Erin walked out of the cold locker room into the warm air of the public pool
. She took a deep breath of the humid chlorine
scent and smiled. She enjoyed the solitude
of an uncrowded pool and this morning she almost had it to herself. There was only a single lifeguard in the pool with a small class of preschoolers
. Their echoed conversations, mostly laughter, were the only sounds bouncing off the high ceiling
. It was just past 8 on a Saturday and most people were sleeping in.
Out of modesty, Erin had wrapped a towel around her waist, but now placed it on a rail and climbed into the water. 40 laps. That was her twice weekly goal. Fourty with only minimal rest. She stepped into the water slowly then submerged, letting the water cover her completely before she came back to the surface. Then she was off- stroke, pull, and kick. Long strides bourn of years of repetition. Stroke, pull and kick. Her head to one side as her fluid sidestroke sliced through the water. This exercise, this concentration was her weekly stress relief. Focusing on the strokes occupied her mind until her body was so tired it blocked everything else out. It was an exercise she had given up as a young adult, but returned to now, when free time was less a blessing and more of a curse.
Erin remembered when she and Sean had first been married. How they swam at this pool, and at the beach and at every hotel pool they visited.
We need some fresh air exercise he would say to her
with that sneaky wink of his making her blush. He would win their sprints, but she never got tired of the race. Her endurance in all things impressed him. At least that is what he said.
Sean had left her three months ago and was living with his sister in Phoenix. His second heart attack in a year led to some odd kind of life crisis
a Death crisis is more like it, he said as he packed. His mouth set in a grimace and his eyes blank and without emotion.
He left to figure out what to do with his "time left" although there was no indication he had any sort of imminent trauma. When she implied he was looking for an excuse he didn't even flinch.
I don't need an excuse and neither do you.
It was the last thing he said as he walked out the door.
All of his correspondence since had been in letters and were mundane in nature. Bills, meetings and scheduling issues. He ignored all attempts to find out if and or when he was coming home.
Pull, stroke, kick.
Eight laps down and her heart rate zoomed as she leaned her face out of the spray and aimed for the steps at the end of the row. She told herself the first break would be at ten. When she was moving at a good rate she had a rhythm to her strokes. Arms up, shoulders over, arms down, shoulders in. More fluid than a rocking motion, but similar. An observer would have been surprised how awkward she was out of the water. How different she was in this atmosphere.
At ten laps she rested on the edge and took long breaths of air. Mouthfuls. Too wet to perspire, she could still feel her body's temperature rising. Her skin was red and tense. Off to the side she could see several of the kids in the class crouching at the edge of the shallow end. Almost time to jump and she smiled at the faces filled with hope and excitement.
Their only son had been that eager of a swimmer. More than 16 years ago now, he had been the first in the pool and the last to leave. Lips and fingernails became purple, but he never wanted out of the water. Now he was off at school majoring in Finance with a minor in brooding resentment. Eric became angry with the world when a scholarship offer had failed to come through and he was holding onto the grudge with the same determination that used for his life saving courses.
Two minutes under water he boasted at the time.
She thought of that blue face and those deep set eyes and it almost made her smile. Almost.
What he couldn't do, then or now was float. Despite his impressive swimming skills he was never able to float on his own. When he would relax and let his arms and legs go limp his torso pulled him under in seconds. The fact that his mother could do this effortlessly bothered him at first, and then he decided it was a "useless skill" and therefore had no merit.
The last time they all swam together, at a nearby lake, after his high school graduation, she floated next to him in the water as Sean went to go get some sodas.
Eric waited until she closed her eyes and then spoke in a quiet voice.
I will never be able to do that you know. I just can't.
"Its ok," she tried to offer, but he had dived under and away. It had been a brief moment of honesty, but it was gone just as quickly as a high dive.
Maybe it was like that, she thought. Floating. Maybe dealing with stress was that sort of thing. Maybe certain people could deal with it better than others. Not a predisposition exactly, but a predisposed attitude. The expectation that things can be overcome. Maybe it was nothing at all.
She climbed back into the pool and shot out into the lanes of bouys. Stroke, pull, kick. Again. Again. Again.