It was about ten years ago. I must have been twenty five.
I entered the indoor pool area from the men’s locker room. It was a weekday night in the middle of winter, the end of a long day. My line of work at the time was financial analysis. The constraints this line placed on my vision and movement tended to undermine my sense of possessing a physical presence in the world. That particular day I had barely strayed from the lonely cubicle, and had not exchanged words with anyone or listened to public radio. It had been nothing but computer and fluorescent brightness for sight, keyboard tapping and self-breathing for sound. My existence had dwindled over the course of the day, so that I endured merely as cinematic sight that night - a filmic reality in which dialogue played no part.
I had gone to the pool to break the spell and to get a bit of exercise. A few winters before I had been in tremendous shape, running and lifting and swimming my way quite vibrantly through the entire season. But recently I had fallen off, and it had been several months since I had enjoyed a calming cardiovascular swim through indoor pool water.
The change to swimsuit and the shower had chilled me awake. Not having been swimming recently, and given my winter wardrobe, I wasn’t used to so much of my skin being exposed to non-apartment air. The shower was warm, but stepping out from under it was stepping wet through a cold draft. I awoke for the first time that day. My body and vision found the locker room shivery bright white. I quickly crossed the shower and grasped the slippery metal handle of the door to the pool. I opened the door and entered the indoor pool area.
This new space was also chilly. The humid air was cool, but I could discern that the water was warm despite my being several meters away from it. The visual data remained surprisingly distinct, given the steam that rose off the pool and up to the ceiling. The water was vivid watercolor blue, whatever that color is. The walls were concrete, with square black windows. The artificial brightness and darkened windows felt like junior high school open house - it reminded me of classrooms transformed from daytime windows and afternoon desks to nighttime windows and the realization that school rooms and spaces remained regardless of time of day. I looked but couldn’t see outside.
So my vision rebounded back to the social space. A group of non-descript young adults were making themselves conspicuous in the hot tub; making noise and fooling around. An inconspicuous female life guard remained non-descript and motionless sitting beneath a white towel. A couple of kids were disturbing the stillness of the shallow end. A few older people were sitting or standing or something somewhere.
And a potential girl, possibly right in age, sat with her feet dipped in at the edge of the pool.
She was a good looking girl in a black bathing suit sitting with her back to me. She was at the end of the pool nearest to where I had entered, and was dipping her pale slender feet with painted toe-nails in and out of the water. I noticed that she was sitting at the end of a lap lane - and not the end at which you were supposed to enter or exit. She was sitting in a spot you never saw people sitting in at that pool. She had dark hair to match her dark bathing suit, and nice white skin. I could tell without seeing it that she would have an attractive face. She had taken me by surprise. I never found girls like her in that indoor pool area, and when I did, they never were sitting at the end of a lap lane.
I crossed behind her, and began wet barefoot padding my way across the cold concrete floor to the other end. My sense of the warmth of the water and the chilly bareness of my skin made me want to hurry to get into the pool. Now that my back was to the girl and she was facing me, I was sure that I had become the scrutinized object. But I made sure to look as if I was not in a hurry. The moment could linger. I was excited that the evening of this uneventful day had become an event, for I knew even then that something would happen. I reached the other end, and turned around.
There were three lap lanes at the left hand side of the pool. There were no swimmers in any of the lanes. Small rubber cones marked the lanes in order from left to right: slow, medium, fast. The girl sat at the end of the lane on the far right. She was staring straight at me with no noticeable expression on her face. She was indeed attractive, almost annoyingly attractive - it was so apparent that she must have realized it. She had dark eyes to match her hair and swimsuit. I stared right back at her for just long enough, and then looked back down again at my options. In the past I had always selected the medium lane, provided it was free. This time, however, I took a step to the right and, understanding the finality of the
decision, slid efficiently into the far right lane.
The water, warm for swimming, was initially cold on my skin, but I didn’t let on. It covered all the sections in rapid succession: the difficult midsection, the sensitive abdomen, lastly the head. I submerged, away from air and social space. Fully underwater, I didn’t feel wet, only warming and weightless. My fresh goggles were not yet fogged, and while the surface view was distorted, the water view was clean and clear. I heard echoes of the space I had vacated, but mostly once again I heard the same self-breathing sound I had been listening to all day, only now it was closer and more intimate. I let myself float under the surface for a few seconds, and then reemerged back to normal sight and sound and public scrutiny.
She was still staring at me. I stared back, and then plunged forward and began swimming directly toward her.
I knew it would be a short half-lap but wanted to enjoy it just the same. I circled my arms around torso and overhead, and watched the bottom of the pool pass slowly underneath. I turned my head for air every other right stroke. Water flowed above below and up and under me, and quietly splashed upon contact. I pretended that I was flying above the bottom of the pool, despite my knowing that this imaginative game was the oldest and most obvious one to play. And what did it matter that it was obvious? The ability to float and fly is the most magical physical wish, and I could never pretend more fully than this. It felt as though I had happened upon something enchanted, a magical activity known and open to nearly all, but all but nearly universally neglected. I enjoyed the physical sensation of non-corporeality. In the time it took to swim the half-lap I forgot about the girl.
I turned hand over head, and then directly before me arrived two pale slender feet with painted toenails, resting underwater against the end of the lap lane. I halted my swimming and floated for a moment or two in front of the feet. I watched as she curled and uncurled her toes in a relaxed manner. I reached for the side of the pool at the left of her pale legs, and pulled my head out of the water. I moved my goggles from my eyes to the top of my head.
She was looking down at me with her dark eyes, which now appeared to have a mocking expression in them. She smiled her small white teeth, and waited for whether I had anything to say. I hadn’t thought of what to say, so I began:
“Did you tire halfway through a lap? Did you stop here to rest?”
“Yes, I could only manage half a lap. I’m not a very good swimmer.”
She shifted from side to side, and I kicked my legs in the water beneath me. I wiped my eyes.
“Well, you can’t be a worse swimmer than I am, and I’m not going to rest here all evening. Eventually I’ll turn around and swim back to the other side. You’ve got to test your limits.”
“But what if you drown? There’s no point in testing your limits if you end up drowning.”
“I don’t worry about that. If I get out of the pool I’ll end up out of the pool. If I drown, somebody will eventually pull me out of the pool, and I’ll end up out of the pool. It’s the same either way.”
I deadpanned. She rejoined:
“But I’m not out of the pool. I’m in the pool.”
“No you’re not, you’re out of the pool. Just dipping your feet in doesn’t count as being in the pool.”
“Why not? I’m foot swimming.”
She rippled her right foot through the water. I waited to see if she would do it again, but she didn’t. She was waiting for a response.
“Your foot isn’t swimming. For your foot to be swimming it would need to be providing the force that is causing it to move it through the water. It is your leg that is providing the force that causes it to move through the water. And your leg is out of the water. So your foot is not swimming, it is merely being dragged through the water.”
“Well, you don’t have to be swimming to be in the pool. Someone standing or floating in the pool is still considered in the pool.”
“Yes, but we aren’t discussing whether or not your foot is in the pool. We are discussing whether or not you are in the pool. And only a part of you is in the pool. The remainder of you is outside the pool.”
“That doesn’t prove anything. Only a part of you is in the pool. Another part of you, your head, is out of the pool.”
She was clever in the way that girls, while flirting, always somehow manage to be clever. I continued:
“Yes, but the majority of me is in the pool.”
“That doesn’t prove anything either. If a man who was seven feet tall was standing in the three foot section, you’d still say that he was in the pool, even though the majority of him would not be underwater.”
“I guess that’s true," I said, to lose the battle to win the war. I reflected a moment and considered my options. I said, “I think I can make it back to the other side now without drowning," and turned and began swimming away.
I did not forget her this time as I made my water flight back to the opposite side. I knew I had to do it if I didn’t want to
regret missing out on this event. I reached the opposite side, and headed back toward the girl. Once again I was by her legs and feet.
“I’ve thought it over, and it is possible for you to be in the pool as far as you are concerned, and out of the pool as far as I am concerned. Because for you in the pool means a person having some part of him or herself in the pool. Whereas for me, in the pool means that a person’s center is within the perimeter of the surface of the water, and that person’s entire body is being supported either by the buoyancy of the water, by the bottom of the pool, or by some combination of the two. There’s no real metaphysical disagreement - we conflict only in our use of the English language.”
“I think you are spending too much time thinking about it. Besides, I don’t know what metaphysical means.”
She smiled down at me. The time had come. I ventured:
“Now that you know what a great conversationalist I am, would you like to go out sometime? We could go to a movie where we wouldn’t have to talk if we didn’t want to?”
She continued to smile and turned her head to the side as though considering. She waited a few seconds, and then asked:
“Can I think about that for a few minutes before I answer you?”
“Sure, I’m just going to be swimming laps for a while.”
She pulled her feet out of the water. I watched as she walked to a corner of the pool area and joined the young adults goofing around in the hot tub. They knew her and had been watching us, despite our being out of ear-shot. I turned away and began swimming laps.
I found it odd that she wanted to take some time to consider going out with me. Then I realized that I had neither asked for her name nor offered mine. That probably was some kind of faux pas. But it really shouldn’t matter. My name would have to be something extraordinarily odd for it to affect her decision, and she already knew her own name, so what did it matter? And the entire interaction leading up to the question was over and done with now. I couldn’t change anything. It was as it inevitably was going to be. Her answer would be whatever it inevitably was going to be. The day was playing out just as it must for when I would recollect the event ten years later. I swam satisfied.
So I swam and waited. I thought of the girl and imagined flying. I thought of work and wondered about water. My hands cupped and my arms revolved, my legs kicked and I even began to be a bit out of breath. I was warm and my face only felt wet whenever it emerged to gasp at some air.
I swam and waited. But the girl was taking a good deal of time to make up her mind. I thought that this probably wasn’t a good sign. We had only spoken for a minute or two. She would forget what I was like very quickly, and then what would her motivation be for accepting? I myself was already forgetting what she was like. I knew she was attractive, and so I would be happy if she did accept, but my mental image of her was already fading. And my legs were getting tired. I hadn’t been swimming in such a long time and I wasn’t used to it. I worried about my calves.
I sometimes got calf cramps when I went swimming, if I hadn’t been swimming in a while. I felt a twinge in my right calf, and would have called it a day if I hadn’t been waiting for the girl.
I thought about getting out of the pool. I never was one for waiting on someone to decide whether or not they liked me. Besides, it dawned on me that my part in the scene had already come and gone. My active role in the interaction was over, and now it was entirely up to her to determine how the rest of the scene would play out. And I wasn’t interested in existing merely to provide her with that opportunity. If I didn’t have a contribution to make, I wanted no part of it. I decided to get out of the pool, be bold, and walk right up to her group to ask for an answer. As I drew near the edge of the pool where she had been sitting, I saw her walking over.
She stood by the edge of the pool and waited. I gave a few final kicks to push myself over. But the last kick proved too strong. My right calf broke into a painful spasm and tightened - the kind of calf cramp that sometimes wakes me up in the middle of the night and causes me to push my head deep in the pillow and beat the mattress with my fists. I grabbed the edge of the pool in agony and barely noticed her looking down at me.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t think it’s going to work out.”
I couldn’t answer. I grimaced, grit my teeth, and turned away. My calf hurt like crazy. She misunderstood and a genuinely remorseful expression appeared on her face.
“I’m very sorry … I didn’t mean … I’m sorry.”
I groaned and grasped at the edge of the pool. She looked very despondent, tried to smile sympathetically at me, and then turned and walked toward the women’s locker room. She exited the pool space. My calf loosened and the pain dispersed. A distinct awareness of my situation and surroundings returned.
I continued holding on to the wall for a moment and considered. I thought how I had just been rejected, and that I did not have an upcoming date with an attractive girl, after all. I remembered the look on the girl’s face, and how she had been sincerely distressed that her answer caused me so much pain. I realized that an event had occurred that I would never forget. I looked around and saw that the young adults in the hot tub had gone, that the children in the shallow end were still disturbing the stillness of the water, and that the female life-guard was eyeing me curiously.
I looked back at her, and gave a little laugh. She smiled back, understanding at least some of my situation. I smiled at her, looked away, and then submerged myself underwater. I let myself break into inward laughter as real and boisterous as any I had experienced for a very long time. I silently laughed and laughed and wished I could stay underwater in that moment for much longer than was actually possible. I had played the climactic portion of the scene after all. I ran out of breath, and lifted my head out of the water. I pulled myself out of the pool and walked to the shower and into the rest of that night.
I told a guy at work what had happened. He enjoyed the story, and told me that things like that always seemed to happen to me, and that I should start writing all of them down. I wondered what other things like that had happened to me, and wished that more things like that would happen to me, but didn’t ask what he meant. But I did just finish writing the story down.
That was something that happened! I will now once again solicit emails from readers to help with my next article. I’m interested in hearing about times that you have said or communicated something untrue for absolutely no reason at all. I’d like to know what was communicated, and although it was for no reason, I’d like to know the reason! Send the email to firstname.lastname@example.org. If I receive any emails I’ll write on that topic. If I don’t receive any emails, I’ll just write about whatever I feel like writing about. And you’ll have only yourself to blame. Till then!
Steve LeBlanc lives in Lebanon, N.H., with his wife, son and two cats. His many interests include philosophy, theater, music and writing.
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