Friday, January 15, 2010

"Every day of her life she would be at some point damp, then drying, and for one solid time, wet."

She was not swimming for fun or exercise or habit. She had never joined a swimming team, not even in high school. It was like the air for her: she was amphibious.
“Wet,” from Passion and Affect, Laurie Colwin

Every Friday night of my childhood, with my aunt and brothers, I swam at a grotty little city YMCA. The water was dark green and murky, and you couldn’t see the bottom of the pool. Afterwards, we would struggle to pull jeans up wet legs and tuck our sopping hair into scratchy wool hats, and go home where my dad would make us big cups of hot tea with honey and lemon. After my aunt was mugged one Friday night coming out of the Y, we switched to a suburban YWCA and my aunt would take us to Wanamaker’s for some candy after swimming.

My Aunt K taught every single one of her numerous nieces, nephews, and smallfry relations to swim. Some of us took to it like, well, like fish to water. I took courses and swam races and qualified as a lifeguard; I feel as if I have been swimming for my whole life. I am as comfortable – possibly more so – in the water as I am on earth. In the water I feel sleek and strong and confident. Probably because in the water I AM. I can swim for an hour or two at a time. I think I must have been some sort of fish in a former life. Often I have wished for gills (a la Kevin Costner in "Waterworld"). How lovely would that be, to swoop and swim and stroke underwater without having to come up for air? Bliss.

I swam a slow, easy crawl, out to the float and past the markers. I felt my body move easily through the water. I was a fish, a whale, a creature that belonged in water. There was perfect sympathy between me and the lake…It was wonderful and terrible. I had never swum so well, I could not bear to stop. Life gives few moments of such ease…I was not going to stop. My happiness, for the moment, was boundless. I thought of Mr. Jacobowitz – I pretended he was swimming next to me like a big, friendly seal. I savored the silver taste of lake water in my mouth and swam, arm over arm, to the destination before me.
Geraldine Coleshares, in Goodbye Without Leaving - Laurie Colwin

At summer camp, we would get up at 5am to swim some mornings. (If you could churn out a half mile or a mile, you earned a badge and some serious street cred.) Often we were allowed to swim after evening vespers, too. This in addition to any lessons we had in the morning, and afternoon free swim. Sometimes, instead of the pool, we would take out the canoes and jump in the creek.

I swim outside, in the outdoor city pool or friends' pools. Four hundred miles inland, I yearn for the ocean, and when I am near it, I can't bear to not be IN it. I love swimming at the gym, where the pool is surrounded by windows, when it’s cold and snowy outside but warm and steamy inside.

When I am stressed or sad or angry or depressed or whatever, I get in the pool. I usually swim lap upon lap, front crawl, backstroke, breaststroke. I kickboard. I float. I dive. Chlorine cures most ills (including my yearly winter sinus infections). I emerge from the water cleansed, spent, and totally calm. Usually pretty happy, too.

But when the sun cuts through the atrium and the steam rises up from the pool, the water takes on a bright, edgy haze and I lose myself. I watch my shadow crawl across the tiles below and don’t feel the pain of doing as many as 50 sets although all the other Dolphins bitterly complain. All I feel is the sweet shuddering relief with each breath I draw and the relentless silence of my mind. I don’t mention these bouts of timeless love of the infinite universe to anyone…
Pip, in Swimming, Nicola Keegan

Nicola Keegan’s Swimming is a disjointed book – it examines a teenaged life through the lens of a swimming pool – there’s a lot left unexplored and unsaid, and Pip Ash is not an endearing character. But I respect her toughness, and I empathize with her love of swimming, and the water. She was born to be in water. It is the only place where some things make any sense at all.

After all, we spend the first nine months of our lives swimming round in a warm little amniotic paddling pool. I guess some of us never really let go.
"Wet," from Passion and Affect - Laurie Colwin


KPB said...

So we truly are sisters. I can swim laps for seemingly forever. I am not fast (my friend K and I have an ongoing joke about how she can thrash me in the pool while I will thrash her on the track) The chlorine, the constancy of the black line. I too feel sleek, strong and confident in the water.

Suse said...

I have just read 'Swimming' by Enza Gandolfo, who is an academic where I work (hi Enza, if you ever google yourself and find this comment). She has a similar relationship with the water.

On the same note, do you read Fifi's blog? She writes about swimming in the sea (in nearly every post) like no other.

Major Bedhead said...

I love swimming. I miss it. I had to give up my Y membership last year because they upped the fees and if I ever find a full-time job, that's going to be one of the first things I do. I am a klutz on dry land but in the water, I feel supple and graceful.

Caterina said...

Being that I'm a water sign (Cancer), I may not be a great swimmer, but I love how it soothes.

My first child was born early due to low fluids. Wonder what that might mean :P

Bob Curry said...

Bob Curry said...

Check this out: