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Swimming Across the World

Or some small part of it

Pexels-photo by Cottonbro

I have swum in lakes and oceans and bays and pools across the world. Sometimes I am the only swimmer, a lumpy form in a black swimsuit. It doesn’t matter. I swim for myself.

Hotels with pools are the only ones I book. My muscles cramp up with hours of confined sitting, in the driver’s seat behind the wheel of a cross-country trip, in the crowded confines of an airplane seat.

Swimming stretches and relaxes the muscles and tires me for a better night’s sleep, even if it’s an early morning eake time.

“The Swimmer” by John Cheever is an influence. His most famous short story, published in The New Yorker in 1964, chronicles a middle-aged man who decides to swim his neighbors’ pools across the county back to his home. It is the quintessential suburban New York bored striving story, but I was taken by the idea of swimming cross country.

I am not an athlete. The swimming pool of my hometown was the storied gathering place of small-town summers.

I walked through an antiseptic foot bath, on my way to displaying new swimsuits and meeting up with my girlfriends. We slathered on baby oil to prepare our white skin for future melanoma surgeries. 

Beach towels were carefully placed adjacent to our friends’ towels on the concrete platform. We didn’t swim, we splashed in the pool and dunked each other, and flirted before we knew exactly what we were doing with the boys at the pool.

The Dairy Queen was across the street, a short line continuously in place after we finished our swim. We ordered an ice cream cone with a perfect curlicue top, or a butterscotch Dilly Bar or splurged on a Peanut Buster Parfait.

A small part of the swimming ritual was about swimming.

That changed as I passed vanity and stylish swimsuits and worried about my knees and muscle cramps.

There have been the occasional reprieves. I was swimming in the pool at a Super 8 somewhere in South Dakota when someone whistled and catcalled. I wasn’t sure if it was sarcastic or genuine, but I took it as genuine since interpretation was my choice.

I swam in stony bays in Greece. Greek beaches don’t meet fantasy, at least in my island experiences. (Too many of us post-middle-aged women confessed to loving the fantasy of Shirley Valentine, a British comic movie about a middle-aged woman who runs away to find adventure in Greece.)

Greece has volcanic red sand and black sand beaches, too hot to walk on mid-day in the sunshine. The swimming hole inlets required water sandals unless I wanted to cut my feet.

I swam in pools that overlooked the Mediterranean, early-morning when I was the only one there.

I swam in Havana, the only person swimming in a cocktail-lined pool of a grand hotel, adjacent to a high-rise of fluttering laundry and barking dogs and children crouching behind deck rails. It was an odd juxtaposition of tourist dollars and Cuban apartment realities.

I swam in a rooftop pool in Montreal, stretching my muscles after a long journey in time, a visit for a memorial service. The only car rental left by the time my late flight arrived was a new Dodge Charger with sparkly paint gloss, the car I drove to the memorial service. I swam on the rooftop, looking forward and backward to the horizon.

I enjoy my regular pool now, a municipal aquatic center, where I get cheap senior rates. I can also join aerobics classes.We older women complain in the locker room that the work of peeling off a wet suit and putting on dry clothes is part of the work-out.

In the showers, I fit in with the bodies around me, sagging, drooping, wrinkling. They work and they’re delightful. I’ll keep swimming to keep the body working, as long as it will have me.

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2 Responses

  1. Jean Powers
    | Reply

    Sharon, your writing is such a nice reprieve from the business of life, church politics and the news of the moment. Thanks for putting it out for us to enjoy!

    • Sharon Johnson

      Thanks, Jean. I agree our world is wearying. I try to post thoughts unrelated to current politics or news, for myself and friends.

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