I've been swimming a lot lately. Last week, though, Denver Public Schools let out for summer, which poses problems for us lap swimmers at La Familia. The lifeguards only block off three lanes, so the other half of the pool is filled with wriggling fleshy kids. What disturbs me is that some of them can't swim, so they strap sky-blue flotation belts--the kind the older ladies use in aqua-aerobics--around their rolly bellies. As the kids waddled in last week on their first day of summer break, dripping and shivering in speckles of water from the locker room showers, I tried to keep swimming laps. But the more kids that cannonballed into the pool, the more nervous I got. There must have been around 50 kids, mostly obese, mostly unsupervised.
Underwater, I could see their waving skin and the straps dangling from their floaty belts. What if one of those flotation devices slipped off? What if a strap wrapped itself around a 4-year-old neck? Each thunk I heard underwater, I feared a kid had gone off the slide in the deep end and hadn't been able to push himself back up to the surface for air. I'd stop swimming, look up, and scan for possible corpses. I must be becoming my mother who worried when I wore hoodie sweatshirts to bed that the shoelace in the hood would strangle me to death while I slept.
No children drowned, but I'm also disturbed by the proliferation of mini-boobies on the boys in my neighborhood. I live in Baker. The people who free swim at La Familia are overweight and Hispanic. The people who wind through the water doing laps are white and slender and can swim. There's something wrong with this picture. Sometimes, when I'm swimming, I want to apologize for my ability and all my years of swim team.
Instead, we share the water, and I think that regardless of our differences, being in water together is a healing thing for most people. I just discovered this month that Congress Park has an Olympic-sized outdoor lap pool, and on 80-degree afternoons, I love swimming in the extra-wide lane there, chatting with the triathletes and the elderly and the new-to-the-pool middle-aged ladies who enter tentatively and aren't sure how circle swimming works. When it's crowded, you swim counterclockwise, round and around each other until you know the warp and weft of someone else's ripples pushing you as they pass.
Despite the nicer pools in Denver, I prefer La Familia. People in Baker seem to be nicer than the ones who swim at Wash Park or Congress Park or the Five Points Glenarm Rec Center. And funny things always happen at La Familia. There's an old lady named Hilda who's in her 90s and sends me a huge smile any time she catches my eye between breaths, and a kid named Michael who swims every day, all day, and doesn't care how he lands so that by the time he leaves, his back is a prickled pink from landing on it the wrong way any time he tries to dive. He reminds me of myself before belly flops and jack-knives became faux pas, and he reminds me that swimming is fun even when I'm really tired of all the work it takes to be skinny.
And then there was this: About half-way through my workout last week, just as I was beginning to really be alarmed at the number of young swimmers in the water, the lifeguard blew the whistle and yelled, "EVERYONE OUT! THERE'S PUKE IN THE POOL!!!"
All the kids clambered out screaming and the lap swimmers snapped their caps off their heads and everyone tiptoed down to the deep end to get a closer look at the nebulous cloud of vomit floating around in the deep end. Most of the kids stayed on the side of the pool, but I got one quick look at the brown mess, then rushed out to nab one of two showers in the locker room. While I was soaping up, I started to smell something warm and buttery coming at my nose through the curtain.
I popped my head out. Two little boys and a little girl with black-black hair and quarter-sized, round black eyes were sitting on the bench, staring straight at me. They were about 3 or 4 years old. They were eating corn on the cob. "Hi!" I said. "Hi!" They all said back, corn moving from left to right between their small teeth. It was all over their faces, little nubs of dark yellow corn. "Yum," I said. And the little girl held hers out to me and said, "Want some?"