“If Lance Armstrong were an old lady, he would be this woman…”
I have never liked to share. The first few times I went to the public outdoor pool to swim I had my own lane. I did not realize what a luxury this was, an experience akin to ordering the best meal on the menu and having no one at the table ask for a taste. In addition, I am a terrible swimmer. Growing up on the Jersey Shore, I learned all my strokes in the ocean. I am a champion at dog paddle, riding waves, floating like a dead body over big swells – I even excel at Norman from New York, a game we played as kids in which you must stand right at the point where waves break and get crushed into ocean floor. New to the pool and new to swimming as a mode of exercise, I knew very little of pool etiquette. The first time a man in a black speedo hovered at the edge of my lane I had no idea he was going to ask me to share. Having played a lot of tennis in my life, it was incomprehensible that people might interrupt your singles set to inquire if they might join in for a game of doubles. Rather than share my lane, I got out of the pool and sulked in the hot tub.
I am still a terrible swimmer, but I am now the person hovering around the pool edge asking people to share. The worst part is that I almost always have to share a lane with the same woman because no one wants to swim with her. It’s obvious that she hates me. I believe she can sense when I emerge from the locker room into the pool area. Her freestyle pace quickens and she does her flip turns aggressively without glancing up at all. I hate her too. She is old and lean and a terrific swimmer. I have never gotten to the pool at a time when she isn’t there. Her body is hard and brown and chiseled; if Lance Armstrong were an old lady, he would be this woman. Once, after she got out and left me in the lane alone, something she almost never does, I heard her tell a man that she was leaving because she was tired of getting run into. Truth: I had veered into her side of the line once or maybe twice. The next day I smiled at her during one of her infrequent rests and asked if she was cold–she was shaking like a leaf. “I’m always cold,” she said. And then I felt better. Because she is always cold. “Maybe you are a reptile,” I said. “Maybe you should swim in the reptile lane.” She leaves me alone now. I swim so close to the rope that I often become tangled in it, but she respects me. We have learned what it means to share.