Slice of Life is sponsored every Tuesday by Two Writing Teachers
My students are currently in a personal narrative unit. Last week we worked on rough drafts, this week they are polishing those up to become their final drafts. As always, I wrote along side them. I told my students to pay attention to the story that was begging to be told. I knew what mine was - swimming.
After being on swim team for years, and swimming off and on since the early 90s, I have found regular swimming once again. Once or twice a week - sometimes more - I head to the nearby town and go to the Y. I love the Y. I love the whiteboard with a positive message before the locker room. I love the people that work at the front desk. I love the older ladies that swim and tell me that I'm doing a good job. I love the college swimmers that I shared a lane with Sunday. My dearest wish is that there was a Y in my town, but there isn't, so I drive the 20+ miles and head there to unwind.
At any rate, my personal narrative about swimming was the story asking to be told. Here it is, a slice of my life. I can't wait to read my students stories this week.
I slammed the locker shut, spinning the combination before walking away. My feet made a slapping noise against the floor as I hit the puddles left by swimmers from earlier in the day. It looked like an afternoon rain storm had moved through the locker room. Taking a deep breath, I pushed through the door and walked on to the pool deck.
I started swimming at an early age. At first, I hated putting my head under water. It made my eyes hurt. My swim instructor tried to be tricky and would ask me to pick up rings off the bottom of the pool, necessitating me to put my head other. I would have none of that, and instead would grasp the rings with my toes, bring it to my hand, and avoid the dreaded dunk of my head. One day, though, I finally did it. I remember putting my head under, looking around, and wondering why I had a made a big deal about this for such a long time. I became a swimmer and never looked back.
In grade school and high school, I swam. Swim team was where everything else melted away. No one could bother me in a pool. Noise evaporated. Problems disappeared. I would pull myself up and down the lanes, lap after lap, and find my true self in the water.
Coming back to the pool deck, I scanned the lanes. The Y was busy today. The afternoon light was slanting through the windows, shining down on the eight lane lap pool. I quickly jumped into lane four, asking the older man standing in it if he wanted to split the lane.
“You okay with taking the right, I’ll take the left?” he asked.
I nodded and pulled my pink goggles over my eyes. Taking a deep breath, I dropped below the water, my legs pushing off against the wall. Woosh. Bubbles shot by me as my arms reached out. I surfaced and then began to pull through the water, arms slicing through like a knife.
The rhythm soothed my brain. As the number of laps racked up, stress left my body. In the pool I wasn’t forty-two, mother of two, teacher to many. In the pool I was my true self, the person I remembered from thirty years ago. Here I was home. I was doing this just for me.
Every five laps, I’d take a break and look at my time. I exhaled in frustration. I had began swimming again in July. Then it took me an hour to swim 20 laps. Now I was down to just under thirty minutes, but it still felt slow. Where was the speed from years ago? How long until I felt like I was getting it?
My lane partner came to a stop next to me. He must be around my parents age, I thought. His grey hair was plastered to his head. He rose up out of the water and grinned at me, “Did I win?”
I laughed and said, “Absolutely!”
“You bet I did,” he replied. “Any day I am out here, doing the work, I consider it a win.” With that, he pushed off and kept swimming.
I paused, letting his words sink in. I was out here doing the work. That should be enough. My swim partner was right, I was being ridiculous.
Pulling my goggles back on, I glanced to my right. Lanes five through eight were taken up with the Heat swim team. I watched the kids race up and down the lanes, high fiving their friends, slipping back underwater with ease. I miss those days, but realized with a smile that I am grateful to be exactly where I am. I love my life and am deeply grateful to have reconnected with this sport I love.
With a deep breath I dropped back underwater, pushing off from the walls, and began again.