Swimming Upstream: A Sunday Afternoon

Today I was supposed to go swimming with my friend Linda, but just as I was about to leave, a friend stopped by.  (In the mountains this never happens, and it is both delightful and wreaks havoc on schedules.) She dropped off a file box full of recipes she had collected; a thoughtful gift to help rebuild my post-fire kitchen someday. (Some day in the future, when I have remembered how to cook. Right now I have not progressed beyond heating things up and making toast.)

Anyway, she left and then I decided to go get the mail.  Inside the box was a small envelope with an address I didn’t recognize.  I opened it up, and inside was a check for $200.  A small post-it that was attached said, “Andi, I hope this helps you rebuild your life.” I turned the check over and over, mystified. The address on the check was a PO Box, and the name was one I didn’t recognize.  Wow. A total stranger sent me money in the mail. Can you believe it? I stood there, tears rolling down my face, awed once again at the kindness of strangers.  How is it that people are so good, so generous?

I finally started down the hill, and went by Columbia Cemetery, the historic old cemetery in Boulder on 9th Street. I stopped at the light, and there was a tour going on in the cemetery.  There were people at different gravesites, and kids running around, and tourists walking among the headstones, learning the history of the cemetery. It was actually quite festive. I chuckled to myself – leave it up to Boulder to make a party out of everything, including death. God, I love this town.

Boulder saved me from my dreary teenage life in Chicago, when I first came to college here at 17.  I stepped off the bus from the old Stapleton Airport and got out at the Country Store, looking for the dorms.  I smelled the mountain air, looked at the Flatirons and the beautiful campus of CU, and said out loud, “I am HOME!” And I have been here ever since.

When I travel, no matter where I go, or how beautiful it is, I cannot wait to get back to Boulder. I drive from the airport (now DIA,) and then up the hill until I crest the top of it and then voila!  Boulder is spread out before me. I can see campus, downtown Boulder, the foothills, and the snowy Rockies in the distance. It is a breathtaking view.  Each time I come up over the ridge and then start to drive down into Boulder, I say, “Hello, my little Yuppie Paradise!  I AM BACK.” Knowing that I live in Boulder fills me with joy.

So today I drove down the hill in another direction, to the Rec Center, hoping I had not missed Linda, my swimming buddy. Sunday afternoons are very quiet at the Rec Center, as most people in Boulder are outside, getting their cardio on. (Hey, want to get your heart rate up? Look at these quotes for rebuilding my burned down house that may or may not be covered by insurance. That’ll get it pumping!)

Anyway, I went on to the Rec Center, and had to stop at the front desk for a conversation I had been dreading all afternoon. I had to tell yet another stranger my house had burned down, and burned up my Rec Center pass, and melted my Rec Center lock, and could I please get them replaced? The woman at the counter was very helpful and matter of fact, and reissued my burned up card without missing a beat.

When it came time to get a new lock, she said, “Well, What color do you want? I have red, green and yellow.” I said, “Definitely NOT red. I’ve had enough of red.”  She chuckled and said, “Okay, there’s a nice, peaceful green, or a warm, healing yellow.”  “Yellow!” I proclaimed, and she grabbed one out of the case for me. It was so Boulder. A “healing yellow” lock for my locker. Can you imagine this conversation happening in Chicago, where I grew up, or in New York City?  Here’s what I imagine;

Counter Person: “Lady, I don’t care if the world ended –  you lose a pass, you lose, period. Got that?  And a new lock is ten bucks, cash only. And no I don’t have any change, so don’t ask. You gonna buy one, or what?”

I would have run crying from that Rec Center, but I am in Boulder, where people are nice and helpful and understand the cosmic difference between red, green and yellow.  I clutched my new yellow lock in my hand and marched off to the pool, mission accomplished.  God, I love this town.

I was so late that I had missed my friend Linda, but I decided to swim anyway. I put my stuff in a locker, got into my suit, and walked out to the hot tub.  It was sunny and warm in the glassed-in corner there by the big, tiled tub, and the jets were bubbling and it was nearly empty.  I picked a corner and sunk in to my neck, and let the hot bubbles work on my shoulders.  Oh, this is good, I thought. My brain is shifting down from fifth gear into fourth, third, second… Oh my God, I am actually relaxing. Whew.

When it got too warm, I got into the pool, and into the empty lap lane.  Swimming is one of my favorite things, but for some reason I felt too afraid to put my head under water. Some kind of strange PTSD had frozen my arms and legs, and made me feel like if I put my head underwater, I would drown. I took a breath and pushed off from the side, and decided that I would just swim however I could, without judging it.

Usually I pound through laps, counting the turns and looking at the clock. But today, I just paddled along like a little frog, feeling the water flow over my body.  It felt exquisite. I could feel that there was actually a small current in the pool, and that I was swimming upstream. I could feel the cold water and the small pockets of warmth where the heaters were blowing into the water.  It seemed like it took forever to get across, but I wasn’t struggling. I was just paddling along, quietly, slowly, barely making a wake, enjoying every small stroke, and the amazing caress of the cold. Water never felt like that before; I had never been so aware of floating, of buoyancy, of the tiny details around the pool.  I was actutely aware of every feeling, every sound, the smallest angle of light on the water.

It’s that heightened awareness, that Edge that I’ve talked about before. When you’re in disaster mode after great loss, the world spins into a strange, exhausting and disorienting place.  And yet that place has made my senses keener than they have ever been.  Life on the Edge is painful, sharp, and piercing, and yet it is also oddly luminous.  I know in a way I will miss it, when the little ship that is my life finally rights itself, and I list back into the wind, back towards Normal.  The edge will dull, the light will dim, and water will just feel like water.  But for now, I am riding the Edge, holding fast to the ropes as I zoom along, almost tipping over, breathless yet excited, listening for its teachings.

After a while I got really cold, and paddled back to the other side, and climbed back into the hot tub. That small swim left me exhausted, so I soaked for a bit and then headed back to the locker room.  As I showered, the water flashed from hot to cold and hot again, and after jumping around, I laughed. Dear old North Boulder Rec Center. Most of my friends who are Serious Athletes go to private clubs, where they can swim in peace, and train for their next triathalon uninterrupted by the Boulder High Swim Team or the Water Ballet Club. But this is what I find most charming about the Rec Center; the high school swim banners that proclaim champions from years gone by, the little kids who squeal with delight at their very first ride down the three-foot water slide, even the overcrowded, hot-then-cold showers. It’s all part of this dance of life, in my town, my Best Place, my Beloved Boulder.

Later on, I sipped some soup at China Gourmet, our local vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, no-MSG, brown rice, no-salt or sugar Chinese restaurant. The hot broth slid down my throat and instantly dispersed warmth and calm to my entire system.  The salty liquid felt like Mom, like nurturing, like an inner hug. I closed my eyes and felt the goodness coursing through my body. Although I usually come here with Linda, it was okay to be alone tonight. There were other single people there, and because I’m in Boulder, they looked back at me and smiled.

I realize I am getting closer to Okay —  I am better, I am not quite Back, but I am getting there.  Eating soup, enjoying the last of the light on an Sunday evening, held in the arms of my friends, my town, my Boulder.  When you are so held, how can you ever really fall?

Sending You Love, and Wishes for Sweet Dreams,

Andi

The Stone Heart in October, 2010

June 21st, Summer Solstice, 2011

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7 Responses to Swimming Upstream: A Sunday Afternoon

  1. Linda Weber says:

    Andi,
    You’ve done it again. This post is so very beautiful. It touches me deeply in my I love Boulder too heart. Glad things are shifting.
    Linda

  2. Sometimes I forget what a great place we live in…especially when traffic is bad. But you’ve reminded me of the gentle graces and wacky joys of being a Boulderite. And wow! More gifts from strangers. More reminders that people all over (not just in Boulder) are basically good at heart.

  3. Gail Storey says:

    Your profound post, with all its heart and humor, touched me deeply, especially the part about your gentle swim through the water. Over the last couple of weeks, extraordinary people and circumstances have been passing through my life, things I wouldn’t have thought I could manage to be with, but I’ve been grateful for an experience of Flow much like what you describe so exquisitely. Thank you, dear Andi.

  4. Brooke says:

    This was so beautiful. Thank you for putting such wonderful words to an experience that is often so very hard to capture in what can seem like a limiting medium.

    Boise is often a place like Boulder. And yet I had one of those New York conversations recently. “I don’t have proof that I lived there,” I said on the phone. “My proof burned up in a fire.” “Well, we can’t process this without proof,” the guy said. He did say he was sorry, but his tone was anything but sympathetic. No yellow locks for me.

    And PTSD… such a bizarre thing. One of my major fears is movie theaters, nothing related to fires.

    And I’m glad you’re better. I don’t know if we ever get back to normal, but hopefully we find ourselves a new path.

  5. Maggie says:

    Lovely post, Andi! I, too, love seeing Boulder from the high ridge on 36 as I return to town after a trip. Can’t say it’s home for me but definitely a great place to live.

  6. Kathy Kaiser says:

    In a way, it would be wonderful if we all lived on that edge, never sank into complacency, but always felt that intensity.
    Your comment about PTSD reminded me of a friend who was in a bad fire as a child and since then has a fear of being smothered, either while swimming (she also can’t put her head down) or in snow.

  7. Linda Tate says:

    Andi–I too *love* that view of Boulder as you come over the pass on 36. Lovely! Linda

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