This year, they built a brand new aquatic centre a block from my house. It's stunning, so modern and asymmetrical, and when I looked in the windows, it looked really cool. I pictured myself jumping in the pool and bobbing around. Maybe I'd get a floaty board and do some kicks; perhaps I'd tread water in the deep end and then dive down to touch the bottom. I've never been much of a real swimmer. I did take lessons at the Y as a kid, but I didn't like the water very much, so sometimes, after Dad dropped me off, I'd skip my class, opting instead to hang out in the lobby. Then I'd wet my hair in a sink just before Dad came back to pick me up again. Over the years, I eventually learned to swim so-so. I knew I'd never be a lifeguard, but I could tread water fine, and I liked being in hotel pools or the ocean on vacation.
I'd been meaning to check out the new pool for some time, so last week, during a pretty slow work day, I checked the schedule that I'd picked up one day and discovered that I was in time for the adult lane swim. Lane swim, I thought, was a far cry from floaty boards and playing in the deep end, but I nonetheless grabbed my suit and towel and rode my bike up the street to Regent Park Aquatic Centre.
I changed into my suit, took the requisite 'warm shower with soap' and then walked onto the pool deck, where I had three choices of lane speed: slow, medium and fast. The slow lane had lots of older ladies in it, some chatting with each other, and some bobbing up and down or doing the doggie paddle. Was this one for me, I thought? The fast lane had some thin men of all ages and some young, athletic looking girls with soccer shoulders. Everyone in this lane looked like serious swimmers because they had goggles on. Some even had rubber caps. And yes, they were swimming pretty fast. I decided the medium lane was probably right for me. There were six or eight other swimmers doing various crawls and strokes. Some had goggles or caps; others none. So I jumped in and took my place in the swim progression, moving counterclockwise up one side of the lane, and down the other; simple swimming for exercise, like real adults do.
Thanks to my early aversion to swimming lessons, I can't actually do a consistent front crawl and breathe to my side for more than ten seconds at a time. I was running out of breath pretty easily too, between the cardio involved and working muscles I hadn't in a few decades. All in all though, I was keeping up just fine in the medium lane. The water felt good to me, and so did the mini sense of accomplishment I was experiencing, real lane swimming for the first time in my life.
When I got home, I googled 'best swim goggles', (Speedo Vanquishers, apparently), changed my clothes, and headed downtown to buy them and a big healthy adult salad. What began as a day hoping I'd have some time to frolic in a pool had turned into a very adult morning and afternoon of looking after myself and being good to my body.
In the last six weekdays, I have been to the pool on five of them. I'm trying to form a habit of swimming, of being good to myself, and of trying to get better at something I used to fear. It feels like growing up.
I have nine grey chest hairs now. I noticed them this morning in the mirror. They surprised me because I’d forgotten they were coming eventually. It was only last year – the year that I turned 40 – that I even started to notice grey hairs coming in on my head. “Oh I love grey hair,” I used to tell people. “Salt and pepper is so handsome. Bring it on.” Grey on my head sounds dashing. Grey on my chest sounds old.
I went to my doctor recently to have a physical done. Both of my parents have had high cholesterol in the past, and Dad was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes about six years ago, so I thought it was time to have these looked at. While I sat there, I tried to remember all of the concerns that I had for my doctor. “My shoulder’s been tense lately. I’m losing my hair. What do those numbers tell you about my blood pressure?” – and decided to let others go unmentioned. I’ve accepted the fact that my left elbow will hurt forever, after I fell on it last summer. I’ve accepted the fact that my knees ache when I try to run now. These are just small things that I’ve been moving over to the ‘unavoidable’ column. What will follow?
He handed me a requisition form for my blood tests and wrote me a prescription for Propecia – the pill that makes your hair grow back, but robs you of some of your sex drive. Seems like so many problems can be solved now, but that there’s a price to pay in doing so.
I went to the dentist last week too, to get her to look at one of my back molars. It hurts lately, and I feared it would be another root canal, having had one two years ago. She x-rayed the area in question and told me there was nothing she could see that was causing it.
“It’s probably because of your gums,” she told me. “As you get older, they recede and the roots beneath them become exposed, and that can be painful." I left, happy not to have had my tooth drilled, but feeling a bit defeated because of the slippery slope toward the future that my tooth roots are on.
This feels like it's happening fast – my sensitive teeth and aching knees, my balding pate, my neck that seizes up when I turn my head to the right, my tingling face due to a pinched nerve, my slowly deteriorating eyesight and my slowing metabolism. For years I told myself that I was good with getting older – that I looked forward to calmer, wiser times. The reality is something quite different though. Getting older feels more like "closer to the end", than it does "better and more like myself". When I see my face changing with age, I wonder, have I really done what I wanted to by now? Am I where I wanted to be? Have I really done the very best I could with life so far?
I was waiting to get on the streetcar yesterday. When it finally pulled up, the small group of people I was with had to wait for a few moments to get on because a small, thin, older man, likely in his 80s, was slowly taking the steps down, one by one. He apologized to all of us, speaking from the bottom step.
“Sorry, everyone,” he said. "It's terrible getting old." He then moved ahead through the people and walked directly up to me. He touched my arm, looked at me with his blue eyes and told me, “Don’t get old.”