During my trip to Albuquerque last week I had one of those experiences where you feel a phase in life has come full circle: all debts are settled, and if I had a bucket list I would check it off using juicy red ink. It all happened last Friday when I went swimming at the Rio Grande Community Pool.
This swim was particularly transformative because once upon a time this pool was my nemesis. The Rio Grande Pool is about 2 blocks away from my mother’s house. This close proximity made it ideal for summertime swim lessons. So, every summer mom would walk us down (me and my two older sisters) for afternoon lessons. On my little five-year-old legs the walk wasn’t so bad, but the bottomless pit developing in my stomach as we approached everyday was torturous. She would walk us in, me, holding desperately to the beach towel in my arms, and sit us down on the concrete steps facing the water. Next, she’d grab the towel from my hands, toss it next to her and begin applying The Sunscreen [music cue: doom doom DOOM]. Now, I’m sure you’ve seen (or experienced) this: the irascible child standing there while hurried mother hands rub the white goo across arms, legs, back, and face. The child squirms and turns her head in passive aggressive ways to avoid the hated stuff, letting out the occasional grunt or whimper to express her displeasure. Mom is careful around the eyes because if any of the goo gets close we won’t have any swim lessons we will just have tears. To be honest, I was happier with tears because at least it kept me out of the water. But, no, mom was wise to my tricks so sunscreen was applied carefully and I was pushed in with the rest of my class [louder music cue: DOOM DOOM DOOM].
The young swim teacher – some teenager from the local swim team – would gather us together, tell us lies about the kind of fun we were about to have, and then “let” each of us jump off the side and into the pool. Down the line, Splash!, Splash!, Splash!, each little duckling would wave arms and try to make the biggest splash. Then it was my turn. I’d wait until the teacher stared at me then I’d turn around, belly pressed to the lip of the pool deck, and slowly slide my legs in, making barely a ripple in the water.
Next, the pennies would come out. Everyone likes money, right? Even 5 years olds, we couldn’t tell you the value of a quarter from a nickel, but we knew money was important. So the teacher would toss 8 pennies, one for each of us, to the bottom of the pool. All we had to do was bend down and grab it. Again, the other kids would happily crouch down and come back up: proud penny in their hand. I watched them and thought, Suckers. Then, stretching my legs out, still maintaining my iron grip on the side, I’d use my toes to grab the nearest coin, thus keeping my face safely out of the water. The teacher (having seen that trick before) would smile and ask if I can grab it with my hand next time. I’d shake my head and say, No. Day after day, for the entire session, that was my response to everything the teacher asked, cajoled, and pleaded me to do: No.
Not surprisingly, when lessons were finished and report cards were handed to parents, I failed every task. As a fairly good student in school, failing was not something I was accustomed to, but in this case I was willing to give it a try. So, the next summer when mom dragged us all down to the pool again, and signed me up for the same class again, I maintained my mantra of No (again), and failed, again! This went on for 4 years. Every day my anxiety would mount as we walked to that god-forsaken drowning hole, and I would shamelessly fail the class. Finally (at age 10) mom signed me up for private swim lessons at a different pool, and after that torture session (which is another story) I graduated – basically they taught me how not to drown, which is slightly less artful than actual “swimming.”
Here’s where the transformation comes in. Nearly 20 years later I woke up one morning and thought, I’d like to conquer swimming. I bought a suit, showed up at the lap swim, and ever since then I’ve been swimming once or twice a week. I really couldn’t tell you how the change happened, it just did. I’ve been swimming regularly for 3 years now; I’ve improved my technique, mastered a few strokes, and am proud to say I can do much more than just “not drown.” In fact, I often have dreams about swimming, weightless and free, and they are beautiful. So last week while visiting my family in Albuquerque I walked over to the Rio Grande Community Pool, paid my $2.50 for the lunchtime lap swim, turned on my waterproof mp3 player, put my face down, and pushed off the side. I did laps for about 40 minutes, got good and out of breath (because of the altitude), chatted with my lane neighbors, and I’ve felt completely satisfied ever since. So there, Rio Grande Community Pool; guess I showed you.