The Rollingwood Pool in the middle of Summer.
It's so easy to do easy stuff. It's easy to swim in a pool filled with nice, warm water. Even easier to swim in a nice, warm pool when it's sunny and warm outdoors. But then there are those days that push you right up to the point of defeat. Days that test your discipline. Days that make you want to stay at home and eat cookies and drink coffee and sit on the couch, wrapped up in a blanket, and watch movies on Netflix. Those are the days when the temperatures drop into the upper 30's and your comfortable, heated pool is closed (for months now) for repairs and your best swimming option is the 69 degree water at the (outdoor, unheated) Deep Eddy Pool.
Today was just such a day. I started out slow, drinking a perfect cup of Illy coffee (thank you! most generous reader, Michael Matthews!!!) and reading the typically depressing news on the laptop that sometimes lounges at my end of the dining room table. Studio Dog was sitting next to my chair and looked a bit cold so I tossed my old, worn down jacket on the floor and she curled into it with a smile on her perfect face.
I put off swimming as long as I could today, I even went to the Blanton Museum to see the new show. (See previous posts). At some point I realized that left to the tyranny of my subconscious I would skip the swim altogether and rationalize it all away. In my brain's defense, it may drop into the high 30's, midday, in your neck of the woods but it rarely does in our little corner of Texas. The wind was whipping a cold, steady rain around in a sadistic, staccato pattern and leaves were falling all over the place. The sky was steely gray. Everything was working against my resolve.
Then I remembered that my friend, Emmett, had asked about swimming today and, in a fit of hubris, I had assured him (days ago) that I'd be at the pool and ready to swim promptly at 2 pm. Now, when I promised this the sun was shining, the birds chirping and the cute young people were in shorts and t-shirts taking advantage of the mid-80 degree day. But, a scheduled swim is somewhat sacred so I grabbed my stuff and headed off to the car.
I looked back over my shoulder to see Studio Dog in her down bed by the front door just shaking her head....
When I got to the pool the person at the front desk (an open air front desk....) was in a big, fluffy jacket and also had a blanket wrapped around himself. He smiled and said that the water was great. I should have known it was a lie.
I walked into the open courtyard that is the men's changing area (open to the top but not on the sides....modestly. I mean we're swimmers for God's sake, not politicians or actors...) and changed quickly into a Speedo Endurance Jammer suit, grabbed my goggles and (slightly) insulated swim cap, wrapped myself up in a towel, stuck my already freezing feet into a pair of Croc's for the long hike down the stairs to the water, and headed out.
There is a moment, when your teeth are chattering, your large muscles are involuntarily shivering, and you can feel the icy wind cut through your thin towel, that you pause and think, "OMG, what the hell was I thinking?" Maybe you look around, through your cloudy old goggles, to see if anyone actually saw you come down to the pool edge. Maybe, you think, it's not too late to retreat. But then you realize that if you back away this time it will be harder the next time and you may be triggering a series of surrenders that will haunt you, and make you fat and lazy.
So, I tossed my towel onto the stone wall five feet from the pool, slipped off the Crocs and crept to the absolute edge. It's the moment of truth. I stop thinking. I take a deep breath and commit. The cold water instantly hits every square inch of your once warm body and you know you better start swimming before your resolve (and the heat of your inner core) give out. I lunge into the water and start swimming. Each lap gets a little less .... uncomfortable. And then you pass a certain point (at about the half mile mark) where you are actually warmed up and enjoying the feel of the water, the swim, the adjacency to the weather, and the way in which you feel strong and invincible. Unbeaten.
If I'm lucky that feeling stays with me through the next mile and a half. By that time I've swum for about an hour and I'm starting to think of other things I need to be doing. But now I don't want to stop because I know I'll have to get out, dripping wet, and make my way down the walk way to the long flight of stairs as the wind whips at me like practical joker snapping a towel at swim practice.
But if you stay in the cold water too long then hypothermia kicks in and that requires many cups of coffee to cure.
I look with scorn at the ladder and pull myself up onto the deck. It's a mark of shame in our family to put a knee down on the deck when exiting the pool so you have to save just enough energy to pull yourself all the way up on the edge and into a standing position while looking as graceful as you can. I manage it once again. By the skin of my teeth.
I make it up to the locker room when I remember that Emmett never showed. So much for the sacred nature of scheduled swims...
As I walk to the car carrying my wet towel and suit I notice the first snowflake flutter down and melt on the asphalt and I smile. I got that swim in just in time.
Winter in Paris. 1994.