We parents were watching our children’s soccer game. “Your son should smile more,” another mother instructed me. “He’s autistic,” came my deflective response. I hadn’t planned the quick untruth but it made me smile, and later, giggle.
I was ready for a tranquil, late Sunday evening at the pool. I walked in to see pool noodles floating in the water next to discarded kick boards and over full swim diapers. It seemed family time had taken on a life of its own. One toddler teetered at the edge of the pool several times before anyone noticed that he had wandered away. Sisters tore at each other, one wishing to stay and one desperately wishing to leave. While they fought it out, their mother quietly slipped into the hot tub. There were two boy-man lifeguards at the desk doing homework and trying not to notice the shenanigans. I saw that 2 five-year-olds had climbed a step-stool and were gleefully pulling the chains to run both rinse-off showers at full force. I smiled and stepped into one, realizing too late that the water temperature was actually scalding. Both girls scampered along to play and left the water on. I turned them both off and hurried to occupy the only swimming lane in the pool. I managed a distracted 45-minute swim. At one point, while I was doing laps, a very young swimmer made off with my personal kick-board. I am sure she was attracted to the tie-dye pattern. I just-about managed to get her to trade for the dull blue one supplied by the pool company. The hot tub emptied enough to allow me a nice ending. When I stepped into the single bathroom to change, I had to stand on an upside down drain mat and the deep pattern pressed into the souls of my feet. This felt akin to standing full-force on a floor full of hard plastic Lego pieces. I tried to explain this to the boy-man lifeguard but he shrugged and hurried along to close up. I left all of that behind the glass door and the cool evening air was cleansing.
A mother and son entered the pool area. The young adult son seemed non-verbal and avoided eye contact. As I was just thinking – no rest for the weary – Mother went straight to a cabana lounge chair, stretched out flat, and immediately closed her eyes. The boy went straight to the water, carrying a bag. Soon, the boy had his collection in hand and a system. He spent a good deal of time carefully moving a small pile of prized possessions from one side of the pool to another. He walked while doing this and never submerged himself in the water. This occupied him for some time. In one of his crossings, one item fell to the bottom of the pool. He was disturbed as evidenced by an increased frequency in soft moans, which became a cry for help. I looked over and Mother’s eyes remained closed. As I was wondering what to do, a girl was swimming by and noticed the dilemma. I guessed her to be about seven years old. Although she didn’t know this boy and he was different, she took quick personal action, donned her swimming goggles, and dove underwater to fetch the item in question. The boy was immediately calmed and she went about her business as though nothing happened. Another day saved.
John has an old world charm. He and his “wife” are regulars at the pool but I hadn’t seen them all summer. Recently, they joined me in the hot tub. John’s wife began a conversation with an elderly woman she remembered from years ago. I felt very comfortable striking up a conversation with John, since his wife was right there. John said they had been busy swimming in the ocean all summer. When asked what beach they use, he answered that they go to a different one every day.
John talked about the place he was born, in the Pyrenees. I talked about my grandparents’ village in the Alps. John talked about his significant weight loss over recent months. I talked about my need to lose weight. John talked about how his lifelong career as a chef had prepared him to “know better.” I talked about how my degree in nutrition had prepared me to “know better.” John talked about losing his wife of 35 years, the love of his life. I listened. It turns out that the woman accompanying John to the pool each time is his very close friend, not his wife nor his girlfriend.
I suddenly felt awkward in the hot tub. How does one break off and exit after the sharing of such personal life stories. “So long” felt wrong, as did “goodbye.” Instead, I chose to say, “I’m sure I’ll see you again John.”
I always knew there was an outdoor pool where I swim. For the first little while, I did not go to it. One day, when the adult swimming lanes were all occupied inside, I decided to have a look at the outdoor pool. It was a sunny day with a vivid blue sky and plenty of white puffy clouds. The pool was more substantial than I imagined but it did not offer lap lanes. At five feet, the water was plenty deep for a great swim. The pool was mostly empty as most guests outside were there for the sun, not the water.
I entered the cool water and felt immensely happy. Just one other occupant and he didn’t appear to be a lap swimmer. As I took my space and moved back and forth in the water, the other guest stayed close to the edge of the pool. Before long, I noticed his arms moving under the water and in quick fashion, he raised one hand above the surface with the prize in his hand, his bathing suit.
In a split second decision, I looked away quickly and decided not to let this disturb me. The lifeguard was in place close by and after all, the other guest wasn’t actually threatening me. I continued my laps without missing a beat.
Some weeks later, I was alone in the hot tub. I looked up to see this same guest walking towards me to enter the hot tub. What to do? I looked in his direction again and noticed he wore the same brown swimsuit he had held in his hand that day, like a prize. On closer inspection I could see he donned a second, longer green suit beneath the first one. I giggled to myself and assume this had been the case the day I saw him holding the suit in his hand above the water’s surface. I started to wonder if he did this for the “shock value” but realized there are some things in life I will never know with absolute certainty. I did take away a lesson about making assumptions and decided that going forward, seeing is believing.
The pool was empty at 5:00 PM. I quickly took my favorite lane. Mother and her 3 year old Daughter joined me in the pool. Mother had red hair pulled into an elastic, fair, freckled skin, and an overbite. Daughter was more blonde than red, and as cute as Shirley Temple. They were wearing similar color suites, navy and aqua. Mother’s mouth remained twisted into an easy smile.
I looked up and noticed them in the shallow end. The young child was submerged with her head dipped back so that, on tip toes, she could just manage to breath. It’s hard to describe, but it appeared that they were practicing rescue. Each turn, over and over, Mother would inch out a bit further, leaving Daughter to make her way to the pool’s edge. The child worked to stretch her arms and fingers, seeking out the security of the edge. Before long, the young child sputtered as though she inhaled water. Mother’s smile widened. She was pleased. Daughter did not look fearful, more like she accepted it and did not fuss. Daughter had no happy smiles, those belonged to Mother. It seems they are quite practiced at their game.
By now, there were other parents with children in the pool. No one seemed concerned or to notice. I considered going over to the lifeguard’s desk.
“That Mother is nearly drowning her Daughter,” I thought about saying.
But afterall, the lifeguard was within sight of this pair! Right then, I decided.
I must be crazy.
There was a select small crowd at the pool on this fine Sunday morning. I was making laps, at the same time, observing strangers around me. One thin, haggard-looking woman caught my attention. I first noticed two large patches completely covering her shins, like a second set of skin used for healing ulcers. She sat on a lounge chair across from me with her knees bent. Her body was almost as narrow as her bent limbs. She had shoulder length tousled hair. I quickly looked away.
Just a few minutes later, I lifted my gauze in her direction. I was amazed to see a woman of very similar stature, pencil-thin with scarecrow limbs. I saw that she had a state of the art hair cut. She was about 60 and her short boyish cut was imp-like in the front with bangs, long and layered. A waiter was serving her lunch and they were deep in conversation. There was no sign of the first woman I had observed in the very same pool-side lounge chair. The “new” woman had two small, square bandages, one on each shin.