by Joe Oakes
Portland area USMS Swimmer (Unattached)
Sylvia and I will be celebrating our 59th wedding anniversary later this year, and I do not want to tell her about her competition for my affections. I simply do not know what to do.
It all started about two years ago when I had a bad fall and injured my spine. After surgery I got back into the swimming pool as soon as I was able. Not that I actually like swimming in a pool, but it beats not swimming at all and becoming dehydrated. But because of the back injury I have been unable to kick off the wall every 25 yards: it hurts. So I devised a simple tether arrangement so I can swim in place: at one end a bungee cord was tied to the ladder in the deep end of the pool, the other hooked to the waist belt that I ‘borrowed’ (mea cupla) from a bathrobe on a cruise ship. That way I can swim thousands of yards (I actually count strokes) without having to kick off a wall. Crawl, breast and backstroke, mind you.
Boring? You bet. But what option do I have in the winter in Portland, Oregon? So I go to the deep end, put on my goggles, loop the belt through one end of the bungee, tie it around my waist, tie the other end of the bungee to the ladder, drop into the water and swim in place, like a treadmill. I have been doing that five or six days a week for several months, usually an hour or so at a clip.
And I have started having these fantasies. When you are swimming in place that much, you can develop a personal relationship with … the pool tiles. I have gotten to know every frigging tile in that corner of the pool, and one of them quite intimately. We are very close. As I swim along at my moderate pace, breathing on my right side, there she is to my right, always, just inches from my face. Let me describe her to you. She is five inches tall and five inches wide, just above the water line, like hundreds of other tiles. Her only distinguishing features are a blue number ‘9’ followed by the letters ‘FT’. A sane person would merely read this as telling that the water is nine feet deep at this point, but to me, she, ‘9 FT’, is very personal. I use the feminine pronoun because that is how I have gotten to feel about her. She watches every stroke that I take, more so than any coach I have ever had. She never leaves my side for an instant.
And she speaks to me in her own way. When I am slacking off, with a weak stroke, she somehow jumps ahead of me, a gentle reminder that I must pick up the pace. And when I am putting in significant effort, there she is, watching me a foot or so behind, tacitly voicing her approval. If I am getting tired, there she is to let me know that it is time for a rest, or maybe I should end today’s workout. There is never a word of reproach, nor, for that matter, praise or approval. Someday, if and when I return to swimming full laps, or return to swimming in the sea, I think that I will miss her. But in the meantime, there she is, ‘9 FT’, always there, always watching me, always monitoring my progress.
The problem for me is this: How do I tell Sylvia about her? Maybe I won’t. It isn’t something that I sought out. I am hoping that when the weather warms up I will move outside, either to an outdoor pool or maybe to the Columbia River, maybe even the coast. But there will always be a heaviness deep inside me, both because of the guilt I am carrying and because I will really miss ‘9 FT’. Life is never easy.