back in the water

Diving into the pool I felt a bit like a huge melon that’s been lobbed into the water, imagining a kind of “kerplunk” as my round, ripening stomach broke the glassy plane. I pulled to the surface, swam and kicked at least fifteen hundred yards—a shy mile—until my face was rosy and hot. It felt good. I repeated this five days a week while I was pregnant with Calvin.

Swimming butterfly was the most fun; my bulging belly like some sort of personal floatation device buoying me, helping me skip across the water effortlessly like an albatross floating on a thermal. During backstroke I’d count acoustic tiles thirty feet high, some water-stained tobacco-rust, others painted black. Then breaststroke. I’d push off the wall streamlined, my head tucked between taught arms until I felt my body slow, then scooped the water hard and threw it back to the sides of my thighs, kicking once like a giant frog before gliding up to breathe.

I wondered if my rocking and sloshing put Calvin to sleep. Wondered, too, what inhaling the fine layer of chlorine that seemed to rest just above the water’s surface—like morning fog over a pond—might be doing to my unborn child who never moved very much or very vigorously in my womb.

After Calvin was born I made several attempts at getting back into the pool. But all I could do was cry salty tears into my goggles, ball up into the fetal position at the end of the lane and hope no one noticed. I’d regain my composure enough to launch myself out of the pool, scurry across the deck and drown my sorrows under a strong, hot, loud shower behind a dismal plastic curtain. And though I tried to return on countless occasions, each attempt was a lesson in futility and a reunion with grief; a bitter reminder of the hopes and dreams I’d had for my child—for our family—that had vanished in the blink of an eye at thirty-two weeks.

Recently, I’ve gotten back in again, after what seems easily like a year and a half away from the water and eight years since enjoying anything close to a routine. It feels good. Healthy. Right. For the amount of time most of my body has had to waste away—save my shoulders and arms from lifting Calvin—I feel much better than I thought I would, feel far younger than my forty-eight years.

The other day, after my second time in the pool while taking a shower, I realized I had brought a little inner tube with me—the one that has developed around my middle! It seemed to buoy me some, not unlike my pregnant belly had so many years ago. I laughed to myself as hot water streamed into my eyes and cascaded down my face. Not tears this time, I thought, and I stood there under the spigot with my head down. Warm, thankful, tired, relaxed and—yes—happy.

photo by Michael Kolster

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