When I was a kid, I loved going to a pool, any pool. If a friend had a pool, we were in it all summer, or as much as their parents would allow.
I even went to pools where I didn’t know anyone. If we took a road trip as a family and stayed at a motel with a pool, I would grab my trunks and tell my folks “I’m going to the pool.”
I was never the kind of kid who would start a conversation with other kids. Other kids always had to approach me. Not because I thought I was better than anyone else, but the opposite. But in the pool I became someone different. If there was another kid in the pool I would give them a few minutes of space and then go over and start talking to them. I don’t know why. Perhaps the semi-nudity of the pool made me feel like they weren’t better than me.
Unless they had goggles. Goggles were something I never had as a kid. I used to love swimming underwater, testing myself to see how far I could go on one breath. But without goggles, I had to either open my eyes underwater and suffer burning eyes for hours after, or worse, risk bumping into someone and that whole embarrassing confrontation. I once got to borrow goggles but that was worse – because suddenly I knew what I had been missing all those years.
And now I have a 9 year old daughter and she loves pools. She takes swimming lessons, something I never did, and always wants me to get into the pool with her before the lessons so that we can have some free swim together. I do it occasionally, but I have to admit, I’m not a fan of the pool anymore! I don’t know what happened. Maybe I’ve experienced all that there is to experience in a pool. I’ve scraped my face on the bottom, I’ve flipped a friend, I’ve played chicken, I’ve swam underwater with goggles, I’ve cannonballed (so many times), I’ve swan dived, I’ve jumped from 15 meters, I’ve sat on the bottom of the pool cross-legged and held my breath for well over a minute – imagining myself on the cover of Joe Walsh’s But Seriously Folks, and I’ve kissed a girl I was in love with on a moonlit night – pressing our warm and slippery bodies together to keep the cold water at bay.
Nowadays pools are sterilized anyway. If I get in the pool with my daughter I won’t be able to teach her how to backflip without some preppy teenager lecturing me on pool safety. You can’t even play chicken anymore. Or hit each other with pool noodles. There’s no diving allowed. No running. And they even have posted rules about how you’re not allowed to hold your breath underwater too many times in a row because it “makes the brain think it’s drowning.”
But then again, the pools around here also have fun stuff like waterslides and weird little sort of river-floats that you can do. We also have wave pools. And I have to admit, that stuff is almost as fun as being in a huge square pool and water-wrestling with other kids.
Avie and I were at the pool down the street the other day and after a few minutes of swimming together I went to sit down and read an essay by Kurt Vonnegut in Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons about why kids these days (the 60s) are all reading Hermann Hesse. I can assure you, none of the kids these days are reading Hermann Hesse.
I had gotten about two pages in and she appeared in front of me, her shadow cast over my book.
If I will come swim with you? No. I’m reading now. Maybe in a few minutes.
Dejected, she put her goggles back on – her impossibly long eyelashes smushed up against the lenses, looking like a Venus fly trap which had just shut to digest a fly – and went back to the pool.
After a few minutes I wondered what she was up to. I scan the pool to see that she is swimming alone. Bobbing up and down. Holding her breath under water.
Vonnegut went on about how drugs maybe something Steppenwolf hippies freedom and the loner boy travelogue which is still one of the most popular stories of all time. I can’t help but tell Kurt’s ghost that the hippies ruined everything, “KV, sorry my man. They became what you most feared. They became the Nixons they hated. The hippies who most avoided Vietnam and smoked dope are the ones who started wars of choice and turned the country into a police state so they could throw drug addicts in jail. They used their freedom from the cultural norms of the 40s and 50s not to make the world a better place but to become Donald Trump: indulgent egotists who devised “participation trophies” because they are the kind of people who need constant reassurance and daily briefings about how great they are.”
I look up from my tirade to see Avie is playing with another kid. They are chasing each other in the water, the new kid’s eyes closed, playing Marco Polo. She’s made a friend at the pool.
An hour goes by before she comes out again. This time I ask if she wants to do the waterslide. I’m not really asking.
“I don’t like water slides.” She says.
I don’t care. You’re doing it. It’s good for us to try new things.
We climb the hot stairs. She tells me I have to go first. I tell her that because I’m so fat I’ll go super fast. I jump in and zip down the waterslide, my body climbs up the walls in each turn, and it feels like I’m going to be bucked out of the slide. My two second ride ends with a huge splash. I look up and I can see her laughing at the top of the tower. There’s no hesitation. She jumps in.
After her first run she asks to do another, then another, then another. Each time, closing her eyes and letting the slide just take her.