I like to stay as still as possible when I’m in the pool, slouching, my body submerged up to my eyes. I stay like this for as long as I can, holding my breath, letting the pressure build in my chest until I release it all at once. The bubbles come barreling out of my nose with a thunder only my submerged ears can hear. Each pop at the surface flings droplets into my eyes. My outstretched legs lock against the gritty floor, keeping my spine sandwiched into the far corner of the pool. Without moving my shoulders, I tilt my head back all the way to take another breath before leveling my face again with the water’s crisp surface. The blue blanket hugs my cheeks, tickling me as it reflects the movements of the men and women around me.
Closest to me is a group of preteens, boys and girls playing monkey in the middle. Each girl stands hunched over, hair hanging in two heavy sheets on either side of their faces. The girls sway more than they swim, shifting their weight slowly back and forth between dense feet. They maneuver their bodies in the water with caution, as though operating heavy machinery for the first time.
I can see the girl standing closest to me from behind. White skin stretches painfully across her shoulder blades. The vertebrae push up at the surface, forming a dotted line like the seal of a plastic package. Her skin yields to the green straps of her bikini, absorbing their contour in swollen pink lines that will stay deep and bright for hours. I imagine how she tied the straps in her bedroom: carefully, her fingers fidgeting with the cords, arms clamped awkwardly against her back as if awaiting handcuffs.
The lifeguard blows her whistle steadily, meaning it is now adult swim. Many of the younger mothers take this time to glide up and down the pool at a steady pace, swinging their elbows and lifting their knees with purpose. They keep their backs arched and necks stiff so as to keep the dangly tips of their ponytails from dipping under the water.
I am nineteen years old. Technically, I’m allowed to stay in the water during adult swim. I am not an adult but this is one of the times that I am.
After hearing the lifeguard’s whistle, the young girls trudge towards the edge of the pool, the boys striding close behind. The girl in the green bikini is the first to find herself on the step ladder. Once out of the concealment of the water and into the bright, blank air, her movements take on a new sense of urgency. She scurries across the hot concrete towards a stack of towels, elbows and knees flashing in the sun. I watch as finally, in one twirling motion, she swaddles herself in a towel and breathes out softly. After quickly wiping her face, she bunches the extra fabric against her chest in one tight fist and picks up a few more towels with the other, now taking slow steps back towards the pool.
The boys are getting out of the water by now. Some of them make use of the step ladder while others hoist themselves up over the tiled edge, taking the opportunity to demonstrate the sparse yet spectacular beginnings of arm muscles. The girls seem to take note of this new development, their eyes lingering as they sway in the water, waiting for a towel from their shrouded friend.
Two middle-aged women in tankinis swim-walk past me, their breasts heaped atop pool noodles tucked tightly under their armpits. One woman burrows the dull painted nail of her thumb between the fabric and the flesh, sliding upwards and releasing with a snap. I watch as they clock the young teenagers, the boys now out of the pool and stretching their shimmering limbs against the mild air. Behind them, the girls sit in their terrycloth cocoons, hunched around a table like shrimp on a cocktail glass. The two women look at each other with slanted eyes and stretched lips.
A man with a hairy back and a swim cap stretched over his skull is finishing a lap. He slaps his shiny, thick arm down against the pool’s edge and pulls his torso up out of the water, baring his heaving chest to the sun. His skin, blaring white, is carpeted with coarse black hairs. They twitch as water droplets snake between them. Each bead makes its way down through the thicket and back toward the pool, leaving behind a jagged, slimy trail that glows fluorescent blue against his skin. Soon he lowers himself back into the water, letting his arm slide off the edge with a neat plop before he disappears beneath the surface entirely.
From across the pool, I submerge myself too. I open my eyes underwater to watch him, but the blue blots out all of the sun-bleached details from before. My eyes burn.
I used to wear goggles to the pool. My line of sight would sometimes stumble upon bodies sneaking a moment of poorly concealed intimacy: a finger tracing shoulder to elbow to wrist, a leg slipped in between another’s knees. It reminds me of when I was younger and would kick up chunks of dirt behind my house to reveal the world of glistening worms and beetles beneath. I would watch as they writhed and scurried, desperate for cover, until I toed the dirt clod back into place and quickly patted it down.
The hairy man is wearing goggles. I realize that he would see me if he simply chose to look. He would see me floating just beneath the water’s ceiling, hair suspended above my ears and slowly curling around my head, clumps of bubbles escaping from my mouth. I imagine him at his house later, telling his wife about the strange person he saw in the pool. He would tell her how he saw her through the field of stalky blue legs while in the middle of his fourth lap, and she was staring at him, without goggles. He would turn on the shower and his wife would say something in return, but she’d have to speak up over the water. He would tell her, his voice carrying clearly, how it was adult swim and she looked like she shouldn’t have been in the pool.