The Swimmer Woman, the Sun-bathing Women and Me
Out past the end of the long, curved jetty at Pier Park, I watch a deeply tanned, slender and beautiful young woman paddling a long red sea-kayak in from open choppy, water and feel slightly envious of her lean, strong, attractive young body.
I wander back around to the central pier in front of the Community House. As I arrive at the observation platform, the young woman with red sea kayak speaks from the water below to another woman on the tower near me. The kayaking woman has an accent, French, maybe. The other woman, the one on the observation deck, turns to speak to two people around my age and tells them that they kayaker is part of a team assisting a woman from Canada who is swimming 17 miles, ending here at Pier Park. She, the speaker on the observation deck, is part of the welcoming team for the swimmer. The welcome lady points out to “sea,” far out on the lake. I follow the trajectory of her finger and see another red sea kayak and a white motorboat next to each other. I cannot see the swimmer. The boats are guarding the swimmer from motorboats. She is still probably a quarter of a mile out at this point. The pretty kayaker heads back out toward the rest of the swim team.
A big boat, a ship, moves along behind the swimmer, but farther out. As the assisting kayaker paddles closer to the swim team, a fast-moving motor boat cuts between the swimmer and the approaching sea kayak, closer than I would prefer,
I look through the telescope and see the swimmer, a small bobbing orange head between the other kayak, paddled by a man, and the motorboat. I feel a rising sense of excitement for the woman and her team.
When I leave the observation tower, I see and old man and two children motoring in the harbor. They pass me slowly in one of those inflatable raft boats. I am deeply affected by their reflection, following them along the water, serene and colorful, broken into tiny shards by the ripples. Suddenly, I feel deeply alive, perhaps because of my excitement over the arrival of the swimmer.
Teenage girls in tiny bikinis sunbathe on the docks. I weave among them to reach the end of the dock. It seems as if to them, I am invisible. They talk through me as if I were transparent or nonexistent. One of them has pale green toe polish that matches her bathing suit. I carry three cameras, but haven't taken a picture. I don’t want to point my camera at the girl with the green toe polish, even though I find it intriguing.
Two women sunning at the end of the dock talk about how motorcyclists should wear helmets and how slick racing bikers should be more considerate. One lady says she was riding a mountain bike and a racing biker almost blew her off the road, and she says, "Piss off!" to the biker in a caustic tone. I miss the next thing she says, but then she says, "Now that I know that it annoys you, I'll do it all the more." She says she is “in communications.” Her voice grates in my ear and heart. "I need to find a voice register that people listen to," she says, and I almost laugh aloud. "I don't give a shit about kids, I hate them and I don't want to have anything to do with them," she continues. "Lose the PowerPoint and distractions," she says, and the other woman says, "Simplicity sells." The bitchy woman says, "I don't like redundancy." She says likes Donald Trump and Howard Stern.
I eye the woman from the corner of my eye. I cannot see her well. She wears a bathing suit with pink flowers on green leafy background and lies on a low chaise. She sounds acidic as she speaks. How terrible to sound like that. I feel sorry for all the times I have sounded bitchy myself. If only I could be sweet and mellow and never sound like that woman. But, sadly, I too often fail to be sweet and mellow.
The other woman says, "I help my clients by keeping it simple, creating word pictures, and saying ‘if you don't do this, this is what will happen.’ I explain the harm of procrastination.” She likes Donald Trump too, but doesn't sound nearly as grouchy. Her voice is sweet and pleasant, and she sounds sensible. She doesn’t know who Howard Stern is.
Standing at the end of the second longest pier, the straight one next to the beach that ends at the opening from the harbor and boat wells, I see the two red kayaks and motorboat who had accompanied the swimmer arriving around the edge of the long curved breakwater pier, but where is the swimmer? There she is. The two kayaks surround her, and momentarily hide her. She’s headed for the beach, doing the crawl with strong arms and a strong, steady stroke. The motorboat turns to the side, declining to head into the shallow water.
I turn toward shore and peer sideways at the more pleasant of the two women who were talking about helmets, communication, Donald Trump. Her chin is tilted up, slightly. She has a beautiful face, fine-featured and sophisticated, with dark curly hair. She smiles cheerfully and her face lights up. I don’t get a look at the crabby-sounding woman; she is behind me. I imagine her looking cranky and sullen, then chastise myself for my judgmental thoughts.
Quickly, I walk back along the dock toward shore, dodging between the sunbathing teens, walking fast trying to get to shore before the fast-moving swimmer. A man walks by, maybe 28 or 30, wearing tight biker swim shorts. Love handles hang over his suit all the way around. His face is agreeable looking, he has a gentle, sweet voice talking to his kid, but he would look better, to me, in the old, looser style bathing suit. Styles change, but why do they so often, lately, seem to change for the worse? I feel as judgmental and bitchy as the woman at the end of the dock.
I race toward shore hoping to beat the swimmer, watching her as I go. Up she comes! The swimmer stands in knee deep water. She probably couldn't swim well in such shallow water. She stumbles slightly. I worry she’s exhausted. The kayakers close around her. I could take a picture . . . but it would just be a picture of a woman standing in the water, and from a distance. I take it anyway. She wears an orange bathing cup. She walks easily up onto shore. I am relieved.
I walk across the beach toward her, trying to see her, but tall grasses hide her from view. For once, I stride across the beach without looking for dead fish, flotsam and jetsam and without watching the children at their castles and games. Instead, I am interested in this woman who just swam 17 miles. She comes around the grasses, turns and walks toward me, opening the top of her wet suit and letting it hang down around her waist, revealing a blue bathing suit. She doesn't look tired. She looks fresher than I feel. She smiles. She is not young, as I’d imagined, but maybe 45 or 50. Grey at the temples. Happy-looking. Excited for her, I smile with vicarious pleasure in her accomplishment. But as she approaches me, I say nothing. I want to congratulate her, but she doesn't know me. I feel shy and invisible and just watch as she passes, touched by her courage, strength and poise. Thursday, August 7, 2014