Monday, November 3, 2014

Memoir #4: Shallow Water Blackout

Shallow Water Blackout

      Psycho Coach pushed us beyond oxygen to the outer reaches of carbon dioxide. He had designed his own swim suit. It looked like a futuristic get up seen on Star Trek, with a zipper in the back. I imagine that moon and star space, the nebula, is much like a swimming pool...quiet, no air, lots of room to think. 

     We were a community college team. There were three campuses and the pool submerged at the central campus. I drove a 70' Ford Falcon about a half an hour to get there, bee bopping to music of 83', that being Duran Duran, David Bowie, and The Fixx. Because of the distance, two a day practices were too difficult. So the coach compressed; he squeezed; he wrung out every drop of water he could from us little sponges. As a sprint coach, he didn't subscribe to middle or long distance training. To him that would have been a waste of time.

     Aqua Girl—that was me, a comic book character—built for the water, duck feet, long fluid muscles—svelte from losing eight pounds in two weeks. Tired, man was I tired. As a student, I trudged to classes, my quads feeling like the cement stairs. IM is short for Individual Medley, a collection of all four strokes and a race that isn't at all short . After high school, I tried my sea legs in the 400 IM and pushed technique in butterfly, backstroke, breast and front crawl drills. All that lonely pool time—it gets to you. My head was all swimmy.

     “Susie, Mike, Mary, and Steve,” he barked. “Take the blocks.”

     People don’t believe that swimmers sweat in a cold pool. This juxtaposing the icy terror we felt against a 65 degree breeze as we waited for the coach's direction. 

     I hopped up there and shook my arms like noodles. The wind blew like a mockery. Wrapping my toes over the tilted edge of the starting block I waggled my legs back and forth to loosen up, adjusting my goggles over the skin head swim cap. 
     We never knew what was coming. It was the big psych-out, in order that when we build endurance and be competitive. We were ready for any race.

 “Alright 75’s!” Coach bellowed. That’s three lengths of the pool, each length being 25 yards.


 Oh great.

     Butterfly is the hardest thing there is. Picture a butterfly spreading its wings underwater. That’s about what it’s like. When done well, it’s beautiful, like ballet. A good swimmer makes it look easy.

“Breath control.”

That’s all he said. We got it. Swim, but don’t breathe.

“The first length, you take two breaths.”
“The second, one breath.”
“The third length, no breaths.”

Zip, zilch, zero breaths.

     This was after some fantastic sprint drill. I can’t remember what it was. but I was winded and spent already. We’d probably done 20 fifties (that’s swimming up and back) on a minute for each.
     He had it in for us, but we’d brought it on ourselves. Friday night was party time for swimmers and this was a Saturday morning practice. Boone's Farm is never a good idea. 

     He was a perfect swim coach for college freshmen. He taught psychology of all things.  

     Leaning over, grabbing the edge, my toes were shriveled, the nail beds purple, water dripped two feet to the surface, creating small circles.  

     We had to do a set of five, and if we took an additional breath, he added another 75.

     I had trouble. With each leg, I tired, breathing more than was allowed. So I swam another 75. I think I’d added three extra.
      Determined to finish this next one, there seemed to be no choice.
     That last length is indelibly stamped on my makeup—of who I have become.

     I remember the morning was overcast, like a habitual mood. Reaching in with a two hand touch at the wall, I pulled my head up and gulped two lungs full, pushing off hard, for momentum. Half way across, my abdomen waved in and out as it fed on carbon dioxide; every ounce of air absorbed by gasping cells.
     At the last third, I saw the bottom black line, the 'T' at the end. I thought, “I’m either going to make it, or pass out, right here in the pool.”

     “But I’m not taking a breath.”

     I reached the wall at the time of  'fade to black'.

     Standing, I swallowed precious air.

     “Good effort!” My teammate Steve grinned at me.

     I got a standing ovation from the other few, the only accolade I got that year. Barely passing school, I was so average. C’s at BCC. Swimming took most of my focus. Heck, it took all of it.

     Shallow water blackout, is a real condition. I was close to drowning, in the pool, at school, in life. I look back now at that little pond. My think tank seemed ocean size. How would I keep my head above the surface? 

     Those drills were good training for the future wife and  mother. Still, I swim.

     Treading water.

     Guarding lives. 

     Holding my breath, often. 

     Swimming at my own risk.

     Yet never swimming alone.

      I am in the deep end now.





Friday, October 24, 2014

Memoir #3

Woman, Splits/Ville

"Do the 50 memoirs have to be in chronological order?" Danika asked.

"Well, that's the idea, " I mused and reconsidered.

It's my blog, so I break the rules at will.

I'd read the book, so yeah, I wanted to see the movie.

I'll call it , Woman Splits/Ville.

The book was a real page turner, I'll give it that. I'd read it about a year ago. But sometimes my memory deletes the bad parts, so there were scenes I forgot. After we saw the movie, my sharp Katie commented, "Books are tamer. Black letters typed against white pages aren't as graphic as the theater screen, plus you read a book in segments. You have more time to digest it in parts." Isn't she smart?!

Rated 'R' movies are worse than they used to be. Or maybe I'm just getting old. Either way, the images and slang/jargon/vulgarity steam rolled through my central nervous system like a freight train.

The real embarrassment here is, I brought my daughters and a male friend of theirs.

If I'd gone alone, it wouldn't have been so bad. But I was blindsided by the current chaos of my "What Next Family" and I just needed an entertainment escape. I should have suggested a Disney flick. In addition, my brain was fried from the week at hand, hence the name of the day, "Fry Day." It was past my bed time. I wasn't thinking clearly.

I did remember from the book that the characters lacked nobility. I sort of liked two of them, but they were supporting roles, one a sister, the other a detective. They had a bit of moral fiber, authentic humanity, and a little humor. The protagonist was insipid;  had no humor and no moral compass. The villain should have been named, Marvelous Malevolence.

So into the black comfy seats, a bucket of popcorn and soda, at the ends of our elbows, we noshed and watched. And soon, we squirmed. We winced. We covered our eyes. Too late at times we plugged our ears. It got pretty bad, real fast. I kept waiting for it to ease. Not half way through, I leaned over to my daughter and whispered, "I can't watch this."

I walked out. I'd forgot my phone, didn't bring a book. I was hoping the kids would wander out to me and we'd get our money back and leave. It didn't happen. I sat on a bench outside the movie chamber and across the aisle, two other macabre types reeled on. The doors were propped open, so I could picture the chain saw slash and dash of heinous supernatural crime scenes. There I was, sitting in the den of iniquity, Hollywood style. I fingered my Rosary beads and wondered what to do.

I thought of all the research on the effects of violence in television and movies on humans. There are some images, memories, that can't be unseen. Some auditory scabrous slurs, that can't be unheard.

I went back in and asked the girls if they wanted to leave.

"It hasn't been bad since you left."

Reluctantly, I sunk back into my chair.

Quickly, it worsened, with one graphic depravity after another.

The movie should have been rated Rx, because it required a sedative to get through.

With the augment of one of the final grotesque scenes, disgusted, I got up and announced, "Let's go."

Back in the car, reeling, Katie said, "That was disturbing."

We all dished about how bad it was.

"I'm sorry, guys. I should have known better. That was over the top. We should have left sooner."

"It's okay Mom."

I went to Confession before Mass on Sunday. I wanted to be rid of it.

Is it possible to sift through a bad memory and learn from it without being bruised and scarred? The scars remember, I'm afraid.

Rated R means restricted audiences. Those sensitive to speed, spin, and visceral violence.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Memoir #2

We've all done it when we were kids. At least the dreamiest of us little scamps. In Fort Lauderdale, where the sun bakes, and the air is a thick wet blanket, I'd lie down on the sidewalks and stare at the clouds.

I had a lot of time on my grubby finger painting hands. Scarlet Fever flushed my cheeks that year, 1969. I missed 1/2 a year of kindergarten because of it. Mom stayed home during that blessed time. She was so tall to me, all five foot three inches of her.

I remember our living room as a burnished sepia toned photo. The outside borders are fuzzy, like my memory. Yet what I remember is what counts. It seems that the carpet was all shag, green, like pea soup. The walls were blank. We never lived in these apartments for very long. Mom liked to iron and watch a little TV. I think the ironing made her feel leisurely. I don't know for sure, because Mom and I are different, but if it were me, as much as she worked outside of the home when we were growing up, I'd think that time at home, tending it like a garden would be cherished. I recall the ironing board and the giant television set.

It was a typical hot day, and she herded me like a cat, near the television set to watch Neil Armstrong stake that USA flag in a crater far away, but close, on the moon. The same moon that I watched when we would drive home at night after movies at the drive-in. I'd lie on the vinyl seat of the Buick with the windows down, as shadows passed over the convertible ceiling. I saw it, The Man in the Moon. He looked and still does, like a cop with a sideways profile, old school, like from the fifties, complete with the emblem above the brim. "Susie, sit down! This is history. Watch it! He's on the moon!"

I listened and obeyed. I was just that kind of kid. The air condition evaporated all the five year old burden from my fevered brow. And it was enough, so back outside I went. It wasn't on the same day that this other event occurred, but I remember quite a few things from that year, living in that duplex, and all the memories run together, like flipping through a scrapbook.

My friend Gina lived across the the courtyard in another duplex. Her mother sewed and we played with these straight pins, with the colored balls on the ends. Gina had to lay down for a nap, so I was sent home. I took a few pins with me, hiding them in the folds of my smocked sun suit. I lied down on the sidewalk and outlined the clouds with a blue straight pin, like a pointer a teacher would use. Then, I popped it in my mouth. Yeah, then, I swallowed it.

We rushed to Holy Cross Hospital to the ER. Mom clutching the steering wheel, white knuckled, pinched vocal chords, like mine. Hers were screaming. Mine were pricked.

I stared at my toes, barely over the edge of the seat. It was a mistake. I shouldn't have swallowed that thing.

They took an X-Ray and we saw it, floating like. A thin sliver, a slice of moon in the middle of the space of my diaphragm.

"Have her eat bread, and wait. It'll come out."

It did, in the toilet. It stuck on the way out, much the same way it stuck on the way in.

You don't make these things up, and you don't forget them.