The air by the pool was hotter than usual, and its stillness only amplified the heat. I stuck my feet into the cool water and knotted the hair about which I am so vain into a casual braid. By some miracle the mass of hair fit into the bright pink swim cap that doesn’t match my bathing suit. I hopped in.
I took a few deep breaths and tried to clear my head. Realizing head-clearing was futile I put on my goggles, completing my transformation into anonymous swimmer. With decisive speed I submerged myself and pushed off the wall.
My swimming lessons began early. According to my mother, when I was three I graduated to Polliwog status in my swim class and promptly burst into tears, declaring “I don’t want to be a polliwog! I want to be a little girl!” I swam through middle school, not picking up again until I trained for a triathlon two years ago. I had a best friend as a swim coach, and knew my body well enough to learn to swim efficiently and well. The swim was the strongest leg of my triathlon, and I’ve been swimming ever since.
When I swim I am hidden. Most of the work happens underwater, so the men who I know sit and watch the swimmers from the whirlpool can’t see the strength of each stroke beneath the surface. The face I have spent so many years scrutinizing, that has my entire life written across it, only flashes into the light two or three times a lap. I propel myself forward, pull by diligent pull, legs chopping through mindlessly, then an acrobatic twist, then a powerful push off the wall.
And all the time the voice is telling me this is who you are. You are not the auditions that didn’t go how you wanted or the frustrations at work or the million other things you can’t get right. Reality, if only for that moment, is just the surreal propulsion of a body out of its element, the weightlessness and power, and the relentless sweep of my arms through the water.