Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A la recherche du temps perdu

Someone once said that of all the senses, smell was the most entwined with memory. I think it was Proust, but that might just be an image of madelaines and sadness. A la recherche du temps perdu. I smell like chlorine now, and it's bringing back all sorts of memories, good and bad, all of them lost now and covered in a fine layer of dust. I have been avoiding them, but the smell brings them back, whether I would or no.

It's that smell, and the feeling of the tight, disinfected and dried skin on my face, the feathery quality my hair takes on, and the rubbery tinge to my legs as they get used to walking on land again instead of kicking against water. That and the electric buzz of cicadas that forever will remind me of summer, and being at Glenwood, and belonging; what is summer without cicadas?

I went to Ratner today. I swam because they would not let me dive. I wanted to dive. I can't tell if that's a good thing or a bad thing, if it is prudent or foolhardy for me to step on a board again; whether it will give me comfort and pride, or sorrow and longing, whether it will lead to increased confidence or another injury. I can't tell. I don't know what the future holds, but I want to try it, and the ache in my legs and my stomach when I see a diving board and forbid myself from standing on it, feeling it move beneath my feet (because it's such a tactile sport, such a rhythmic sport), and then launching myself off of it into the air, well, I can't take it anymore. I want to be younger, I want to be freer, I want to fly.

I always have.

It's a peculiar feeling to float. Relaxation is key -- for whatever reason, a clenched muscle sinks to the bottom of the pool but a relaxed muscle responds and stays afloat. You start out level, and then slowly your hands and feet sink down, pulling your arms and legs with them and your torso. Your chest pauses at the surface before sinking too, and then all that is left is your head. If you kick, your feet stay above water and you can stay floating by slowly, gently kicking your feet so that they don't sink. Some people float better than others. I do not float as well as my mother.

The water gets in your ears, plugs them up so you hear the gentle rush of water leaving the pool by the drains and being replaced at the vents, the tinkle of your feet and hands splashing as they enter the water, and nothing else. If you close your eyes and float, it is perhaps like being in utero again; except colder, and when your face starts sinking less receptive to life.

If you sit at the bottom of a pool and look up, you feel like you are at the bottom of a bowl; the index of refraction is high enough that the light bends around you and the walls look like they swoop up. Apparently the atmosphere in Venus does that too. So walking on Venus would be like walking on the bottom of a pool, but much hotter and more sulfuric (I think?).

Since your vocal chords are open to air and not water, you cannot be heard if you shout underwater unless you shout very loudly. Instead, you make vague noises and expell bubbles through your mouth; it looks like the words escape in the bubbles and if someone was to sit up above you and put their ear to the bubble, they would hear what you were saying. I don't think it works that way in real life. But it would be awesome.

The floor in the Ratner locker room is made up of many small-to-medium sized white tiles arranged in a grid with dark brown mortar between them. The shower curtains fold and sway on them in some complex curve. I don't think I could model it, but I'm sure that you could write a series of sinusoidal functions whose sum was the path of the shower curtain on the tile grid. I only know this because any curve can be expressed that way.

Today I stared at the floor of the showers and thought; this is the shower I warmed up in after the accident. These are the tiles that I couldn't focus on then. The thought made it hard to focus today. Several times today tears came to my eyes, but they mixed with the chlorine and the water and neutralized themselves as they ran down my face or I submerged myself to keep from making a scene.

People don't appreciate pools. They go to pools and swim laps, and think about their days or their bills or work or their families. They don't empty their mind and stare up at the perfectly white rafters and think; how does one clean rafters so high up? For surely they must be cleaned every now and again, just like everything else in this world. They don't find all the little dots in the windows that block some of the light. They don't match those dots to the dots in the ceiling. They don't see the curve of the roof or the lines of the bleachers. They only see the black cross on the wall that marks where they should do their flip turn. They don't listen to the vents and the drains, to the splish-splash of their own strokes. I know this because when I was a swimmer, I didn't think about any of that; except perhaps occasionally about the shape of a cloud as I did backstroke -- I told myself that one day there would be a message in those clouds, and I would decipher it and it would mean I was special. I sang songs in my head, I counted strokes, I counted lengths, I futzed with my goggles and my cap.

But a swimming pool is a thing of beauty -- water just deep enough to being to turn blue of its own accord, smooth white tiled walls and floor, or rough concrete instead. In a swimming pool, you can escape into your own bubble and not notice someone until the wake of their strokes disturbs your own. You don't have to hear, or see, or feel or smell or taste anything other than the cool clear water that surrounds you, and you have no choice but to hear and see and smell and taste and feel it, immediately upon entrance and constantly thereafter. Perhaps the only exception is sight, but the sting of chlorine in my eyes is enough to convince me to close them usually unless I am wearing goggles - and goggles are such a sign of the quotidien, of the lap-swimmer, that I usually avoid wearing either of my two pairs.

I went to the swimming pool today, and sunk to the bottom to let myself think for a while. There, in the cool and clean and quiet water, everything was calm, and I couldn't afford not to be. I came of age in a swimming pool; I grew from a small child into an adult in a swimming pool, and like a mother's womb when I was finally ready for something else, I was rudely shoved away from its waters. I tried to return today. But it didn't feel the same. It wasn't home, it wasn't comfort. All that is left are memories. And I think I was the last person to figure that out.

1 comment:

Abby said...

i feel for you. anything else i could say would only sound shallow and dumb, or be a false comparison, so i won't say it, but i do feel for you, and i will give you hugs next time i see you if you want them.