Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Swimming Swimming In A Swimming Pool* - Snapshots From Deep Water


Florence said that after Gramma died, she started going to Coney to make things right and do honor to her mother.

Water was not a foreign land on the Lower East Side. Not everybody swam but everybody got wet -  Coney or Pitt Street Pool or, in my aunts' and uncles' days, the East River.

I thought I had Pitt Street Pool conquered until one day the four feet of water wasn't four feet anymore and I found myself flailing.  Either one of the bigger kids or my big sister or a life guard pulled me out. The Educational Alliance day camp pool lessons taught me to float in case that happened again.

The 14th Street YHM-WA had a pool and a teen program. At the age of 13, in a rare fit of acting my age, I badgered Florence for a bikini.  It wasn’t just the money which was always tight; it was also her slow fade into private desires and secret regrets that made it risky to interrupt her.

But there was this boy and I was this girl and somehow I understood a bikini was part of the deal I wanted to have  happen.

She caved and with $20, I headed off to A&S in Brooklyn. I don't remember the color, the style, the stripes, the dots.  All I remember is rushing to the pool, seeing the boy I liked and jumping into the pool to say hello.

No one told me that as I stood in freezing water trying to impress the object of my affection, the top of my bikini had slipped off my adolescent breasts.

Florence sewed the straps tighter but I never wore it again.  I also refused to return to the Y for years and years.  And when I did, this time as an over-sized overall-wearing tax-paying adult, even then, I shook with humiliation.

Soon after, Gramma died and Florence dove into the ocean.  I stayed dry with interruptions here and there at the 100 year old City College pool or the elite NYU pool or some tiny hotel pool or the ocean (but only up to my knees for fear of sharks).

Not sure why, but as Florence began to swim in a haze of NPR and sheets of pee liners, occasionally coming up for air to say she hurt and was unhappy, I signed up - for maybe the fifth time in 25 years - for beginner swimming lessons in a big old indoor pool.  There was even a sauna waiting for me at the end of an hour of breathing water up my nose.

When I told her I was learning to swim, rare delight, passion and determination flooded her face. "Oh. You must."

*a little song we used to sing on the Lower East Side with accompanied hand dancing:

Swimming swimming
In a swimming pool
When it's hot and when it's cold
In a swimming pool
Right stroke
Breast stroke
Fancy diving too
Wouldn't you like to be in a swimming pool?

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