Swimming

Yet by then I had also fallen in love with a new manner of physically probing the deeps, i.e. swimming, and this would prove to be both an ending and a beginning to an important chapter in my life.  I’d hated being seen in public in my bathing suit in the summer, the sun shining sickly on my shoulders, not because I was necessarily ugly – I fancied I looked like a younger combination of Emma Goldman and Anna Yezierska – but because I was morbidly self-conscious.  But now, seemingly suddenly, I’d started to swim with more enjoyment on the two or three weekends during the decree with my Dad, Dave and Helene, while Mema stayed home and, I dearly hoped, sulked, though she probably talked on the phone and complained about her crazy Plathian daughter and laughed with uproarious abandon.  We’d go to the Jewish Community Center’s indoor pool, and I’d feel the baffling sensation of being a child in an adolescent’s body, or an adolescent who still liked childish things – at least “childish” in the sense I imagined Mema using the term – like the color of the dark-blue water and its warm-cold touch on my skin, depending on where in the pool I was; and how the color reminded me, as if simultaneously supporting and rebelling against my adolescent inclinations, of some gorgeous night-blue Georgia O’Keefe flower and the watercolors we’d used to draw Torah covers, clouds, and the sky early on at Hebrew school.  I’d walk quickly out the female shower towards a bench, careful to leave the rounder, darker-haired Helene behind in the hot water spray to show her I was older, and enter the cold air and hear the pleasing-for-some-reason noise of people swimming laps and jumping in the pool.  I’d hear a man telling me not to run, and turn to see a pale, bare-chested, hairy man wearing green goggles, and wonder how my father expected me to take him seriously, and then decided to continue disappointedly, infuriatingly, and numbly pretending I didn’t know him at all.  By then Helene was walking up to the bench, and Dan with his enormous in-need-of-a-haircut Jew-fro was running towards us, as the lifeguard blew her whistle at him, and we all set our flip flops down beside the JCC towels (which seemed to be the size of facial tissue), and I put my Lennon-cum-Goldman glasses on top of my towel.  Dan told us we smelled like “horrid farts” and “booger armpit wenches,” and we Pamutzniks walked nobly, like the Glasses and Ramsays, towards the first lane at the middle of the pool, in the area for the kids and teenagers two-lanes wide.  We adjusted our cool aerodynamic goggles Mema had actually thankfully insisted on buying us, as our Dad sat down on the bench and waved, seeming to now be a character from either the Twlight Zone or John Cheever or both – “the Haymish Swimmer in Lane 9.”  He himself was getting ready to swim laps, where the even-older people stretched and swam, too – they who had somehow, unlike me, conquered their self-consciousness, shame, and mortifying embarrassment, and could now happily parade around in their wrinkles and pruned skin while I, a teenager, like Lolita post-marriage, could not inside bear my body.

I’d jump into the water, straight like a pencil, and sink; and when it became harder to breathe, I’d kick upwards towards the fluorescent light and burst above the surface, gasping for air like a thirst, and paddle over to the cement edge to hold onto the toothpaste-colored rubber, and more relaxedly kick my legs back and forth, to wait for Helene and Dan.  My sister would splash in a few seconds later, swim over to the edge and hold on with me, our legs against the wall like monkeys, and we’d both scream as high and loud as we could, as Dan swam up to us and, paddling, splashed us with chlorinated water – screaming not so much because of getting water splashed in our face by a boy, even if it was our brother, or because Dan was intimidating, (was he?), but solely to hear our giddy-with-fright voices echoing off the walls, across which I could see the darker shadows of the pool moving back and forth, like a dancer swaying, like a sexy woman, like my mother, (but why think about her?  She wasn’t there!) as if to the rhythm of all my beating legs and heart.

Dan would go under first, and Helene and I would time him, rolling our eyes but secretly wondering if he’d beat his record of 75 seconds.  Then Helene would go, somehow confident and un-ironic, giving us high fives and chalking in under a minute later at her usual time, and then me, un-bespectacled though goggled, in the unfamiliar though familiar element, pushing myself under the water as my ears popped and I shut my eyes and held my breath, and opened my eyes, and felt unaccountably happy there by myself, holding the edge above as if rising and falling simultaneously, counting slowly in my head.  I’d hear the sleek, seal-like bodies skimming the surface above and away from me, and my siblings’ running legs and twisting wastes beside me, all with a sense of wonder bursting like a fire hydrant inside my heart unaccountably; and a minute later I’d re-emerge into the light and sounds and Helene or Dan would shout my time at me, which I told them I didn’t care too much about, though they didn’t believe me, though I sort of meant it, and all of us looking like water-creatures, with dark hair and those fancy goggles.  We’d laugh, and then it was Dan’s turn again, disappearing under the surface while Helene and I counted aloud.  Other times we’d all go down together for a sort of levitating watery sit-down, and, in that slow and blue world, languidly flap our hands-and-arms up and down, to jerkily float or stay seated and momentarily touch our butts on the white-tiled floor, and wave at each other and scream and laugh.  I loved those underwater sounds, themselves drowned out but still audible, proven visually by bubbles rising up to the surface like actual watery thought boxes; and I loved the whole microcosmic world above the surface, where the shaded fluorescent pool, like a longed-for friend, seemed subdued and more thoughtful, where gravity was reversed and, once under water, you could make an effort to stay seated, as if we were actors in a comedy of manners having a tea-party under there – before we each joined the world again above the surface, with all the attendant noise.

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