Her legs rub together, all wrinkled like an old mama elephant’s, loose skin hanging a bit like she’d had a significant weight loss at some time in her life. She bends her knees hard against wet tile and lifts the boy whose legs dangle; atrophied white sticks trying to stand on their own. She gets him to the side of the pool. He shivers. She sweats. Her hair stands every which way on top of her almost wet head. Her face is leather cracked. Maybe she smoked. Maybe she still does.
Another woman walks the edge of the pool, her back ramrod straight, her shoulders pushed back like she’s bracing for a fight. She smiles cracked leather, too. She is in the latter part of middle age, yet under folds of skin too familiar with the local tanning booth, lingers the shadow of a young woman’s toned upper arm. Despite her clipped walk her belly sags tired at the front of her purple flowered swimsuit. She is leading the way for a boy pushing a walker.
There are several of these ladies in the water today as I sit poolside watching students from a functional life skills program swim laps. I am sitting next to a pretty girl who isn’t able to swim because of an injury. We are multiplying numbers together. She is having difficulty staying focused because of some boys showing off in the water. I am having difficulty staying focused because of what I witness at the shallow end of the pool.
I can’t take my eyes of these middle-aged, almost old women, lift lift lifting dead weight children in and out of the water.
Children encased in plastic floats and safety gear and neon masks and giant goggles.
Children who flail water.
Children who scream gibberish.
Children who would most certainly drown if it weren’t for the iron grip of women whose bodies have morphed into a flabby fade in loud spandex.
I wonder where they’ve put their inhibitions. Did they stuff them in a locker somewhere or fold them neatly beneath their underwear hidden in their gym bags?
They don’t suck in their bellies.
They don’t strut the firm body of a younger woman desperate to wear the Hot label.
They don’t do the eye dance women do to other women’s bodies comparing comparing comparing.
There is no hotness here….unless you count the sweat that drips on the brow after hoisting eighty pounds of kid up and down metal ladders all morning long.
Snow banks bleed dirt from sand trucks and the driveway is still rutted with ice and I am putting away laundry when I see my bathing suits tucked into the back of my drawer. I think about summer eventually showing her face and I think about me sitting by the lake in my own wrinkled, pooch sagging skin wondering if I look okay….if I look my age.
I should certainly hope not. So says the little phrase written on a badge I sometimes wear much too proudly.
Days later I am getting an education on what real beauty looks like and I realize I am at the wrong end of the pool.
Ahh, to be propped up with padding or loaded into Lycra in an attempt deny the inevitable leaves more women poolside instead of diving into the shallow end of things where you get to lift someone else to a place of accomplishment or simply, a place of joy.
There is nothing sacred about wondering how to fit things around a bottom succumbing to gravity. What is sacred is helping someone else to defy gravity.
It’s a sacred and beautiful thing I am seeing at the shallow end of the pool today. It is a sacred thing helping someone keep their head above water. It is a sacred and beautiful thing helping someone simply to keep on swimming.