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The Aqua Burns

Two hours ago, I walked towards my new gym, reconsidering this direction the entire way. I was wearing a too-large very modest Speedo one piece under a giant casual sweater dress, with a sweet pair of Clarks loafers on my feet. As I wove between Nationals fans in varying degrees of more-put-together-than-me, I avoided eye contact. Easy to do in DC.

So this September I thought I’d be proactive about things.


My mood was rancid. I muttered to myself in annoyance as I tried to navigate around tourists who walked four abreast, slowly, on a sidewalk designed for a width of two or three. I sighed heavily when I had to wait on crossing a street because a car in search of parking for the baseball game had insisted on blocking the box.


In the elevator to the penthouse pool at my gym, I was a still second guessing my interest in being there, wondering how awkward it would be to leave in the middle of class (much more difficult with a pool involved) and whether or not doing so would ultimately mean I had to join another gym to avoid the humiliation that would be all in my head.


The air was cool this evening, barely in the mid-70s. Upstairs, only one other swimmer waited for the rest of us to show. There were supposed to be 25 people. At 7:29 for a 7:30 class, only four of us blinked at each other in uncertainty about how cold this endeavor would be.


We dipped in toes, chatting with the kind instructor who neither encouraged nor discouraged us. Slowly, we called out to each other from various edges and corners as we submerged bit by bit - feet only, then sitting in the shallowest spots, to finally standing in on our toes as the water lapped around our chests.


Surrounded by apartments and condos, with the setting sun and a sky streaked with contrails and clouds, we positioned ourselves in the pool, with its neon underwater lights and its hip cabanas, ready for action.


The next hour was a blur of movement. We flutter-kicked in time to Beyoncé’s “Church Girl.” We pushed away from the wall like I used to do as a little girl, then fought the current to run back to it. We struggled to understand the nuances of what our instructor described as “alligator legs.” At all times and as our numbers swelled to 7 with a few latecomers, we called out encouragements and complaints, building ourselves into a supportive unit of widely varying ages and bodies, laughing together at the absurdity of the scene that we could see shadows in various windows watching.


And I began to smile.


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