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Swimming In Loneliness


Vancouver is watery. It has nine indoor and five outdoor pools. The old neighbourhood ones are quiet. They might be called claustrophobic, stinky or small.
East Van’s Britannia Pool is tucked back. On timeworn Napier Street, the humble, unremarkable aquatic building belongs. When looking for a lunch-time-laps break and a reality check, why not?
Teresa wouldn’t have liked it. If she was with us. A couple Sundays ago our 48 year old sister died suddenly. Three weeks later family rituals are done. Grieving made it one long day.
We were to swim the next morning. Swimming was one of our things.
“Close as siblings could be” friends and relatives say. In water that impression was spot-on. Pool, lake, river, ocean, creek, stream, hot tub – hey, even a good puddle can cool four feet.
Teresa got good, though, with proper strokes, aligned kicking, tight turns, expensive goggles, fitted earplugs, timed laps and waterproof tunes. I only ever had fun up and down in the lane beside.
She was born in the rain at the end of January in 1971. Her brothers were five and seven. I was six. We became inseparable, in and out of hot water, even. Of course, Death doesn’t listen to that word. Perhaps life doesn’t, either. As a precursor to how she was viewed in her life, like a majority of younger siblings, through the eyes of comparison, staring down at her as a sleeping newborn gave a flash of dissatisfaction – no eyebrows and no hair. The baby on the TV commercials wasn’t like that.
Beauty came when she opened her eyes. Dive into it; so deep. Move through; so soft. It was buoyant, and it held us up.
Through the last two decades, a swim twice a week was a life saver. Driving all over Hell’s half-acre, she’d find the best pools. Britannia wasn’t on that list. I glance over to its 25 meter fast lane. Our 27 year old daughter is swimming. She looks very much alive in a white Speedo cap, pointy elbows and reaching arms.
Seven hundred meters is 28 laps. After a few, the little Teresa looks up. Thumbs up. Then head down.
We are doing it. Swimming without you.
It’s like evaporation when a future fades away. Not just a pool full, but the whole ocean. With the cruel certainty of chemistry, something solid but not, disappears. Gratitude, like condensation, eases realization, and brings a little back. It was remarkable to be together.
In the new goggles luckily the pool sells because mine were forgotten, I look down. There’s something tranquilizing about the look of the deep. Start in the shallow end and head towards it. Skim across the top, looking down long as it approaches. Often at the end of a lane, a plunge to the bottom would bring the other over and down.
An underwater picture of you smiling sits on the mantle above your urn. How delighted you were beneath the surface.
The good swims are followed by a deserted hot tub, and likely the philosophical. Something about jets churning makes flesh solid. I droned on about books and the rare poem. Teresa echoed insight. Family talks are repetitive stuff. Siblings consult and lecture on life’s challenges and how they can drown people. Looking deep and back, it was naïve. We bragged about life’s pleasures and how they would eventually bring us closer or redeem us.
Climbing the corner stairs at Britannia swimmers find themselves on an outmoded and narrow pool deck. The two of us look dripping wet but relieved.
“Hot tub, Mom?” Nadia Teresa prompts. Hidden behind a half-wall is a tiny one, almost empty, and not intimidating.
There wasn’t any reason for me to fear going to the pool again, after all. The pain in my heart didn’t get worse, because it can’t.
A joke is made about training for a triathlon. That’s amusing for one of us, at least, and a reality for the other. Swim together. Laugh together. Seems about right, if only…
A memory condenses. Some years ago in an outdoor pool in Palm Springs I told big Teresa about Rumi, the ancient poet from the Middle East. He says our hearts are small, but yet, how much grief and sadness fits in. We were using the holiday to help each other make some sense of a few immeasurable things in our families. I paraphrased and gave her my own version of things, so there was never the need to quote. She laughed at that, and liked it.
Look how small our eyes are, the old poet says, and yet we see the whole world.

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