I am the one who will never die young
I am the martyr and I cannot hide
But I’m not a winner, I’m just brilliantly bitter
I am sealed by my skin but broken inside.-Lori McKenna
Freestyle, butterfly, back and breast. The whole nine. After being a swimmer for all of my life I realized that in back stroke you can breathe the whole time. In breast stroke, you breathe every stroke. But in my two strokes, free and butterfly, you only breathe very 3,5 or even 7. I chose the strokes, the two that appealed the most, were those that are mostly underwater. The ones that require holding and gasping and enduring.
On my last lap, I floated, just at the water’s surface. I floated underneath the blue and white flags, hung at each end of the pool, so you can count your back strokes and know when to turn. The curled in on themselves at their tips and my body sunk, my heals to the bottom, just my face above water. I closed my eyes to listen to the silence that I love so much about water. How everything is muffled and quiet.
My body, at this particular angle, remembered. Rememebered the birthing tubs. Twice I lay like this, attempting to use the warm water to soften the pain of contractions. Closing my eyes in the quiet, breathing, concentrating, hypnotizing myself against the writhing in my body, the gripping, rhythmic muscles, working to get my babies out.
I didn’t remember. My body did. I wrapped my arm around the blue and white plastic rings of the lane marker. A buoy for a moment. I can’t believe that’s over. That time in my life when it was time to have my babies. That one never made it out in that tub or the house but on the operating table. That another died inside and was birthed by medicine into the toilet and flushed. That the last, labored for in the tub, birthed on the toilet, died in my arms the next day. How much hope has been lost. How much innocence and joy. How much time.
Later, in the car, I would hear a song called “Never Die Young” about a girl left after her friend from Catholic school has passed away. Yes, that, too. How now I know so acutely the pain Theresa’s mom was in, and likely still is 21 years later, after her daughter died just before turning 17. How now I wish I could find her mom and tell her that I still think about her daughter, I still miss her. That I haven’t forgotten her long thin fingers, her face when she laughed, her huge, generous heart. I know that would be salve to her heart.
As I turn the corner in the car, as I float there in the water, the finality of death strikes me as so odd, as it still often does despite my close acquaintance with it. How is it that it’s just over? How is it that they are gone? That they won’t ever come back? Why does that still feel so strange, so surreal?
If I could find her, I’d ask Mrs Rigo that. Does it still strike her as odd? And are the days it feels like that still the good days?
I turned the corner and cried. I let go of the line and sunk below the water, holding my breath, floating, weightless in the muffled aloneness, just for a few more moments.