Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Pool

This evening I made a decision.

I took a dip in the pool.

I jumped straight in, imitating childhood when I was brave and always jumped straight in -- the goal as a youth was to COMMIT to the pool and accept it and its temperature as they came.

Tonight when I plunged into the deep end, there was no shock. Just perfect warmth, a little cooler than a shower, but requiring absolutely no physical or mental adjustment in terms of Fahrenheit, just the switch from air to liquid.

I was, essentially, instantly happy after joining with the chlorine.

Worries melted. Blase and depression of the day forgiven.

I treaded water and looked at the palm trees against the indigo sky, just after sunset, and felt praiseful. Later I would think how this landscape, in childhood, would only represent a vacation, but now it's my present (in both senses of the word). Not that life is nearly as romantic in California as it might seem, and it is almost that fact exactly that makes it all the more surreal that I live among palm trees -- because most of the time I don't even notice them, the way I wouldn't take particular notice of a manicured lawn or squirrels in my native Midwest.

After my moment of grateful adulthood, I became a child.

In nine feet of water, I decided I could go to the bottom of the pool and touch my feet to the painted cement. That was such a thrill when I was nine, and in pondering it it became a thrill once again.

I was about to sink and I got nervous, wondering if I could hold my breath all the way to the bottom, then back to the top. I sprung my fingertips off the edge of the pool and moved about a foot forward, then backed against the wall again, collecting the boldness I would need for this feat.

I actually laughed out loud at myself for how ridiculous I was being, afraid to sink to nine feet below, knowing full well that I could press my toes against the bottom to get myself more quickly to the surface, that I have a healthy set of lungs that withstand regular cardio, and that I didn't have to go all the way to the bottom anyway.

I reveled in the silliness of it all, and watched the shadows on my pale legs in the water before daring again to touch the bottom.

On my first attempt I didn't make it.

Then I made it, and did it again and again.

I told myself, out loud, "I must do handstands," and swam with purpose to the not-so-deep end.

I practiced my craft, knowing full well that my butt was sticking out like a shelf, not in line with my torso or in a way that would keep me upright without water to support me.

In between poorly executed stands, I came forward, face pressing into my hair, a curtain before me.

I dipped my head under the water over and over, coming back up with forehead facing up, hair grouping smoothly together.

I remembered watching older girls do that, how I thought they were so pretty and sophisticated. The younger me usually had bangs, but in a pool I felt like an equal to the pubescent girls, no bangs, confident gossip coming off their lips. The pool erased my bangs. When I tipped my head back, they melded into the rest of my hair, at least until I got out and then all of it became a wild, half frizzed and dry, half damp tangle. Sometimes green, as blondes who went to summer camp will understand.

I thought about how I used to feel older, maybe even sexy (if it was possible to feel sexy before that word was in my vocabulary) when my hair would be bangless and wet. Like a different version of myself. I bet I just looked the way I actually looked, the way I was supposed to look, like a little girl in the pool.

I didn't have any neon plastic diving rings to let sink and then go in search of this evening, nor any coins to toss in. I thought about tossing in my keys, but decided I could skip an adolescent activity tonight in the name of getting back into my apartment. (Am I making it up that my dad used to let us dive for his keys in the water, or were my parents actually that trusting of our aquatic retrieval skills?)

As a substitute I simply sank to the bottom a few more times, did 15 handstands, until the pressure in my ears started to bug me and I called it quits.

I even had a tea party, pouring tea for my imaginary friend, and in another (held) breath buttering toast before coming to the surface.

I was by myself in the water for all this, until another tenant joined me. He entered the pool by the stairs, and my childhood judgment was right back in place, thinking him an amateur for cautiously stepping through the shallow end.

I chided him from across the way. "You think it's cold?" I laughed.

He made his way to the deep end and chorused about how wonderful the water was, like bath water. I told him that's the beauty of living in a place that's really hot.

"Ahh, I love the Valley, I love the heat," he agreed.

This man and I could have a lovely future together. I could forego any worry about our home dipping below 70 degrees, sending me in search of a sweatshirt.

He floated on his back, I treaded water. We made small talk. Pool talk.

When he headed to the 5 foot region I thought, "If this man starts doing handstands, I must marry him."

Well we aren't engaged, but we did exchange names. (He didn't do any handstands that I noticed, but I'm trying to be open).

My body was calm when I got out of the water, my spirit happy, wrapped in my psychedelic peace sign towel. Muscles in that delicious mix of relaxed tension. The resistance of the water offers tremendous aerobic opportunity without battering our sensitive tissues and tendons. Swimming laps only theoretically appeals to the athlete in me, but I can tread water for long bouts, lost in a trance.

The roots of my hair are mostly dry now, the ends dreadlocked. I'm letting it air dry, not urging this experience to end.

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