I was in lane two when I first encountered the swimmer.
Lane one by the wall is my favorite lane because it has more space for me to do my stretches every ten laps, but that particular after-work swim to de-stress had me swimming in lane two to avoid the ‘circle’ swim that every swimmer knows about and avoids out of impatience and desire of personal space for ‘his’ or ‘her’ own lane. My prescription goggles were foggy. I was underwater, slammed my hand against the wall, and just broke the surface to try to catch my breath when I heard the swimmer exclaim: “You certainly know what you are doing!”
I pulled off my goggles and squinted. With my horrific eyesight without my glasses, all I could make out was an elderly gentleman who looked in his mid to late 70’s. He was completely bald. He was slim and well-built with certainly less love handles than me. He had a big grin that revealed gaps of missing teeth. His eyes shined like a young and excited child discovering something wondrous and wonderful.
He exclaimed happily: “You are a good swimmer! You must do this a lot!”
I was uncharacteristically awkward and wordless. It is unspoken swimmer rule that swimmers do not stop for small talk in the middle of vigorous and driven laps. He was breaking the unspoken swimmer rules. I uncomfortably gave him a half smile and nod alongside my squint and said, “Uhmm…thanks.”
Back under the water I went. However, each time I came up for air, the swimmer boomed joyfully, “You know what you are doing! You must do this a lot! You are a good swimmer!”
I started to get annoyed. I knew I should not have been annoyed. He was so endearing, sweet, and clearly just being friendly, but my swim strokes were slower and sloppier because he kept interrupting me. When I stopped shyly thanking him for his compliments, he slipped under water swimming slowly, steadily, and smoothly like a graceful gazelle.
When I left the pool grumpy that I had a slower swim, he said with his huge smile, “I’ll see you again! Keep up the great work!”
For three weeks, I kept encountering the swimmer. I began to notice little things about him. He wore dark blue trunks and black sandals that he would dip into the pool. It took him up to 30 minutes or more of when I was about to leave the pool for him to even get into the pool. He paced back and forth on the pool deck. He then paced back and forth on the steps into the pool. He always came with his aide who barely even looked at him because she was so busy with flying fingers texting on her cell phone. Every now and then, the aide’s head popped up from the phone to encourage or scold the swimmer, “Get in the water! It is good for you!” or “Don’t wear your sandals into the pool! You have to go into the pool with bare feet!” Most of all, I noticed that other swimmers stayed away from him. Just like I had. We had been in such a rush to get our swim routines over and done with so we could return to our other menial and supposedly necessary tasks that we had ignored and excluded him. I was ashamed.