In the Pool II: Learning Gratitude for Casual Friendships – a Process

C. and I bond over birds. He recounts his joy at the late-season appearance of Bluebirds in his yard. I am tickled to share this morning’s story from the Times about wild turkeys taking over towns across the U.S., this day before Thanksgiving.

The conversing balloons of our heads float above the rippling blue at the deep end of the pool as our legs jog-pedal below.  We are there to get healthier than we were, and have struck up a casual friendship over a shared interest in fowl.

I know nothing about C. except that he seems a kind and friendly person.  I suspect we share a political point of view from a few remarks he’s made to other floating heads, but I don’t know his last name, where or if he works, if there’s a wife and family…  I just know he will be eager to share his latest sightings with me when we meet in the pool again next time.

J. is another pool-pal. She volunteers at a local nonprofit and is a champion for its activities among the water therapy crowd. She was the first to welcome and introduce me to other ‘regulars’ when I started at the pool. She notices if I miss a day and encourages me to keep coming.  She’s a champion ‘squatter’ and is proud that her legs are strong enough to get her up off the ground if she should fall.

Mondays are water aerobics with Joy.  Friday is a pick-up volleyball game – women only. Wednesdays are quieter, especially very early, and my favorite time in the pool.

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I have never been an overtly social person.  I don’t make an effort to meet new people or strike up conversations with strangers.  I enjoy my solitude and eschew casual conversation.  I would rather have three friends over for dinner and deep conversation, than go to a party with dozens of casual acquaintances.  Even though I’m a member of the Art Museum, I never attend “member preview” events, preferring to wait a few weeks to quietly spend time with the work alone – un-bothered by crowds and superficial comments from strangers.

So the collegiality of the pool was uncomfortable for me at first.  I kept my distance, intent on doing my own thing, avoiding eye contact and focusing determinedly on my workout routine.

But you can’t be a loner in the pool.  It doesn’t matter that you may seem to have nothing in common with those disembodied bodies bobbing around you – but you do.  It can be unspoken, and often is.  No one has asked me why I am there. But we all know — and accept — that we belong to the same club; an informal society of aging, injured or recovering humans, intent on soldiering on as long as we can.

So this morning, I was more comfortable than I would have been a few months ago when C. asked about the tattoo on my shoulder.  “Is that a ground-burrowing owl?” he asked?  “No,” I said, spinning around so he could get a better look; “it’s a Great Horned.”

I didn’t offer any details, however.


* * * * *

This post was written during my stint as a “Writer in the Window” at Apple Tree Books; part of the celebration of National Novel-Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). 

In the Pool

Image result for water images freeHere I am. Impossibly early in the morning and already a few of the regulars are treading the warm blue of the pool. Milly, our social director introduces everyone to everyone else – just in case names have been forgotten since yesterday or last week. Ted presses his bulk forward in the chest-high water, strides timed to the rhythm of his conversation with another man of equal volume. Georgia is doing her squats in the shallow water on the steps at the far end of the pool, her ears plugged with waterproof music. She sings quietly to herself as she bends and rises again and again, creating small tsunamis that break across the floating lane barrier dividing the deep side from the shallow.

This early, music of the USO era croons seductively below the constant buzz of social conversation floating across the water. A few folks sing along with Begin the Beguine and The Man I Love. Later, when the water aerobics class begins, the music will shift to Michael Jackson and Journey, energizing the ladies pumping Styrofoam iron with their waggling arms.  The water-weightless bobbing of their jumping jacks will animate the pool to frenzy.

But now, in the relative quiet of the early morning here at the aquatic therapy center, I sit astride a buoyant, yellow noodle on the deep side and pedal furiously up and down the length of the pool; five lengths, six lengths, more, until I’m breathless. I switch to an upright backstroke and breaststroke to work my arms until they feel like cooked spaghetti. Then it’s off the noodle and on to the kickboard to work the abs and glutes and quadriceps.

I’m pretty much alone on the deep side, this early in the day.  I like it that way.  That way I can pretend I’m different from the large, crooked, halting ones – the ‘older’ ones on the other side, gossiping their way to prolonged mobility. I’m still vigorous and strong, and much too busy to socialize.

Truth is, I am just as old. And the decades have worn on me in ways I cannot deny. I may be a little luckier, right now, than some who come here, but as I shower and get dressed, and feel the pull in my back as I bend to tie my shoes, I have to admit – I’m in the same pool.

Image result for water images free

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