Friday night was the state swim meet.
Understand I was not having a good two weeks with the pool. And the worst of it hit the day before - on Thursday. The thought of going to the pool made me sick. The clock. The stupid smell. The people in the therapy pool with the foam noodles. The guy in the lane next to me that tries to pretend he’s not racing me but I know he’s racing me. Sharing the lane. Getting in the cold water which no matter how many times I go it always feels cold. The feel of the pull buoy. The goggles. The cap. The swimsuit that always feels too tight. The hairy man in the hot tub. The sound of water blowing out my nose. The flip turns. The workout written on 12 pieces of paper.
You could say that I just needed a break.
Not a good place to be the day before the state swim meet. Not that I show up expecting to be fully tapered ready to rock the aquatic world (I don’t) but I at least wanted to feel some small inkling of love for the pool.
Chris and I were both doing the 1000 at state. I almost wrote 1000 free but then I realized any swimmer reading this would think I was an idiot for writing 1000 free because it’s not like someone would do 1000 fly (or would they, Ness?).
My heat started at 6:41 pm. I won’t even start to tell you how many ways a race at 6:41 pm is WRONG but that’s the time slot that I got. I sat on the bleachers first protesting the removal of my clothes. Next the execution of warm up laps. And finally just the idea of getting in at all. But we drove an hour – and by some way collectively the Waterstraat’s would swim 2000 yards.
Give or take.
As I watched the swimmers in the early heats doing a smooth, effortless dance down the lane like only good distance free swimmers can do…well, I got a little inkling of love for the pool. I mean, I do like to swim laps. I like how the water feels. I like to feel smooth too. I like…
The love was coming back.
But just as I started to remove my outer layers, just as I started to feel the love of the pool, I looked around.
AM I THE ONLY ONE AT THIS MEET THAT IS WEARING A SWIMSUIT?
And I mean a “normal” swimsuit. Like the one you buy on the discount rack that is bright blue with fluorescent pink flowers for $29.99. That’s the one. The one that was on me. The one that makes you think there is NO way I am diving off the blocks with a suit like this because if I do everyone’s eyes would be instantly drawn to the girl that not only is wearing the world’s ugliest suit but also cannot dive.
You see, looking around everyone else was wearing those fast suits. With the long legs. Some only had legs. And all of a sudden I felt like a triathlete. I was the newbie at the race with the mountain bike and the upside down stem. Dear lord someone help me. I need my aero helmet and disc wheel. Here today at this meet in this suit I might as well be wearing a scarlet T and a seal mask.
No sooner do I realize this than I’m up. It’s my turn. I think I’m warmed up. And wouldn’t you know I have to pee. This is actually what I love about the pool. No one will know if I just pee on top of the grate on deck. Besides no one will care because they’ll just chalk it up to not only was that girl wearing that ridiculous suit but she peed herself. Did you expect anything less?
The 1000 was fairly uneventful. I worked hard. It hurt. I tried to keep up with the guy over two lanes. He must have caught on because in the last lap he took off. I did manage to lap someone. That felt good. I also got lapped. That felt…well, no one likes to get lapped. But when it was all said and done I took 15 seconds off my time from two years ago.
Wait a minute, wait 60 seconds….it just took me two years to drop 15 seconds.
Swimming is so unfair.
Regardless, I got it done. Hopped out of the pool huffing and got ready to count for Chris. The swim team coach was already counting laps for him by the time I arrived. She handed me the board and maybe it was the look on my face but I was like – I don’t know if I should operate this thing.
Because I don’t know how. She said I was being silly. I said really I don’t know. First of all when I swim, I count laps. Not lengths. Secondly, I count in my head. Third, I don’t understand the system of which flaps to open and which flaps to close. And last, I am not sure when I should flash red.
She said don’t worry if your husband is anything like you he probably also counts in his head. I said that’s the problem. He’s not like me and he can’t count his way out of a paper bag. Routinely we swim together and he never knows how many laps to go. I have to club him with a paddle, throw a pull buoy or just simply hop right out in front of him to get him to stop in the middle of the lane. If I leave him without a lap counter at this meet in something as long as the 1000 free there is a good chance we could all leave, go home, come back tomorrow and he’d still be swimming away. Waiting for someone to flash red.
She gave me a quick lesson in how to turn the flaps on the sign. But still it didn’t make much sense. Flaps open from the right, from the left and sometimes they go over the top and completely go away. She could sense my insecurity so she said she would stay nearby for sign support.
By some miracle, I tapped into my savant sign turning skills and turned the lap counter to 7 just as Chris flipped. I guess you can’t turn the sign too early but let me tell you I nailed it. As he flipped, I flipped. And I got the number right. Anyways, Chris comes down on length 9 and pushes off the wall and then pops up.
He fidgets with his goggles and then starts to swim away. The coach, a friend and I breathe some relief. But then, he stops again. Not a good sign. I know my husband well enough to know when he is about to rage. And when he started swatting at his head in an apparent effort to either hit himself for going too slow or to rip the cap off his head – well, I knew we were in for a show. Something was boiling in the Waterstraat volcano from the same place that he was voted most likely to rip out an “Aw, f*ck you guys” on Ragbrai on day one while we were still in the van.
He’s got a short fuse.
My friend Christy looks at me. I knew that she knew that Chris was about to lose his fuse. You see, Christy traveled to Memphis with us last year and she witnessed the Waterstraat rage. When Chris couldn’t find me after the race, he lost his marbles and they all came spilling out of his mouth in a series of cuss words and “aw f*ck you guys.”
In fact, the rage had been boiling and even unleashed earlier in the week between Chris and Boss’ dog gate. It was Monday night after Chris returned from a not so good swim (what can I say, it has been a week of bad swims at the Waterstraat house). I wasn’t home so he saw that as his opportunity to take it upon himself to take out his rage about the swim on the dog gate. I came home to find Chris eating dinner at the table with the dog gate in bits and pieces under and around the kitchen table. I have no idea how a bit and piece also ended up in the kitchen sink.
“Chris, what happened to Boss’ gate?”
“I don’t know.” Says it without even missing a beat. Like everything was totally normal. The dog is actually sitting on a bit and piece of the gate, it’s obvious something here has gone very wrong but he just goes about it in his totally normal way. It reminds me of a story that Chris’ sister told me involving Chris’ dad and a box of raisin bran. He was sitting at the table eating breakfast while surrounded by an entire box of raisin bran that just happened to explode on the floor. And so there is a lot of pent up rage in Waterstraat men that sometimes explodes in the form of dog gates. Or raisin bran. Or when swimming in the state meet in the end lane.
Chris approaches the end of length #11 (or maybe it was lap 5.5) when he starts fiddling with his goggles again. He swims back towards us and pops up. He makes the sign that he wants to quit when the coach says “Elizabeth you get down there and tell him he is not done.”
I shake my head and know that if he decides to stop there will be no other way. Chris pops up again and gets closer to the end of the lane.
“Elizabeth tell him he cannot stop swimming.”
Chris is now at the wall ripping the goggles and cap off and trying to get out of the lane.
“Elizabeth get down there and make him swim.”
I look at the coach, look at Christy – she knows – that there is no telling my husband anything. In fact, Christy says it best herself when she says “he’s just having one of his moments.” Best to let him be and leave him like that. Years have proven to me that nothing I say will get him to swim in that lane.
Afterwards he confessed to leaky goggles, a cap that didn’t help and the realization that when you set out to break a time goal in your head – when you get disrupted and realize it won’t happen there is no reason to even try. Likely story and a sad, watery tale. I ripped out a Rutger Beke walking the marathon at Kona with a sh*t-eating grin. Sometimes you just make the best of your day. Even with leaky goggles and rage.
I’m not sure he bought it or even cared. I’ve been there before – so annoyed with swimming that you’ll hear it no other way. He spent the first few minutes of the drive home giving me 100 reasons why swimming was stupid. I sat there and smiled, saying I could feel his pain. He’s crying me a river that I’ve been swimming in and against for these past two weeks. It’s frustrating at times and we have to work so hard. It’s enough to make anyone rage.
But if it was easy then everyone would be good at it. And if everyone was good then there would be no challenge or reason to try at all. So I will continue to accept the challenge of the pool and take it day by day. That’s a good approach because according to my coach I can expect to be swimming each week all but two days. That’s a lot of swimming and a lot of potential for rage.
And though I might rage from time to time, protest, or refuse to go at all, know that even if myself or my husband throws a box or cereal or destroys a dog gate we’ll be back at it again the next day. Because we need to embrace the challenge and continue to work our weaknesses until they become our strengths.
And because I need him to pull me down the lane.
And because someone’s got to count laps for him anyways.