The water churns and bubbles as swimmers pull and kick in the six lanes in front of me. A swim team of young kids fill all of the lanes except for one. They laugh and swim together, smiles plastered on their faces.
An empty lane ripples in front of me. As I bend over, my face becomes distorted and wavy in the pool. A sign hangs from the diving board: “Reserved: private lesson.” I wrinkle my nose while the briny odor of chlorine lingers in the air. The moisture clings to my clammy hands and my bare body, my teeth chattering and limbs quivering.
“Let’s go!” my coach, Emily, shouts. “C’mon Ryan, get in the pool. 300 free, 200 choice.”
I sigh and test the water with my foot. The freezing sensation climbs through my body. I shudder at the hair and insects floating in the pool.
I hop into the pool.
The water surrounds me, and I push forward with every stroke, kicking the water as if to make it go away. When the 500-meter set is over, I slump over the lane line, catching my breath. I look over to my mom, sitting on the bleachers, and shake my head.
She looks over her reading glasses, and points at my coach.
Coach Emily crosses her arms. “Next set is 12 100 IM’s on 2:10, starting from the top!”
I groan. Only 6 seconds to rest before the second hand reaches 60. 55 … 56 … I stare at the clock, wishing it to stop. 57 … 58 … 59 … When I take a breath, the salty pool water floods my mouth and throat. My nose burns as I cough out the chlorine. I turn to my mom again, shaking my head, and shove the lane line.
Her lips stay sealed, and she points at the pool.
I continue the set, and sharp, searing pain comes from my feet.
By the time my lesson is over, I can’t pull myself out of the pool. My mom comes over to my lane, standing next to the diving board.
I hang onto the edge of the pool, making sure my head can stay above the 5’ 2” mark. “Mom, I want to quit swimming.”
My mom frowns, handing me a water bottle. “Zuò shì qíng duì n? y?u h?o chù.” Do things good for you, she says in Chinese.
I push the water bottle away. “This isn’t good for me.”
“You never know. It could be helping — you might be shorter right now if you hadn’t been swimming. If you are short as an adult, you will get discriminated against in jobs and not have a good wife. Remember, 60 percent of CEO’s of big businesses are over 6 feet tall.” My mom pushes the water bottle closer to me. “You have been swimming since you were a little boy. Why quit now?”
From kindergarten, my mom frowned whenever she saw me dwarf in comparison to my peers. Since then, my mom did anything she thought could possibly help me get taller.
My hand clenches around my goggles as my body trembles. For the first time to my mother, I release everything that has been bottled up. “I don’t care about getting taller!” I throw my goggles at the diving board. “It’s my life, not yours! I can make my own decisions!”
My mom puts her hand on my shoulder, her eyes staring at me. “All I want is for you to have a better future. If you want to have a better future, swim more and get taller. No pain no gain.”
My mom turns her back to me and walks to the bleachers. I float there as if waiting for my mom to do something.
A couple minutes pass before I haul myself out of the pool and grab my swim gear. In the adjacent lanes, high pitched screams come from the swimmers beside me; each of them couldn’t be older than my 12 years of age. They laugh together, as friends.
My reflection glimmers in the still water in front of me, exactly like a mirror. My swim gear is still in my hands, and my mom still sits on the bleachers. I look at the swim equipment one more time and swallow, before I throw it at the ground.
My wet flip flops quack as I walk along the side of the pool. The sounds of splashes and laughter diminish. My hands find the exit door handle, and I leave the pool facility. The pungent chlorine no longer hangs in the air, and the moisture is replaced with fresh air and a light breeze.