It was a Wednesday in mid-July and the weather was a brutal 90 degrees with humidity that made the Weather Channel’s “Feels Like” temperature show 5,000 degrees.
Around noon, Francesca texted me, “That’s it. We need to go water-walking tonight.”
It would be our first time joining the blue-hairs for water-walking at the public pool. They say your late 20’s is the time to plan for your future – we were just looking 35 years ahead.
After work, I forged the river that was the atmosphere en route to my car. I rushed home, visions of beautiful, blue, chlorine-filled coolness dancing in my mind. After I put on my swimsuit, I readied my pool-going accessories and ran out of my apartment building. I jumped back into the car and drove to pick up Francesca. We arrived at the public swimming pool, found a parking spot, organized our towels and sunblock, and began the walk to the pool entrance.
That’s when an unexpected wave of panic hit me.
“Whoa.” I said to Francesca as I stopped walking. “I’m dealing with some issues right now.” I felt my stomach contract and my chest tighten. Francesca, who had been complaining about the heat all day, looked at me in a tone that made it clear ten-years of friendship was nothing compared to her need to be immersed in cool, chemically treated water.
“I’m sorry.” I said, swallowing the dense oxygen and trying to regain control of my body’s senses. “It’s been over fifteen years since I’ve been here and there’s a lot of emotional shit I have to deal with, apparently.”
When I was a kid, the pool was awesome. I loved swimming. I felt like I could do anything as long as I was in the swimming pool. I could swim faster, hold my breath longer, and swim deeper than anyone else. The pool was my arena. The other kids had soccer and basketball and football – the pool was mine.
But outside of the water - amongst the rows of sun-bathing teenagers with their judgmental scowls, around the boys I had crushes on who refused to acknowledge my existence, and in the locker rooms where my elementary school nemeses lurked – those places were my hell at the public pool. How I longed for the weekend camping trips my parents would make to Devil’s Lake where I could finally feel safe at a swimming area without fearing the repercussions of being slightly chubbier than my peers.
All of those little hurts from so long ago that I hadn’t even thought about for fifteen years came rushing back to me we walked to the pool’s entrance three weeks ago. To make matters worse I didn’t have my swimming shorts with me. I was going to have to drop my towel and walk to the edge of the pool, bare, cellulite-ridden thighs and all.
“This is ridiculous! I’m an adult now!” I practically shouted it as Francesca glowered at me, sweat beading on her brow. I took a few deep breaths and tried to channel as much positivity as I could muster as we arrived at the entrance. “I can do this.”
I kept my eyes directed at the ground the entire time I walked through the locker room, fearing the ghosts of past tormenters that might jump out at me. We picked a place to set our things and Francesca easily dropped her towel and stood confidently as she waited for me to quit dawdling.
Finally, I took one last deep breath and dropped my towel. We quickly walked to the pool’s edge and slipped into the water.
And oh the relief!
The panic washed away as soon as I got into the pool, just as it always did when I was a kid.
Francesca, finally being cooled, also lightened up as soon as we got into the heavenly water. I’m pretty sure we stood there giggling for five minutes before we actually started walking.
Natalia and Prudence joined us after a few minutes and we all walked. Then we discovered that perhaps we’re just a bit too young to do something like water-walking. We still enjoy splashing and playing a bit too much for the Adult Swim, but perhaps we can fake it well enough on those hot summer days that we’ll be able to go back.
As the time for water-walking came to an end my mood had lightened to the point of giddiness at being with my girlfriends. The water had washed away enough of the ghosts of my childhood pain that I jumped out of the pool and thought:
Fuck it. Let those bitches see my thighs.
I think it’s safe to say that childhood Annie won a little victory that day. That one's for you, kid.