Every Thursday Calvin gets to go swimming at the college pool with the rest of his special ed class and a bunch from the other district schools. I have to say that it is a pretty surreal scene, but one that brings tears to my eyes every time I visit, nonetheless.

Michael and I walked onto the slick tiled pool deck wearing our street shoes afraid we’d be reprimanded. There was Calvin in his little polypropylene “warm belly” and a purplish-blue belted floatie riding up under his armpits. We smiled. Mary, his one-on-one, cradled him closely from behind as he kicked and splashed and flailed. He was immersed in the pleasure of the wet stuff, and getting to chomp on the little green plastic turtle he was clutching didn't hurt.

Sharing the shallow end were several other children bobbing vertically supported by floats. There was cute George, who has seizures too—and whose parents keep his head shaved nearly bald—silently sculling around with a look I wasn't sure was a sneer or a smile. Then sweet Olivia, who has Down syndrome, happily cackling and grumbling in her usual gravely voice that sounds something like a cartoon bear or a monster. Upon seeing Calvin she paddled her skinny body his direction, the tips of her pixie cut dipping in the water forming slippery brown ropes. Another girl who reminds me of Woodstock, (the yellow bird from the comic strip Peanuts,) jiggled toward Calvin as well, performing loops around him that could be traced with little hyphens like you see on greeting cards behind bees and butterflies.

A few lanes over waded a rotund teenage girl, her pony-tailed head and thick, rounded shoulders peaking just above the water like an island. She slowly dream-walked her way from one end of the pool to the other incessantly shouting, “no ... no ... no,” each time pointing a crooked finger at her chaperone. Her intermittent cries echoed eerily against the hard walls like some squawking bird in a cave.

In the corner of the pool deck on a flight of cold gray cement stairs sat a teenage boy with a mass of dark wavy locks. Semi-reclined on the awkward surface he finger-walked the tile walls before focusing on its shiny aluminum railing. He tapped its silver length with a knuckle, hugging his ear to it seemingly enjoying its vibration or tone, then went back to counting the tiles again. I wondered if Calvin will be doing the exact same thing in eight or nine years. No reason to think he won't.

It was a lot for me to take in—this rich, expansive scene of unusual kids, strange sounds, peculiar visuals—though not unsettling as it might be for some. I crouched poolside watching Calvin enjoy the water, then sputter and struggle against his physical therapist's gentle but firm clamp on his reclined forehead. I understood his spirited attempt at getting upright to let a burp out, having drank so much pool water.

As I watched the other kids I wondered what life was like for them at home. What were their parents like? Do they have siblings? Do they have friends? Calvin doesn't ... not really. Thinking about them kind of made me sad, contemplating their silent worlds, like some eerie, murky underwater realm that everyone wants—but no one really has—access to. And then I turned back to Calvin who, beginning to shiver, was still frolicking in the pool like he does in the bath every night, screeching with delight. Even if Calvin is in his own world, I thought, at least it's one that he seems to get a kick and a splash out of.

photo by Michael Kolster

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