I swim because in the water I am thin, sleek and beautiful. For thirty minutes a few times a week I love my body and marvel at what it can accomplish. I cut through the water, feeling it on every part of me. The straps of my bathing suit form an X across my back, freeing my arms and shoulders to move without resistance, everything feels good. If I have time, when I am done I take off my bathing cap, and goggles and float on my back with my eyes closed just hearing the water lap in my ears, letting the water hold me.
I step into the water, and it is always too cold. I dread the way it will feel when the water reaches my stomach, but I take a deep breath and plunge under, then I swim. It doesn’t take long for my body to get used to the temperature as I start to move through the silky water. Silky because the gym uses salt to chlorinate the water, making it feel like a Calgon bath, albeit a cold one.
Almost as soon as I begin a song will queue up in my head and set the rhythm of my strokes. Most of the time I am completely alone, one floor above me the more athletic and driven people on the treadmills, stair climbers and ellipticals, sweat and pump away watching the morning news. I am not fast, though I have gotten faster since I started. I have tried counting laps, but it is boring and I lose track all the time. My chosen song will continue through my entire workout, but it often recedes into the background, the beat still there, the words fading, and I think.
About five laps in my mind starts to wander. Sometimes my thoughts are immediate and concrete, lists of things I need to do, or worry about. I perseverate so sometimes I will spend my entire time in the pool going over a conversation I had, or want to have, over and over, and over, and over… But mostly I indulge in fantasies of all sorts, from designing my dream bathroom to writing a best-selling book, to sexual fantasies as the water travels over my skin like the hands of my dream lover.
You would think anticipating all that pleasure would send me to the gym more regularly than it does. In the war of getting out of my warm bed to get into some cold water, bed wins too often. I never regret going but getting there can be a struggle. I lay there and think how good the water will feel. I remind myself I get to feel a bit righteous about checking exercise off my list, and that telling people I swim is only true if I actually do it. I think about the cost of my gym membership amortized over fewer visits. I am lazy and it’s cold out.
When I swim I am not lazy. Swimming fixes everything that is wrong with me, at least for a little while. In the water I get to be as clever, lovely, desired, accomplished, and strong as I dream of being. For a little while a few times a week I am weightless; I literally float. Even if reality awaits me when I am dry and back in my clothes, I have found a magical place where I am super-me.