I’m way down under. Sitting cross legged like a zen master at the bottom of the deep end of the YMCA pool in Salisbury, North Carolina. I can see the world going by up above. Fat women swimming. Old people standing. Little kids splashing. I know “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” by the Hollies is playing on a jukebox up there because that is what is always playing. I can never make any sense of the lyrics, but I love the song’s energy.
I know a pretty blonde life guard with a permanent tan is sitting high up on her stool, but I am pretty sure I could hold my breath for fifteen minutes down here and she would not budge to rescue me. She is always blowing her whistle at some minor infraction involving lane ropes. Kids are hanging on these ropes, swinging on them, always some violation of protocol involving the damn ropes. If anyone is planning to drown, God help them if they don’t do it near the precious ropes where all her attention is focused.
A bee was bothering me up above. I have decided to wait the bee out. My theory is that the bee will get bored waiting for me up there and move on to harass some other swimmer. The beauty of this underwater world is fascinating. I know my eyes will sting from chlorine later on, but exploring this new landscape is worth it.
I am not fast or smooth or graceful in the water. My wife is all of these. Robyn was on a diving team at Chapel Hill High School. I used to go with my dad to Catawba College to play in the pool there. They had a low diving board and a much higher-up diving board that involved climbing up a ladder. From the top of that diving board you looked down and thought that whatever complicated twists and turns you did, you didn’t want to end up on your belly or back because smacking the water from that height would burn like mad. No belly busters. No cannonballs. Maybe a jack knife if you felt adventurous.
When my wife got a job in New York City a little over a year ago, we talked about what it would be like. How would we make a life here? It was very much like diving into the deep end of the pool, swimming in these strange new waters. Could we float or would we drown in the Big City? Would it make us stronger as a family or threaten to rip us apart?
I had visited New York City maybe three times in my life before living here. When I was a child of about ten, I came with my family and my Uncle Charles who had been living in strange northern cities for some time. We saw the musical “Chorus Line” on Broadway. I was impressed and my parents were horrified by how many live sex shows dotted the neighborhood. What kind of insatiable sexual appetite did New Yorkers have to need quite so many of these? I wondered in my naive way. I got to wander around a bookstore for a few minutes under close supervision.
I got a not-so-vague impression that my parents were worried we might be mugged or killed at any moment. That we needed to hurry back to the hotel. Hold hands. Keep walking. We were told not to lose touch with our assigned Big City Buddy. It was implied we would be abducted, chopped into small pieces and mailed back to North Carolina in a thousand tiny envelopes if we did.
We have done pretty well so far living in New York City and have not been mugged or attended any live sex shows so far. We’ve eased into New York the way you do in a new pool much bigger than the one you’re used to.
We dog paddled a bit in Downtown to get our feet wet. Then we took our hands off the side to splash around in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Museum of Natural History. We stroked out to Brooklyn a few times this summer for food and tiny movie theaters with the best popcorn in the world. We put our toe in Queens twice for the sake of science. We even took quick dips in the Bronx to see the Yankees play and go to the zoo. So far so good.
One hard part to get over is that it’s cold here a lot of the time. Though I know that’s a given when you live in a state that bumps up against Canada, it’s still a shock when you experience a bone deep cold spell. Just like when you jump into the water in a pool. The first sensation is bitter cold. Goose bumps crawl up your arm. Your teeth chatter. Picture that first splash into cold water in a deep pool, then imagine if it simply stayed that cold. That’s the cold we’re talking about where I’m calling from.
Last year when I was homeschooling Avery, I was able to opt out of the cold. I told my wife I loved her and waved as she left for work. Then Avery and I sat by the radiator trying to figure out Algebra while feeling toasty and smart. We could stay there all day. Maybe we’d go out the next day if it warmed up a bit.
This year is different. I am working, often in Brooklyn. Avery is in public school in Chelsea. Robyn is going a thousand miles an hour at her work in the Financial District. We are all in the deep end of the pool, swimming hard in different directions. It’s freezing cold. No life guard in sight. We are staying afloat so far in these deep waters.
The other day I was standing at the top of a set of stairs that lead down to the Four Train, the first step of my journey to Brooklyn. A vast tide of people swept up toward me using the entire width of the staircase. Looking at them coming up, I was daunted for a moment. I needed to go down against the tide of commuters rushing up, and I didn’t see how that was possible. Then I did what all New Yorkers do when they have to fight their way through a crowd to get somewhere they have to go and do something that must be done.
I dove in.