This pool’s been a friend. Bit of a shit friend at times – like when the training pool next door was closed and all the children’s lessons moved over, and there was just one lane for adults wanting to swim and most of those adults wanted to do breaststroke.
(If Dante was writing Inferno now, he’d make one of the circles for swimmers who breaststroke in the “fast” lane. But I digress.)
I was angry when I got into this pool. The arthritis was gnawing deeper on my joints and I couldn’t run anymore. The water felt like a surrender – one I didn’t want to make. And it was a fuss, the changing and the washing the hair out and the chlorine-dried skin.
Time and habit work like waves. Softening away that anger. Re-sculpting muscles. Carving new paths in my brain. Going faster. Lasting longer. This is like an orchestra, the hands, the arms, the legs, the spin, the breath.
I still miss Regents Park, where I ran. Always something to look at – sunlight through the trees, camels over in the zoo. Nothing in this pool but my mind. I fine-tune poems and prose, replay the day’s scenes, despair and hope at my future.
There’s a lot of thinking buried in this pool.
Sharp points of life, too. The evening after a really bad day at work, actually, the worst day ever at work, when I wondered if I was going to be fired. The weeks when my arthritis rendered me almost immobile, and I swam only with my arms, dragging burning hips behind me. When I quit a novel-in-progress I’d bled so much over. Or… when I asked myself if I could swim a Channel relay. No yes no yes no.
I begin training for the relay. Less backstroke, more front crawl. More laps. More men overtaken. No stops. Clocking 3,500 metres on a really good day.
Sometimes I cheated on my pool, visiting the lido instead, deep blue glacial cold. My pool is too hot now.
August. The Channel is conquered.
Our team all wore the same hat for the swims, a stylised snarling tiger face. I wear it like a medal henceforth. I enjoy imagining that the other pool regulars see it and think, oh god it’s the scary one (I think I am quite an aggressive swimmer in there, though I do always say a quick thank you if the person in front pauses at the end of the lane for me to pass).
It gets to my head sometimes. When the legs of a slower person are flailing in front of me, or they’re kicking so hard it’s like swimming through a jacuzzi, an enraged voice proclaims in my head, Do you know who I am? I have swum through the shipping lane in the dark, I have run the gauntlet of jellyfish, I have tested my mettle against the storming waves. You dare block my path?
Sooner or later they all get out of my way. Except the faster ones. There are still faster men and this dismays me. I race them, sometimes (they can probably tell).
A few days ago, a man resting at the end of the lane spoke to me. He’s a regular too, always wearing the same blue hat. He said you’ve improved so much since last year. Then he gave me some advice on improving my kicks. He was kind, and I was grateful.
In this water we are something different to when we’re walking around fully clothed and dry.
I am leaving you, pool. I’m already dreaming of a ten-minute walk from my doorstep to Kitsilano Beach, Vancouver. But I doubt I’ll ever forget you – you’re pressed so deep into my brain, that if I reach old age and I can’t remember where I left anything, I suspect I’ll still know where to find you.
It’s been really good.