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Monday, May 08, 2006

Swim team

I practice tennis at the Y. The courts are next to an indoor pool. It's been so temperate lately that they leave the floor to ceiling windows open, and swim season just started. As I walked across the court each time after my turn in the hot seat, I'd see bodies lined up against the window. Adolescent boys, their new muscles pop out of their skin like novelty balloons, and the girls they talk to seem light years older than them. Light years older than I remember being at that age.

At that age, I was nearing my inglorious end to swim team. Not so much a loser as filler. I was just another body to put in an empty heat. I always worked just hard enough to get through it. (I never really understood the passion that drives athletes to put every ounce of themselves into competition.) It was, as sports have always been for me, a social outlet for the very shy.

No matter what happened during the school year or who I was then, during the summer, I had friends on the team. There was no one from my class to take the lead and ignore me like usual. My teammates were older or younger, and I was a part of the group.

During meets, we'd write our events on our arms in permanent marker, and draw hearts in zinc oxide on our backs, to tan in our own summer tattoos. Each poolhouse candy counter was reassuredly the same; we'd get Zotz and Chik-o-Stik and a particular kind of red liquorice I've never been able to find anywhere else, and we'd split up our spoils.

That's where I learned how to flirt, with two guys a year ahead of me, who would never have looked at me twice--and didn't--any other time of the year. And with inappropriately friendly college boys who were terrible coaches for teenage girls. Years later, I still have a crush on one of the former guys that I have never been able to shake.

Then one summer, I got a part-time job, and my parents never mentioned swim team again. As an inherently (where did I get this??) lazy person, no matter how much I enjoy a sport or exercise, I won't do it unless pushed into it. So I forgot about sun and swimming and boys in bathing suits, and started pushing cones at an ice cream shop in town.

The kids in the window reminded me, though, of what a good way to pass the summer.

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