By Simi Montheid (Monte Sereno, CA)
She was swimming hard. All the weeks of hard work, the early morning practices, the late afternoon practices, the unshaven legs, the dry land drills, had been for this moment. She stood on the blocks – tense — remembering not to fidget — that could result in a DQ. Her nerves were taut – raw. Her newly shorn legs and arms glistened, the air around her not even settling on their smooth surfaces, primed, ready, set, the whistle, go. Ten girls, like ten dolphins at Seaworld, all polished and primed, arc up and over the beckoning blue stillness. Silence, then the deafening splash, a tidal roar, a breathtaking wave of youth and strength breaking through the surface.
When she swims, my heart races, my breathing stops, I lose touch with the world around me. I immerse with her into that weird blue-gray reality.
Her cap comes off, her bun comes undone and her long heavy hair chokes her, pulls her back, slows her down. I hear the hush as her friends stare, their eyes wide. They’re all there to cheer her on, their long-distance swimmer. She plows through the water, fighting the thick black tresses that slither around her neck. Her vision blurs as she stares into the blackness of her hair when she presses herself upside-down, flipped over for her turns. And yet, she pulls forward, fighting the water, pulling her head up and gasping for air, pushing on and on until, finally, at last, the wall, the last touch, allows her to stop.
Thunderous applause from her teammates as she emerges from the pool. That boy, that special boy, waves the poster with her name on it, the one he worked on the night before, the one he carried to the edge of the pool and that she never saw until now.
She’ll get over it. There will be other swim meets, some good, some not so good. This one will be archived, a story, “The worst thing that happened to me” kind of thing. She’s having her firsts, and the pain is exquisite.
My mother is turning eighty-five. I talk to her all the time and her strength still comes across the phone line. But there is a new weariness in her tone, she brightens when the talk turns to gossip, but the bite is less sharp, the eye less harsh. When I repeat stories I don’t know if I’m repeating them because she didn’t hear them the first time I told them to her, or if she’s forgotten that I’ve already told them to her. I get tired of raising my voice in conversation, and I don’t know if my voice is raised out of consideration or frustration. Does it make a difference? No matter what, it’s not a normal way to talk. All the hopes, the dreams, the concerns that I have for my daughter — that utter immersion of myself into her triumphs and defeats, where is that concern for my mother? I feel like I’m part of an arrow pointing in one direction only, gaining momentum towards the pointed edge, drawing away from my source. Is this evolution? Can we only look forward with excitement and backward in frustration? Or is it just my own small mean-spiritedness?
My daughter is having her firsts, my mother her lasts. And I can only keep going in one direction.
My cap is falling off. I must press ahead towards the wall to finish my race. But everything is pulling at me to slow down. The exuberance to finish is not appealing anymore. I need to just savor the swim.