When my alarm goes off, I turn over groggily and slide out of the warm embrace of my bed, the fan in my room practically begging me to come back and sleep for a few more hours. Instead I turn away from its promises of comforting rest and struggle upstairs, my swimsuit, T-shirt, and shorts in hand. Quickly I take a cold shower to wake up. Most would find showering before going to a pool to be a waste, but I rarely have to jump into the water.
Hurriedly I dress and flail around the house in search of my most valuable tools: my flip-flops and whistle. One saves me from the elements, and one saves other people from themselves. On my way out of the house I grab three Powerades and my knockoff Ray-Bans, more essentials of the job. “Save wots of wives today, Taits!” my baby brother screeches over his Fruit Loops as I walk out the door.
I sing to an upbeat song as I drive into the military post, making the gate guards laugh. I wave at some soldiers I recognize as regular swimmers. A few turns later I’m parked in front of the community pool.
I look at my phone’s daily weather report to gauge how busy we’ll be, then unlock the gates. A sweet breeze hits my face as I stroll around the pool deck, unlocking various doors and picking up trash that blew in.
As acting manager it’s my job to do damage control, assessing any problems to my precious pool, and deciding what needs to be done before my coworkers get here. After doing this for so long, I can tell just by looking at the water color what chemicals are needed and how often I will need to call a pool break to replenish the chlorine.
I walk into the guard room and smile as I see a picture a bored staff member drew. I have to step around an unfinished game of Phase 10, and another of Go Fish – or maybe it’s War. If the weather is cold or stormy, there’s a lot of downtime and the pool staff get friendly quickly.
After a glance at the clock, I add the time to the clock-in sheet and pick up the chemical and incident log book. I sit on the side of the pool and begin the morning chem test. The sun is starting to warm my back. If it’s already warm at nine, I might not be able to rely on the weather report to keep patrons away. This is my favorite part of opening duties; I love adding the different liquids and seeing how they react to the pool water. I read the labels of the tiny bottles and smile, thinking that my chemistry teacher, Mr. Mayberry, would be pleased that I can recognize the names and know which elements create them.
The job’s responsibilities press down on me when I have to do very precise work, like operating the pump room. In this stuffy, loud space, seven tanks filter the water and add chlorine. It’s extremely important not to inhale the fumes. There have been many times coworkers have found me dry heaving in the grass behind the pool.
If the pressure in the tanks gets too high, we have to backwash them. Sometimes the pumps don’t work, which means I have to go to the control panel and try turning it on and off again. It’s almost like restarting a computer. It can be a long process, but I was trained very well and tested many times on my ability to do these tasks.
Working at a military post’s pool means that every morning everything must be placed perfectly. I like this part. I have a set schedule when I’m in charge. I grab three of guard tubes and four umbrellas to get things done efficiently. Dancing familiarly around each of the three guard stands, I place a tube where we put our feet and hook an umbrella to the stand.
As I head to the sign-in table to set up the last umbrella, I’m greeted by Jeremy and Jose, showing up for their shift. Seeing them, I know it’s going to be a good morning. I’m relieved that it’s not John since the other day I made him go home early when he told me I was incapable of doing my job because I was a woman.
Who I am scheduled to work with is extremely important. I’m younger than the lifeguards I am in charge of, and much younger than the rest of the managerial team. I am also one of only three women employees. There’s animosity toward me because of my age and gender, so prefer to work with the people who have shown respect for me, like Jose and Jeremy.
I ask Jose to flip the chairs over for the patrons. Jeremy checks the skimmer baskets, which pick up the trash, dirt, hair, and other random objects that float in the pool. These need to be checked every two hours. It’s the nastiest job, and sometimes the most tedious, but Jeremy can fly around the pool and clean out each grimy basket with a smile on his face.
I swap my T-shirt and shorts for a first aid fanny pack, whistle, and sunglasses. I walk out just in time to see Jose open the pool gates to the public. As I head into the pump room to turn on the water features, I think how odd it is that I’ve done so much already and the real work hasn’t even started.
It’s not an easy job, being a lifeguard. I clean up so many bodily fluids that I’ve had to learn to block out their smells. Every day I deal with angry parents, and my whistle’s tweets become my second language. Being in a bathing suit all day tends to make me self-conscious about my body, what with my coworkers being on their schools’ swim teams. Like all the pool staff, my body now has a permanent scent of chlorine, and don’t even get me started on the tan lines.
Yet I love this job. It has taught me the value of hard work and responsibility. I’ve learned that my decisions don’t only affect me; there’s a domino effect to every choice.
My thoughts are interrupted by a screaming child running toward the pool. Laughing to myself, I shout my catchphrase, “Walk, please!” Now the day has really begun.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.