The Online Journal of Writer Kate Sykes
I arrive at the pool twenty minutes early because I’m shy about meeting Ben in a swimsuit. My plan is to be in the water before he gets here and remain submerged up to my neck for the duration of the lesson.
Ben is the assistant aquatics director at the health club I’ve recently joined. I don’t know much about him, only that he works with adults, like me, who want to learn how to swim. We’ve exchanged a few emails about my goals and possible lesson times, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t care what I look like in a swimsuit, but that doesn’t make me feel any less self-conscious.
At the front desk, I scan my new membership card, and a woman hands me a towel from a hidden stash under the counter. It’s about the size of a fig leaf. I want to ask for a second one, but then I see the sign on the desk informing me I’ve already reached my daily limit.
I guess I’m not the only person to have this same thought.
I make a mental note to bring my own full-body-coverage beach towel from home next time and go down the hallway to the locker room to change.
My swimsuit is one I bought ages ago. It’s reversible: dark blue on one side and turquoise on the other. It seemed like a good idea at the time, like two suits in one. Because it’s made of two separate fabrics, however, it takes forever to dry, and I never take it with me traveling, which is the only time I ever wear a bathing suit.
When I put it on, it fits looser than I remember. I’d like to believe this is because I’ve lost a few pounds, but I know that’s not true. It’s more likely that after years of sitting in the bottom of a drawer, the elastic has degraded and finally given out. It gaps in the back when I turn to look in the mirror. Worse, when I get in the shower to rinse off, it slides down and sags in the butt.
This is adding to my incentive to get in the pool as quickly as possible, but I still need to figure out how a swim cap works.
I’ve pulled my hair up into a tight ponytail, but the cap seems much too small to contain it all. Every time I try to stretch it over the ponytail, it pops off.
I pull harder, and it slips out of my hand and thwaps me in the face. After another couple of attempts, I lose my grip on it entirely and watch as it sails out past the shower curtain into the middle of the room.
I really didn’t expect this to be so difficult and wonder if I have an unusually large head. Or maybe the cap is defective. Did I get a kid’s size by mistake?
When I go to retrieve the cap, it’s sitting in a puddle by the communal shower drain. I try not to look at the clumps of other people’s hair swirling around as I bend down to pick it up.
Back in the shower stall, I rinse it off and try again. This time I go the opposite way: from front to back. This works better, but when I finally manage to get it on, a bunch of my hair is sticking out the bottom. I try tucking it back inside, but the cap is so tight I can’t get my fingers under the edge far enough to make any headway.
What about if I fill the thing with water first? Maybe it will be more head-shaped to begin with and I won’t have to stretch it so much to get it on.
It’s worth a shot, so I peel the cap off and run it under the shower. It takes a while to fill up, and I have to grab it firmly with both hands because it gets heavier and heavier. When it’s about the size of a bowling ball, I bend over and position my forehead close to the quivering surface of the water. Then, in one quick motion, I flip it up and yank straight downward.
Immediately, all the water pours out and the cap deflates before I can get it even halfway on.
This is not going well. The problem is how sticky the cap material is. It’s impossible to get it all the way on, without pulling my hair out of its ponytail. Even though my hair is soaking wet, it’s still not slippery enough. I really wish I’d done more research before attempting it myself. Someone must have devoted a YouTube video or a wikiHow to the perfection of this technique.
And then all of a sudden it hits me: conditioner! It will make my hair slippery, and it might even be good for it.
I squirt some into the cap from the dispenser on the wall and squish it around inside to coat it. I’m careful not to get any on my hands or the outside of the cap. My face is still smarting from where it smacked me before, and I don’t want to do that again.
And, this time, when I stretch the cap over my head—presto!—it slides right over the ponytail. It’s so slippery, I can even adjust it after I get it on, without yanking my hair out by the roots.
I feel triumphant, as though I’ve cracked some kind of secret code known only to swimmers. But I’m also concerned that conditioner might be bad for the pool, so I rinse off any excess before turning off the shower.
Next come the goggles. I have to admit, I’m really excited about them. If there’s one thing that separates the recreational swimmer from the lap swimmer, it’s a sporty pair of racing goggles. Goggles can make anyone—even a total dork like me—look like a serious athlete. Plus, my goggles are pink.
Pow! Take that, Barbie!
I put them on, seating the silicone gaskets around my eye sockets and then go around the corner to check myself out in the mirror.
I cringe a little when I see my reflection, which is sort of a cross between Tele Sevalas and a domesticated rabbit. I definitely do not look glamorous, but…you know what? I look like a swimmer—a real one.
And there is no chance anyone would ever recognize me like this.