I’ve been swimming a lot lately because moving through water feels like it equalizes my body more than ever. Most days, I feel better than normal now, a little more calm or mattering more or something. But there are small annoyances. I have sacroiliac join point from the hormones making my pelvis wider and my left knee hurts from the extra weight over my belly and somedays, the only way I can relax is by pulling all this extra water and extra person in my person through an ongoing stretch of floating. I’m not the only one. I noticed this week that about half of the people in the pools where I swim are either older than me or injured or obese. The other half are triathlete-looking people, with arms of many muscles that lift them full-person out of the water in a graceful hoist. I guess I’m somewhere in the middle, getting bigger in the center and achier, but not really changing much on the outside besides a belly that’s not fitting in my suit so comfortably anymore.
Last night, when I got to the Ashland pool, a woman stopped me on my way in. She was a Mexican lady with a pile of curly hair going straight out from her head about three inches on each side. She was there, I'd find out while swimming, to watch her grandson shoot out of a frog's mouth in the shallow pool. She came right up to me inside the door with a huge grin and pointed at my belly. “You have a little boy in there! I can tell!” Then she laughed and said, "You no believe me? You'll see!"
This has been the debate over the last few weeks. I am “carrying high” which is supposedly a sign we’re having a girl. But then there was the maroon-haired woman from Bordelonville at Kate’s wedding who, while doing my updo, assured me in her southern accent that a high heart rate at 12 weeks meant honey, don’t kid yourself, you've got a boy in there.
I forgot a towel yesterday and when I asked the man who works the front desk at Ashland if he had a not-nasty one in the lost-and-found he cut me a deal. If I would go in the locker room and tell him how many girls were in there, he’d find me a clean towel. “If there’s only two girls in there, I’m going to be pissed.” So I went in the locker room and there were two high school girls texting by the mirrors but no one else. I came back out.
“How many?” the man called from down the hall.
He slapped the side of his body and yelled dammit, then came towards me. In his hands was a fluffy towel, hotel-white, folded hotel-style over his forearm. I took it with profuse thanks and asked him what was going on with the girls.
“See those footprints?” he pointed at the drips that met each other halfway between the boys’ locker room and the girls’ before disappearing into the family restroom. “You lock the family restroom from the inside out, and I have a feeling something no-good's going on in there.”
While I was getting changed, I could hear him banging on the door and yelling, "I mean it! I’m opening this door on the count of three!!!" I know this guy. He's a big, no-nonsense, rec-center-front-desk-stern dude with an orange beard who always wears a tank top sports jersey. He has tons of yellow freckles on his thick arms and face. He scares me when he’s not yelling. The girls by the mirrors had stopped texting and were listening by the girls' locker room door.
I was losing my motivation to swim, so I figured I'd find out what happened after I swam. In the lap lane next to me, an eight-month pregnant woman without goggles was doing the breaststroke lap after lap with her head just barely entering the water. I could tell she was pregnant just by the way she was moving and then underwater, I saw the swell of her belly, balloonish, like you see under a pregnant horse--a tight, urgent curve of life. On the wall where we sipped water, she said she isn't finding out the sex of her baby either. I told her to ask the woman with the curly hair what it was. When I pointed at the grandson-watching woman on the far side of the pool, she waved back vigorously, her ringlets bouncing against the sides of her head.
"What about you?" the pregnant one asked.
I told her the quick story I’ve told so many times: how when Luke gets back to shore from these two weeks closer to Russia than me, he’ll open an envelope I mailed to him that contains the gender of this baby.
“Oh, I would never be able to do that,” she said.
I can tell there are a lot of people who just don’t get our lives. How we can spend this time apart, keeping a secret that will grow until it bursts, and in the meantime, moving through our long-distance oceans. Maybe that’s why I’ve found even more comfort than usual in the pool these last two months—the fifth and sixth months of my pregnancy away from Luke. With him on the water and me in it, I can feel us coursing through the same elements even though there are some nights, all I want is for him to feel the tiny foot pushing along the swollen side of my stomach.
Back in the locker room, the third girl had appeared. She looked ashamed, pulling at the shoulders of her pink t-shirt while the other girls flanking her were tapping out details on their phones. I put a hand on my stomach, a little bigger than the size of a kids' basketball under the stretched layer of my suit, my touching it a habit now that it's so much more there. The girl looked at my stomach and stopped moving. I'm still wondering what she was thinking.