Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Tipping Point

As part of our swim practise Saturday morning Glenn prescribed an underwater kickset and I had a flashback to middle school and one of Coach Kinney's workouts. Coach Kinney gave us underwater sets every other week -- he said that they made your lungs stronger and bigger and to me he said they would help my singing because I would be able to hold notes longer and with more depth.

I was terrible at them -- I could never make it to the far wall without breathing at least once, and I could read Coach's disappointment in his scowl and silence.

Betsy, on the other hand... man, Betsy had them nailed. As a fly specialist, Betsy had the underwater dolphin kick down pat, and she could not only make it to the far wall; she could make it most of the way back before breathing. Because of this she went off on her own intervals, briefly touching and streamlining off the wall to head back home while the rest of us watched, gasping and awaiting our send-off. She was so fluid and smooth, like she was water herself without bone; she made it look so easy.

The time I remember was two weeks before Spring Sectionals. This was our last full practise before we began to taper, and Coach Kinney pulled out the stops. We'd just done 3500 yards of IM and freestyle, and now he told us he wanted 20 x 25yds underwater NO BREATHING on 10sec rest. The first 5 or so weren't that bad, but after that I started sending up prayers for a miracle: please God let me be able to breathe water, or just smite me down right here and end my misery.

Betsy was particularly transcendent that day; I could barely make out the blue sluice of her swimsuit as she cut through the water. Her dad was sitting in his usual place, way far away from where Grace's mom sat knitting in her fuzzy poodle sweater. Imagining that Betsy's dad was watching me made me work harder. I wanted to show him I could be tough and strong, just like his daughter.

On the last 25, I told myself I would make it to the wall without breathing. I told myself that if I made it, those dreamy blue eyes would finally SEE me and Betsy's dad would sweep me up in his arms and we'd live happily ever after in a big brick house that didn't have cockroaches in the kitchen and neighbors who ran their vacuums all the time.

I pushed off the wall with my shoulders squeezing my ears and my body stretched long and narrow. I made the voices in my head go quiet and listened to the woosh-woosh-woosh sound of my body dolphining through the water. I made it! I didn't breathe once. And when my fingers touched the wall and I popped up with a great gasping breathe Coach Kinney gave me a quick thumbs-up sign then signaled to lane 4 where Betsy was.


- She's on 75 yards now - he murmured, meaning she was tripling the distance I'd just done. I couldn't see her yet so I stole a look up in the stands, and then I knew exactly where she was. We stood at the wall watching Betsy come in, the water barely stirring above her undulating form. Her swimcap broke the water and Coach placed his palm on it like he was administering a blessing. Betsy pushed her goggles up her forehead and stood red-faced but radiant, her ribcage expanding and contracting as she caught her breath. My eyes traveled down past her stomach and then stopped. I watched until I was sure, and when Coach turned away to the blackboard I squeezed her shoulder and pointed down. We both stared as threads of red bloomed around the crotch of her swimsuit and swirled like roses dissolving in the water.

- Betsy it CAME - I whispered, awestruck. After the school nurse gave us The Talk I started wearing sanitary napkins thinking I could make my period come, but Betsy called me a retard and said that wasn't the way it worked. She swore up and down that periods were gross and she was never going to have one.

We watched Betsy's blood curl into the water and over the drone of Coach's voice at the blackboard I heard the hitch of Betsy's breath. I looked at her face, and there was no more color. Around her eyes was pale and pinched.

- Bets?? - I probed. She didn't look at me, just curled her hands around the corner of the wall, squeezed until her knuckles shined pale under the skin then lifted and popped onto the deck in one quick motion. Without a word to Coach she streaked to the girls locker room; the door hissed shut behind her. Grace's mom was staring out the window while her fingers flew. Betsy's dad was standing now, and his eyes seemed to glitter. Maybe that was just the reflection of light off the water but all of the sudden I didn't want the house with the wall-to-wall carpet anymore. I wanted to go in the locker room. But when I humped myself onto the edge of the wall Coach Kinney stopped me with a hand.
- I'm not through here - he said.
- But I have to -
- I'm not finished.
I twisted toward the locker room but Mr. Billings had already come off the stands and was walking through the locker room door. He didn't look back and when the door closed behind him the clouded glass turned his figure wavy and insubstantial.

By the time the workout was over and Coach Kinney let us go, Betsy and her dad were gone. While I was drying my hair I saw a smear of red on the paper towel dispenser. I rubbed it with a damp kleenex and it came off right away.

4 comments:

addon said...

wow, you are a great story-teller. i can't imagine what that experience is like but you help me understand a little.

fatmammycat said...

Jesus, poor old Betsy, what a shitty time to have THAT happen.
It just goes to show how times have changed though, a certain Korn lover I know announced hers with joyous glee to anyone who would listen.

Brown Suga' said...

Wow.

finn said...

thx all.