- The gate to the pool area creaks unnaturally loud as I pass through. It is early morning, early August. The sky has not yet reached full blue. My flesh is damp with dew, the towel around my shoulders far from adequate. Miss Pat, the camp’s athletic director, is already here, by the lifeguard chair. My entire cabin is here, huddled by the back fence. I am the only one of the Dolphins – third and fourth-grade girls – to attempt this mile swim. No one acknowledges me as I kick off my tennis shoes and drop my towel on the concrete. I’m assigned to Lane 4. On either side of me are girls 14-, 16-years-old. I hardly notice them. Miss Pat barks the rules: 36 lengths, no pausing at any time, switching strokes permitted only twice. I smooth my sides of lycra skin. Lazy water laps at my bare toes, smells freshly of chlorine. The shrill of Miss Pat’s whistle startles me and I’m almost afraid. I dive into the cold.
- Over the next twenty years, I went to middle school, high school, college, law school. I was beautiful and smart. Viet Nam happened, and the sexual revolution. Easy drugs. Civil Rights took center stage. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Watergate followed. I earned money. I lost my virginity. I lost my confidence. Reagan got elected and turned the whole country back toward mean. Self-esteem went underground. I brought a baby home.
- The last time (ever) I met with my women’s book group, we discussed a novel I’d selected, which had won numerous awards, about two mismatched young people trying to find themselves. The conversation went something like this:
- B: This was your pick, why don’t you start.
Me: Well, first, I thought it was very well crafted. But mostly I loved the improbable but credible relationship at the center, between these two damaged kids. Not plot-driven, just a nuanced interiority.
- L: What do you mean by that?
- Me: I don’t know. Subtle, a deft touch on painful subjects.
- D: You always have such an interesting perspective. I couldn’t relate at all.
- C: There was too much drinking for me. And too much sex.
- K: Indecent. I couldn’t believe anyone in this group would recommend such a terrible book.
- P: At one point, I felt so dirty, I had to take a shower.
- C: It was all the drinking and drugs. What is the point of that?
- J (shrilly): And the sex. How could anyone in this group think this a good book?
- P: Next time someone chooses a book with such violence, give me a trigger warning, so I won’t bother to read it.No one acknowledged me. Was I so invisible? It was pure mean. I was almost frightened, but I dove into the cold. It’s not about sex and drugs, I said. It’s about growing up. Gaining confidence and losing self-esteem. It’s about co-dependence and the struggle for independence. Finding yourself and seeing yourself in someone else. You always have such an interesting perspective, D said again.
- B: This was your pick, why don’t you start.
- At ten, I swam a mile. I wanted to be a professional baseball player. I wanted to be an actress. I wanted to be a missionary. I wanted to be daring and ride horses. But I was terrified of my father’s angry moods. I feared going to hell for a mortal sin of indecency that I didn’t actually commit. Now I fear the truth about myself. I’m terrified of my
I want honesty and freedom from too much responsibility. I can’t separate my own happiness from that of my daughter’s.
- It’s early afternoon, early August. Distant traffic, a few bird songs, voracious grasshoppers, and random splashes collide to muffle voices of children in the pool and picnickers on the grass. The air is diffuse with chlorinated bathing suits, barbecued meats, clover, dry grass, and damp towels. Above, the glassy sky is a giant camera lens that captures the whole scene and its cast of characters: the group of women in deck chairs reading books, beautiful young bodies aware of their beauty, a tired red-faced baby wailing while a tired father changes her diaper, the lifeguard barking commands, preteens clustered together by the back fence. Like beads on a choker, people circle the enormous municipal pool with their common lives. Meanwhile, the pool’s six wide, double-length lap lanes are completely empty. They issue an invitation. A dare. Nancy Cook runs “The Witness Project,” a program of free community writing workshops in Minneapolis designed to enable creative work by underrepresented voices, and also serves as flash fiction editor for Kallisto Gaia Press. She has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has been awarded grants from, among others, the Minnesota State Arts Board, the National Parks Arts Foundation, the Mayo Clinic, and Integrity Arts and Culture. Learn more at com