Your strokes are rhythmic again but you don’t feel afloat in the same way. Your lower body gravitates towards the bottom of the pool and your movement relies on your slow, steady butterfly kicks. Your goggles have inevitably leaked and you can barely count the laps as you go. Each time you approach the walls you build up the stamina to complete a flip and push yourself off again. You’ve completed the practice and as you lift yourself up out of the pool onto the deck, your arms fall numb to your side and you sit still on the ledge for a second. You watch heads bob and feet splash as you prepare to stand on your feet again. The clock reads 5:30 and you scramble to stand up and walk to the locker room.
v. Getting Dressed
The hot water from the weak spout rushes down your scalp as you pull down the black straps of your suit. You roll it down to your chest, loosen it around your hips, and rotate to let the water hit you. I hope he is sober. You step out of the shower and grab your towel–start drying at your calves and then to your thighs. You wring out the water from your hair and wipe the chlorine from your hazy eyes. You roll off the bottom of your bathing suit that’s sitting around your hips and straggle to collect your belongings. Subtly you support yourself on one foot as you slip into your twisted lace thong, steadying yourself against the lockers while attempting to cover your body with the towel. You untwist your underwear so it sits flat against your damp and clinging skin. Other girls enter the locker room. Look at ease. With haste you arch your back, snap the hooks of your bra, and wrestle on your big sweater in an attempt to cover enough of yourself up before they come into sight. As you roll on your sheer black tights, the girls come around the corner and you swiftly slip in your hoops and your bobby-pin, grab your phone and run upstairs. Waiting as the elevator rises, tapping your boot to the carpet, you realize you’d really already known they would make him go.
Age 17, Grade 12
Berkeley Carroll School