Just keep swimming

es9181a woodside pool 30jul2017

I no longer dive in, preferring to step lightly down the four steps into the pool, and I don’t do kick turns anymore either, just catch myself at the wall with a hand, push off with a foot, but I take to the pool late on the day I turn 59, a day when it’s been over 100 degrees, an afternoon of family celebration for the niece born 30 years ago today on my 29th birthday, and I get back to my beloved’s and put on my suit, pick up my new goggles, and in the sultry dark walk out to the pool—

a smallish pool compared to the one I once swam in, the one where I taught my first Red Cross swimming classes to small people learning to blow bubbles, to float, to do the elementary backstroke, then the crawl, then the breast stroke, back stroke and maybe, just maybe, if they became proficient and took to the swim team, the butterfly, which I could demonstrate but never sustain for any length of time—

because summers I was a synchronized swimmer, not a competitive lap swimming swimmer, never fast off the block, and when I step into chlorinated water now, my first lap is a head-up breast stroke, something we synchro girls did automatically, something we were also taught to do (along with a head-up crawl) in lifesaving class, and then, on my second lap, goggles over my eyes, I do a traditional breast stroke, head bobbing underwater, then up for a quick breath, the bottom of the pool clear as glass, underwater side lights brightening first one side, then the other of me—

and then—then—you are all with me, all you pool friends, who were not the same as school friends, because I went to a different high school without a pool in those days, but pool friends circulated around Roseville High School pool, the mother ship for so many of us, where our swim teams practiced and competed, where we learned lifesaving, where we taught our first lessons to panicky kids, where we took to the lifeguard tower in our red suits and red hats, our zinc oxide’d noses, our mirrored shades, and kept eagle eyes on the 3-meter board where one of the Mulligan brothers would twist himself into impossible pretzel shapes in the air, landing neatly in the turquoise water below—

and, as I turn my head to breathe (in my slow crawl) or lift it for a breath (in breast stroke) or scull face-up (at my sides and then overhead), or windmill my arms backward (in my deliberate back stroke), as a half moon makes its way to the western horizon, you are all there with me—you, my mentors in that chapel of chlorine, Pat Mothorn and Dean and Scott Winter and Bill Kantola, our coaches and cheerleaders who guided me and so many others in how to teach kids to love the water; you, my lifeguarding and/or studly swim team buddies, you Cespedes brothers (Rick and Howard and Tim) and Shawn Hansen and Dean Falltrick; my synchro sisters, Irene Mahan and Dianne Edgar (and Carole and Susie, too) and Brenda Dillon, who introduced us to the sport; and Donna, my actual sister, always with the perfect ballet leg, who bested me easily; and so many others, friends we saw only in swimsuits, almost never in street clothes or wearing shoes, with sunburned noses and shoulders and tops of feet; so many of you whose faces I see as I make my way up and down the smallish pool, seemingly the only one in the water—

and this, more than any other reason, may be why I take to the pool—not so much for the exercise, though my upper arms feel the strokes more than they used to, and I can only eggbeater halfway down the pool before my legs poop out, and not to improve my wind, for I can no longer do whole laps underwater as I could in the synchro days, 40 pounds lighter and 44 years ago—

but because of all of you who swim with me, before me, behind me, my pod of people who have never left me, some of them peers, some of them teachers, some of them students, all of them companion dolphins who bump me to the surface so I can breathe on the bad days, and I give them gentle bumps, too, so that there is no tired, no can’t go on, no I can’t do this; there is only of course, you can, and see? you just did, and there are only blue ribbons and best times and high scores, there is only atta girl and good goin’, guy

and sometimes I can hear the faintest strains of music through underwater speakers, the scratchy sound of the needle set gently on a record that’s been played far too many times, and the first notes of an instrumental that means it’s time for our routine, and my synchro partner and I are in the water, sculling like mad, ballet legs thrusting out of the water, smiles on our faces—

we are on, Irene and Donna and Dianne and all the others—here and gone—for all whose faces I see and laughs I hear—

thank you for still swimming beside me for 59 years now and counting; let my arms and legs and breath hold out for many more—many, many more—amen.

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About janishaag

Writer, writing teacher, editor
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6 Responses to Just keep swimming

  1. Hilary A says:

    And let us all say, Amen!

  2. Dorothy Haag says:

    Wow, brings back memories, of carpooling, daily drives to the pool, twice, come to think of it? Judging competitions- horrors!

    Love, Mom

    >

  3. buzzardnotes says:

    The things you think about when you swim. You put together memories and thoughts so well. Thank you. I enjoyed reading about these memories. Hugs!

  4. Connie Raub says:

    “let my arms and legs and breath hold out for many more—many, many more—amen.” Wishing that for you and all of us as well! Live well, in the swim of things and non-waterlogged!

  5. Carol Egan says:

    July 31, 2017
    Especially enjoyed this, as it reminded me so much of your mom (Darlene), and our swim days at
    Oak Park H.S. (esp. the life saving learning!) We did succeed and then spent a summer at the “Eleanor Camp”, at Lake Geneva, WI!!! ((Dar was the “Saver-in Chief), and I filled in here and there! However Tennis later took over. And now it’s reduced to watching the Chicago Cubs!! GO
    CUBS!!!!!

  6. Margery Thompson says:

    Wow, what a memory. Happy “New” Year!

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