I have a love-hate relationship with pools. I love the idea of pools, just not the reality . . . or, rather, the reality of having to deal with my hair après swim, which is either to scrunch it, in which case I look like the sort of woman who kidnaps children from shopping malls, or blow-drying it, in which case I am forced to stare at myself in a mirror far longer than is advisable given my advanced years. Also blow drying makes my hair look like a ball of tumbleweed has landed on my head.
As a child I loved pools. When we lived in El Paso, Texas my father allegedly heaved me into the deep end at the age of four in the hopes that my survival instinct would kick start my learning to swim. Or maybe he just wanted me dead. I can only assume that my little brother Peter witnessed this terrifying spectacle; for many years not only would he not venture into the water without an inter-tube, but he also insisted on hanging onto the side of the pool — measures I would describe as an abundance of caution.
When I went to graduate school in Toronto, I began swimming 24 lengths in an Olympic size pool every Saturday to compliment my weekday aerobics classes. I did this in units of 4: the first length was a crawl, the second a backstroke, the third a side stroke and the fourth a breast stroke. I was certifiably crazy at this time — way too much time spent with Stylite Saints and various other early Christian weirdos — so naturally I became rather OCD about the whole enterprise, forcing myself to start all over again if I forgot at what lap I was at. One morning I arrived at the Benson Building on the U. of T. campus to find that the pool’s heater had accidentally been left on overnight. The Powers that Were would not allow me to actually swim in the pool despite my entreaties, but they did let me get in for a moment. It was strangely disconcerting, like being in a vast warm bath poured exclusively for me. Grandiose delusions naturally ensued. It was during that same period that I developed a compulsion about being the first person in the pool, which meant that I absolutely to be there when they opened the door or unravel. There was something magical about being the first person to break the surface of the water, to slide into an hitherto inviolate realm aquatic. It was, in retrospect, a strange conceit, one of many.
Later, when we were in Cambridge, MA, I swam my 24 lengths 5 days a week in the old Harvard pool. In those days, there were no pregnant swimming suits, at least in my price range, so, when I was expecting my daughter Sabrina, I asked my mother, a consummate seamstress, to make me one. She did, out of bright red polyester. When I jumped into the pool, it inflated. I resembled nothing so much as a giant tomato roiling down the lanes.
After Harvard, I did not get in a pool for a long time. Four years of relentless swimming had taken the bloom off chlorine. But this did not stop me from having a dream which recurs to this day, in which I obtain, by means highly dubious, the key to a fabulous private indoor swimming pool — very luxurious and very Arte Deco and one I have absolutely no business being in; indeed, should I be discovered, things will likely not go well for me. Regardless of the danger, I sneak in when no one is looking, dive into its crystalline waters with the most delicious sense of possibly getting away with something huge – that is, unless I am caught — and start swimming laps — first a crawl, second a backstroke, third a sidestroke, and fourth a breast stroke.
And, please, Gentle Readers, do not write to tell me what that means. I don’t want to know.