I am in the locker room at the Y in the last row of lockers, my normal spot. The other girls walk in. They use the middle row. I can hear them all talking about a party that happened over the weekend. I’m half way through my second week of swimming with them this summer. I’ve known them for almost four years, but I don’t get involved with their conversation. I quickly shove my bag into the locker and walk out onto the pool deck. I walk over to the metal benches facing the pool. I look over, there are already some kids on the deck sitting at the white elevated stand talking to each other. I look down at the goggles in my hand pretending to find something interesting about the stretched-out cords holding them together. I hear loud voices and I turn to the entrance to see the other girls walking in to the pool. They walk in a cluster, taking over the deck space. I watch as they pass me, and head down to the white stand with the other kids. They smile at me as we make eye contact. I pull my hair into a ponytail to put in my cap. I try to think of something to say to one of them, but I can’t think of anything that could lead to a real conversation. The coach yells for everyone to head down so I grab my cap from the bench and head over.
We stand in a circle while he tells us about the upcoming main set. I smile at the girl standing next to me. She looks over and pulls an exaggerated frown.
“I’m already dying and we haven’t even gotten in the water yet,” she says.
I laugh and nod my head in agreement, but she turns back to the other side to talk with her friend. I hear the coach telling us to put our caps on as I walk down toward my lane. I look over at the electronic clock hanging on the wall. It hits 24 and I dive in.
After warm up we get out of the water to hear the coach explain the main set. It’s the worst one we’ve had this week. He starts directing us out of our normal lanes based on speed. I get to my lane and look around. The other three girls are complaining about the set. I inwardly agree but don’t make a move to say anything. I tell myself that it would be weird if I suddenly jumped into their conversation. Or is it worse that I’m just standing here? I mentally fight with myself, going back and forth about whether or not I should join them. I am pulled from my thoughts as one of the girls taps my shoulder. I look up at her, confused.
“I think we’re getting in now” she tells me.
“sorry”, I laugh, turning to jump in the water. Well, there goes that.
I can’t feel the cold water anymore. The clock hits 34 and I push off the wall, and start counting my breaths. 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1,2,3. I’m not nervous when I count. I can’t be anxious when I’m this tired. Although I know the other kids are swimming beside me, I can’t see them anymore. I’m staring straight down, my vision tunnels at the tiles at the bottom of the pool. My legs are sore and my right shoulder aches, but I’m where I want to be, moving through the water with grace. It’s a relief to be able to be back in the water, to finally move through something with control. I get to the wall and flip, kicking past the kids in the other lane. Only one lap left. I get to the wall, pull my head out of the water. I’m gasping for breath but I can’t stop smiling. A good kind of hurting.
As I near the turn I check to see how far the girl in front of me is. She’s not too far off which I expected since she’s not a long-distance swimmer. We finish the first 300 and get to the wall, both of us slightly out of breath. I turn to her and hear myself jokingly say, “I wish this practice would last forever.”