Swimming Forward

By Simi Montheid (Monte Sereno, CA)

swimming-forward

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.

22 thoughts on “Swimming Forward”

  1. Gives me the chills…

    What a lovely piece! Swimming, and the water, bring all of us closer to ourselves. Reading this put me right back in the pool, where all life’s joys — and sometimes its sorrows — are mirrored in the race to the finish.

  2. Rebecca Wecks

    I miss you!

    This is beautiful – a very honest piece contrasting the different stages of our lives. Having moved back in with my parents, and watching my mother’s slow decline as my daughter experiences her first pregnancy… I get it. Wonderful to read your work again!

  3. Beautiful

    Simi, I loved this piece.
    It’s so emotional and I could really relate to your feelings.
    Regards from Israel
    Maya

  4. Brought me right back to the pool….

    Simi, your story was powerfully evocative of my own days as a swimmer…and the years I spent sitting on the sidelines watching my own kids swim. I have an aging mother too, so I really understood the sandwich generation reference. Bravo!

  5. Barbara Levitt

    Wonderful piece

    Great piece. As a swimmer myself, I recall the joy and the potential for disaster of my former racing days. You do a beautiful job of capturing the inter-generational pulls and tugs of mothers and daughters.

  6. Breathtaking!

    Thanks Simi for your reflections on swimming, being a daughter and a mother all rolled into one. May you find peace in slowing down and may we all find time to learn from our experiences.

  7. Love it!

    I often think why is it that I pour so much energy and anticipation into my kids and grandchildren, so much of my yearning to keep in touch goes to the younger generations… But of course I call and visit my mother and am thankful that she is still “herself” for the most part and that I still have a mother I can be with.

    Thanks for expressing this so beautifully, of course for me it is the inevitable coming of age – I mean closer to 60 than 50 – and looking in the mirror is much less fun than cuddling beautiful grandchildren with their whole young lives ahead of them.

  8. Our mothers…

    Looking at my mother shows me how I’ll probably be in the future. When I do not like what I see, I tell my daughter to be aware that I’ll be like that too and she will have to handle me with care like I do now for my mom.

  9. Great piece Simi.

    Poignant and touching. Really captures how we the sandwich generation feel emotionally in regard to parents, children and grandchildren.

  10. Wonderful!

    Keep your stories coming. They touch my heart and are so relevant to this stage in our lives.

  11. June Radicchi

    Savoring Life

    Every phase has its magic.
    The training is essential.
    The preparation for each event vital.
    The dedication to practice invaluable.
    But sometimes we forget the love of the sport that drew us in the first place.
    I’m glad you remembered, Simi, and are able to savor it once more.

  12. Love It

    I don’t like it, I LOVE IT!!! Great story, kept my interest from beginning to end. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Metzuian!!

    Sheps, not sure whether I liked the swim part or the maternal arrow part more! One my past the other my present. Thanks so much for putting it on paper!!

  14. Thank you all for your great insightful comments. It’s wonderful to know that there is a group of us out there, all swimming through the same sea.

    Hugs,
    Simi

  15. Thanks

    Very insightful and moving. I choked up when I read, “My daughter is having her firsts, my mother her lasts.”

    Thanks so much for sharing with us.

    Jamie J.

  16. Brought tears to my eyes with a smile on my face.

    Your perspective on life is so right on. Seems like our age group is “sandwiched” between two generations. It is so tough to have our mothers in the back of our minds when we are so involved with our own children. You said it so beautifully.

  17. Beautiful

    I love the image of her hair swirling around. It captures all of those tensions – the beauty and youth symbolized by her hair and which should symbolize the “moving forward” direction you speak of, but which actually holds her back. That tension is palpable. Thanks for sharing!

  18. Beatrice Munson

    A beautiful piece!

    I love this one, Sheps. Yayla comes through with all the force of youth and her brave spirit. You are so present with the strength and concern of maturity looking into the future, wondering, hoping, holding your breath. It’s such a physical piece too: the water, the glistening limbs, the fight to the finish; the thunderous applause. Beautiful work, fresh and honest, laced with your love for a young life spreading its wings and your love and concern for your mother.

  19. Firsts and lasts

    Terrific, extremely visual. Since I know your family and the beauty and wisdom of your mom, it helps me see the firsts in my grandchildren, and see the lasts in my parents. I’m realizing, how many special moments they won’t grow up seeing as a new generation starts to bloom. How far can they hold on to life to catch those miracles of our new firsts.

    Thanks Cimmy

  20. Scott Munson

    Loved the story

    Just wanted to say how much I loved this story. The use of the “cap” as a metaphor was just lovely and I didn’t see it coming until the very end when you revealed its meaning. Just lovely work!

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