Can you remember our first time? We barely knew each other. Back then, we didn’t even carpool.
I’ve always hated mom dating - the elusive art of trying to make new parent friends. It is hard enough fully clothed and on land. What was I thinking inviting you to the pool?
I’d seen you at school, before we really met. You were hanging out with the put-together moms – whose kids had coordinated catalogue-clothes and brushed hair tied with bows. I wrote you off. My kids are windswept and muddy. So am I. I was shocked a few weeks later when I asked a group of moms if anyone was looking for a soccer team and you shrugged your shoulders and said, I’d play soccer.
Later, on the soccer field, you surprised me again - laughing at my jokes always with a quick retort in your equally irreverent humour. My heart nearly exploded when you mentioned wishing you had more time to swim. I was also looking for a way to get back in the pool. Before I could stop myself I blurted out something silly about swimming together. You agreed without hesitation.
A few minutes into the conversation it was clear that you were more than a casual swimmer. Despite growing up in different countries we launched seamlessly into a shared history: the language of yards and hundredths of seconds, an implicit understanding of IM order and the merits of sneaking pulls on the lane line. We reminisced bucket backstroke turns and when fly kick in a freestyle race was illegal. Even the way you held yourself carried the intimate certainty, strength and comfort of a swimmer body. A swimmer body well-versed in chlorine-scented sweat, in shoulders that never fit shirts, and in the unshaven - then fully shaven – well…everything. This one chat launched me from asking you on a mom date, into seriously considering long-term friend territory.
But that first day, I stood on the deck with my heart flutter kicking in anticipation. I tugged at my ill-fitting swimsuit and re-adjusted my goggles. I filled my water bottle and went to the bathroom, again. I worried you would be too slow to keep up with sets. Then, I worried you’d be too fast and I’d fall behind like I used to as a kid. I worried you might like breaststroke or distance sets (I’d come to learn you love both). There seemed like so many ways this could end in disaster, and all I could do was wait for you in my overstretched spandex swimmers.
Then you arrived, strutting onto the deck, swinging your goggles and waving to the lifeguards. You splashed yourself like real swimmers do, up the arms, on your face, race-ready. I was smitten.
Returning to the pool felt like a reunion date with an old lover, tantalizing and nerve-racking. Memories of past victories and failures flooded my consciousness, but muscle memory carried me through the first few laps. I had forgotten the way a body can find solace in the streamlined angles after flip turns, calm in the meditative breathe every three, and clarity as if life can be seen clearer underwater.
What next? You asked after lapping me twice.
Sprint set. I suggested, knowing by then that you preferred long distance. You didn’t give me the satisfaction of a reaction. You untwisted your goggles and declared:
Leaving on the zero. And that is what we did.
The first half length, held breath and pounding heart, I felt strong. I felt powerful. I felt invincible. At the end, I flip turned, streamlined, pressed elbows to my ears. Soundless. Water flowed like ribbons between my fingers. Satin streamed along my limbs. The rush of lactic acid, and endorphins erupted into a liquid ecstatic state. I touched the wall first, thinking I finally beat you. Then again, maybe or you let me. Falling back in love was inevitable. Do you remember afterwards? I didn’t want to leave the shower, the rush of tired strength, or you. We lingered in the lobby, breathing in chlorine vapours.
I finally blurted out awkwardly, Do you want to get coffee?
My belly flip flopped like it used to before a big race. I needed to pee. I bit my lip. I’m sure you barely hesitated, but the anticipation of your answer felt like I could have swum a mile before you replied. Sure, you chirped offhandedly, as if you had planned to get coffee all along.
These days, our mouths doing more laps than our limbs. The regular swimmers chide us about our bathing suit clad chat sessions, and we resolve to swim quicker and further next week. Sometimes we make good on that promise.
Once, amidst chatter of friends starting whole30 or Paleo diets, I gushed appreciation for your enthusiastic consumption of pasta and bread. You replied with fondness on how I always accept cake at kids’ birthday parties. Then, you shared that being with me reminded you of bagels and like Pavlov’s dogs you can’t help but drool. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt more loved.
However, my favourite moment with you was the random conversation with the curly haired stranger in the change room. She stopped us to say:
Your chatter through the shower stalls reminded me of back in college with my friends. It brought back long forgotten yet really happy memories, and I just had to thank you two for that.
We laughed with her, and it got me thinking. I know I love you for all the practical ways you make my life better: commiserations about children and giggles about leopard print Speedos; gifting your homemade soap, and carpooling. I do adore those things, but what this stranger articulated so astutely, is that spending time with you makes me feellike a college kid again. You don’t see me as mum, or wife, or volunteer, or teacher bogged down by the drudgery of daily life. You just see me as me, complete with saggy swimsuit, sarcastic wit and my notoriously low tolerance for the sauna. You wait patiently as I open then close my locker three times to get goggles, or leave glasses, or grab a water bottle. You overlook my unshaven legs and forgotten underpants. Despite all of this, and more, you still show up every Thursday. So do I.
Love you like a bagel,
Kristin Procter currently lives in Massachusetts, where she collaborates on workshops and open mics for motherwriters. Her writing has been published in Understory, Mom Egg Review, and 3Elements Literary Review. None of this could have been done without her friends.