July 23, 2009

Another Day At Sea

I hurt all over today. The humidity on the East Coast has not been kind to my body, weakening my ankles and swelling my legs to the point where my calves hurt just walking down the block. My first few days back, I was able to walk a few miles each, but now I can barely get out of bed.

Still, my body wants to move. I want to be active. I don't want to lose what I achieved while in the desert.

Edith played hooky yesterday so we could go to Jones Beach, on the south fork of Long Island not quite as far as Fire Island. At only an hour's drive from Manhattan, it's a good option for metro New Yorkers seeking the sea.

The water was way too rough for swimming, but we set up camp on the beach for a picnic lunch amongst the seagulls. On our way to the West Bathhouse for some non-ocean swimming, we had to take one break to examine Edith's toe which had caught a shard of something in the sand, and another to rest my legs. The distance is far for anyone in deep sand, not to mention for my distended ankles and calves. I nearly gave up when we walked all the way back and I realized I'd dropped a flip flop somewhere between the shore and the sidewalk. When we got to the stairs, I said, "I lost a shoe."

Edith was silent. I told her to wait there, dumping my stuff at her feet and slogging back, sputtering f-bombs along the way.

I've always gotten lost at the beach, even as a kid. Trudging back to find my shoe, I wasn't sure if I was taking the same path as before, and I kept mistaking bits of trash - napkins, bottles, plastic bags - for my sandal. At about the halfway point, on the slightly damp, matted part where Edith had checked herself for bleeding, I saw a glimmer of a strap, sparkling in the sun. Thank God I didn't have to go back all the way.

The lost shoe was only a minor blemish on the day. Lucky for us, when we got to the pool, it wasn't too full of young Latino couples embracing in the water, or chubby inner city camp kids cannonballing into the deep end. Before it got too crowded, Edith tried the diving board for the first time ever, and I dove for the first time since probably eighth grade (having gotten a doctor's note out of swimming in high school and saving the college swim test for Senior Week).

Jumping straight off the board on my first try, letting my feet sink to the bottom and then push me back up to the surface, I felt my brain leak into my sinuses, giving the back of my throat a blood-tinged bath of poolwater and skullwater. The second time, I tried a proper dive off the ledge. I cut right to the chase, aiming my prayer-position hands above my head and straight at the surface, using my toes to push off the ledge of the board into the water, like a knife cutting butter.

It was a little bit more like a belly-flop.

I felt like a fifth-grader again, escaping my mother during long summer days by walking down to the Huntington Pool, where I'd learned how to swim just months before. My chest heaved; my nose ran. My heart pounded and as I gasped for air, you could barely make out the words, "I'm gonna go again."

I couldn't get lost in the water. I would not be overtaken by crashing waves, filling my shorts with sand and debris. The pool was clean and blue; the deep end was small and the diving course was clear. My third dive felt perfect to my hands, the first of my body to pierce the water, sliding through it instead of smacking into it. I waited for my fingers to touch the bottom, but instead I felt myself rise as I swam forward, as far as I could until the pool spit me out by the metal ladder where Edith awaited me. My eyes, open underwater, now squinted in a smile and did not burn.

I wish I could say the same for the rest of me, but when I got home, my once-white watch line was a new shade of pink, and a stroke of red was splashed across my lower back, where the two pieces of my swimsuit had parted. I'd missed my left ankle in applying sunblock, and a few other patches on my legs and right knee, still scarred by the Amboy Crater. I stripped everything off and was able to sleep, covered only by a satin nightie that I figured would be softer than my sheets.

This morning and all of today, despite Gold Bond with aloe and Lanacane and ice and water and rain and air conditioning and pulling my waistband down as far as it would go, I still hurt. My abs hurt from all the times I pushed my feet off the bottom of the pool into a float. My arms hurt from the few laps I did down the extensive length of the pool. But I bear the marks of a good day, a day that I can still feel in my body today as I trudged once again, only this time in the rain.

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