In the last place I lived, we were rich in pools. There was the one redolent of excess chlorine which made our eyes burn and our noses run, but it was often deserted and peaceful. Then there was the blissful saltwater pool, often full of aqua-joggers and so busy that I had to circle swim, desperately flailing the water in an effort to stay ahead. There was a regular group of us who gathered a few times a week to swim the tank, moaning our indoors activity but waiting for that sweet spot when our bodies floated perfectly, suspended ten feet above the bottom, a perfect alignment of body and water.
Where I live now there are two choices: the lake or the short hotel pool, which charges $5 per person per hour, and you have to call ahead to make sure you aren't displacing guests or a kid party. The lake is free, but the warmest it ever gets is about sixty degrees in August. Last year it never warmed up and we swam in wetsuits all summer, an ungainly herd of seals. Right now, with snow kissing the water? Forget it.
I like swimming, even though in the old town everyone passed me in the lanes, old, fat, young alike. (All except the 90 year old couple and the lady with a broken leg, but seriously. Can I really count them?) Learning to swim as an adult has left me with bad habits and a lack of technique, but there are times when it all works. My arms slice through the water, elbows high, my feet barely rippling the surface. It is at those moments that I can glimpse what life is like for a fish, my body just a sliver, a knife. It is like flying, only underwater.
So today I journeyed with a pal to the hotel pool. It was suspiciously cloudy and the rude donning of swimsuits was not too pleasant after being covered up safely all winter. We only had one pair of goggles between us so we shared turns using a kickboard and doing laps, only about five strokes to a length. I used to swim a mile and a half at a time, but here there was no way to guess our distance. A random hotel guest wandered through, staring. Swimming, we remembered, was hard when you don't do it much. It makes you limp as a noodle, a feeling I have found unique to this form of exercise.
But a few laps and there it was, that moment, slipping through the curtain of breath and water. Though I much prefer the outdoors and a brisk mountain lake, I will take what I can get. I will take this weightlessness, the cessation of worrying about anything but stroke, breath and what is in between.