I’m not able to go swimming as often as I could. The commute eats the time away that I would otherwise have spent in the water. It makes the times in the week that I can go more precious, and more calming in their reach. Apart from – the time of day that I go has altered, too. So, sometimes, the pool is a cattle grid of nine and ten year-olds sent by their parents to be out of the way, while they go to the gym.
I swim the first few lengths relatively slowly, as my muscles unwind, loosen, trust themselves to the water. I hit the edge and stop, momentarily.
My brother fancies you
Having entered a world of my own, I blink at the child in front of me, unsure what she has said, before I can parse it. I put my head under the water, swim away. Non-plussed, it takes a while for me to clock, in reverse what happened. They were playing a game of “truth or dare”. That embarrassed assertion must have been a dare.
And while the sensible, rational part of me calmly asserts that this was their game – and I was there – one of the few adults in the pool – the irrational part insists that it was about me. That they picked on me to ask – because – maybe I don’t look right; maybe my scars and skewwiff swimming scared them, so the assertion became a challenge. Maybe they’d been watching my first faltering lengths, realized I could easily be caught up with. I might be able to outswim the Brownies in a game of “Sharks” – but these children could swim fast. I looked behind me, checking their whereabouts, that they weren’t chasing me. I don’t mind spiders- as long as I know where they are.
I swim back again. As I do, I see from under the water, the brother, legs spreadeagled across the edge, where I am aiming to end the length. He mumbles. Something inaudible this time. I don’t bother asking him to repeat. I shake my head and swim off.
The irrational mind is gaining control fast. With every stroke, I check behind me. I remember how people used to put their feet out across my path, to trip me up at school, their success, as the brother had blocked my route; I remember when they pushed me down stairs. I am terrified that one of these children will grab a foot and pull me under. I can swim for miles – but I’m not a strong swimmer.
The life guard is admiring her fingernails. The children are whispering. I fear they are watching me, talking about me. That they could leave the pool; take my clothes from the changing room; throw them under the showers. The children’s behaviour has triggered me; I’m lost in memories. Most of the nastiness I experienced at primary school happened in girls’ toilets, girls’ changing rooms. They have awakened a latent fear of these places.
These children don’t know that history, I repeat angrily at myself. They are not picking on you, you are nearest, and they are playing a game; they are children. So were the children at primary school, my memory chimes back. So were the children on the streets of Cardiff, who chanted at you day after day. You exude vulnerability and helplessness. You’re an easy target, and you attract horridness. You deserve it.
So the battle continues, as I swim, and swim, and swim. Badly, because my mind isn’t with the swimming; it’s engaged in war. I want to hurt these children; fight back, behave like the child I can feel writhing inside me. But I am an adult, so I cannot. Beaten, I leave the pool, ahead of the children, unconvinced that they wouldn’t take my things if I didn’t. Returning to dry clothes, warm towel, I berate myself; my stupidity. Change quickly, to get away before the children become bored in the pool. Leave.
Please God help me dare to live in the present; loosen and fade the memories of my past; their grip on my future.