On Open Water Swimming

The ropes are up. They wait for the crowds to arrive with their lifeguards who watch over them like shepherds do their sheep. But for now with the cooler weather when the temperature stretches into the long afternoon and still does not reach seventy, when the sun strains through striated clouds and still cannot make her face seen, the sand, the water lie still. And I, like a rebellious child stride along the beach front to wade in entering where next week the small outboard dingy will be moored and open water swimming will be banned.

When I look out, diagonally across from one end of the main beach to the other end of Red Cross beach, the buoys bob aimlessly, also waiting. Today I can swim alongside them, inside them and so I do. I scoop a path curving as the shoreline does and then straight down the right side of the pond. I am alone, except for one other swimmer. I do not think about the cold. Instead I am preoccupied with my stroke, stretching forward with one arm, letting it fall aimlessly through the first foot of water before I push through until I am turning slightly using the strength of my upper, my lower arm, my shoulder. I remember my coach telling me I should feel like I am skating and I do. Perfectly balanced and energized by my symmetry.

I decide I will swim further. I will scoop around the shoreline at the far end of the pond and along the “bottom” side until I reach Ice Fort Cove Point and then turn to swim back across the middle.

I swam across the middle on Sunday when the wind was against me but momentarily I have forgotten how tired I got. Until I do it again and it strikes me again in the middle of the pond that I am tired.

To my right the layers of grey cloud are finally letting go their grip upon the sky and beyond them a pale pastel blue appears. To my left the clouds still cling to the sky, layer upon layer of grey. When I look up ahead of me the beach house appears as a tiny matchbox. It is so far in the distance. I am losing the balanced rhythm I felt so comfortably before, I am losing the feeling of floating. Suddenly I wonder how it is I am held suspended on this mammoth body of water. How it is I do not just sink to the bottom. I think of the fact that my lungs are full of air, for as well as correcting my stroke in the pool this winter, the coach encouraged me to hold my breath instead of breathing in and blowing out. “Keep the air in your lungs,” he told me. “It will help you float.” But I feel like I am sinking.

To my right the shore looks far away. To my left, even further. I am sinking and I am tired, and somehow I wonder if it ever felt like this last year. How is it I do not remember feeling like I couldn’t make it? In all my swimming across the pond did I ever before feel this way? And if I did (as I am sure I must have) how did I make it back?

I think of Jesi. Jesi is always there somewhere inside me. I wonder whether I am more aware of the fragility of life since we lost her …. the ease with which it can slip away from one … Is this why I am so acutely aware of sinking now? Immediately I think that Jesi would protect me and while I believe this, I cannot rely on it and not also help myself. So I focus on my arms stretching over, floating down a foot and then pulling my body along the water. My legs, my feet kicking trying to find the balance I left somewhere back along the straight down to Thoreau Cove. And before I am aware of it, the matchbox beach house is no longer a match box, it is a single large sentinel looming out of the grassed hillside, keeping watch over the pond from beyond where the lifeguards have not yet taken up their posts.

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