Morning comes to Minneapolis, Minnesota. I shake off last night’s dreams, don swimsuit and robe, grab my towel and shuffle downstairs as the sun rises. The halls are blessedly empty of neighbors. Poolside, I kick off my shoes, stuff my hair under a shower cap. I usually decide beforehand what to think about. I step in. Some days I spend imaginary lottery winnings during the hour swim; other times I resurrect my husband and imagine life with James. This Sunday the crystal clear water is neither so warm that I feel sluggish nor so cold that I brace for a shock. I swim with no agenda.
I swim with my head above the surface. The water caresses my skin with gentle touches that yield to my every move. I push it aside with my hands, kick it with my feet; tantrum-like thrashing tones my body, relieves stress and fatigue. I inspect the nine jets. Some produce a weak flow; but, I seek the strong one in the corner. I back into it, hold onto the sides of the pool, allow the jet to massage my lower back as I vigorously kick my legs creating waves.
I do laps—alternating between the quick, purposeful and more languid ones. When my arms tire I tread water. I love the buoyancy. I remember teaching my co worker how to swim. Stiff, tense, untrusting of the water’s ability to support her weight she had clung to the pool’s side. “Margaret, with water the more you relax and trust it the more it does for you,” I had said as I floated next to her.
I continue my laps as time slips away. I begin the cool down remembering my favorite pool in Laguna Niguel, California—an Olympic size outdoor baby with fifteen lanes, two diving boards, a wave making machine. I loved swimming under the California sky preferring starry nights but also relished sun warmed, and the occasional rainy, cool weather swims. My lane was number seven for two years. Dead center. How I miss that pool.
I left California and returned to my hometown of Brooklyn, New York. My mother suffering from a rare cancer that literally ate away at her flesh from head to toe caused me to search for calming waters I could afford. I think I needed the water to save me.
I don’t trust oceans, lakes, ponds or rivers. I am safe in manmade, cement bottomed, crystal clear boundaries where there are no murky depths, drop offs, rip tides or sea creatures to watch for. No translucent jelly fish brushing against my skin, stinging, burning and sending me racing to shore in search of fresh water and vinegar as had happened twice the year I lived on St. Croix, Virigin Islands.
Water in controlled environments—raindrops, tap, glass, tubs, pools even with their predictable limitations—is best. I’m not looking for adventure. I no longer want to conquer anything, overcome another obstacle, survive another close call. Living has taken more than its share already. When James died and while in the throes of grief I repeatedly dreamt of water. Oceans with me adrift. Oceans pulling me under. Oceans with no sight of land. Helpless. Hopeless. The duality of water—as sanctuary and hell—so evident. Entranced by the ocean’s tranquility and hypnotic pull I drove to California beaches countless days and nights—watching waves build, roll, crest— while I tried to figure out how to live my life and then, how to end it.
Life is an ocean not a pool.
I wonder about this pool and this life as I dry off and head upstairs. Is this a reprieve or another one of Life’s ploys to lull me into trusting again? I know Life can be patient, wait me out, dangle promises of a future and a hope in front of me. It can place dreams within arms’ reach and then snatch them away with a single gunshot to the heart or a cancer that makes a beautiful woman sweat blood. It dubs my cries of anguish into calls of triumph in the ears of those surrounding me, masquerades my existence as resiliency raising cheers and accolades so loud that no one notices me slipping over the edge.