My idea of a perfect summer day is steaming temperatures (which we certainly have experienced), a good book and a visit to our community pool. I could spend hours dipping in, dipping out, reading, dipping in, dipping out. Sheer bliss.
Perhaps the best part of being at the pool is people watching. There are the “regulars,” the ones you see regardless of what time or day you visit. Are they retired? Do they work from home? Are they between jobs or just well-to-do? Teachers? It’s fun speculating.
At my pool, the same older man plants himself firmly in a spot at the corner of the pool every weekday (it seems). I first noticed him three years ago. By the end of the summer, he was well and thoroughly baked, which is not necessarily a good thing. The fact that he takes over two chairs — one to sit on and one to rest his leg — is irritating on a crowded day. But other than that,his presence provides a sense of continuation, summer days and years blending into each other.
Nearly every visit, however, I still experience a tinge of sadness. For years, my best friend Mary and I would meet at the pool. Not my current pool, but one almost like it. We would “exercise” by walking back and forth in the shallow end. Mostly, we just chatted.
I first met Mary when our daughters were in kindergarten together. My daughter is my first born. Mary’s daughter of the same age was her fifth child. Wanting to be the best mom I could be, I joined the PTA. Mary was an active member and quickly became my go-to mentor. She was irreverent, down to earth and funny. Did I mention irreverent?
We quickly realized that my second child — my son — was the same age as her “baby,” the youngest of her brood. So we were involved in the same activities for two classes. Kindergarten activities blended into a dozen years of school dances, bake sales, garage sale trolling, shopping, pool visits and, our favorite, summer “porch nights.” We lived on the same street, but our houses were separated by Interstate 90, which decades ago had bisected the neighborhood. At dusk several times a month, I would hop into my car and drive the nearly 2 miles to her house. We would sit on her cozy front porch, sip margaritas and talk and talk and talk.
We solved world problems. We talked about our children and their trials and tribulations. More often than not, she gave me advice on how to parent and stop being so hard on myself. She was wise, witty and a good friend.
We also had our pool dates. We would text back and forth and arrange to meet. On one typical August Saturday several years ago, we made the arrangements and I bustled to the pool. I got there before her, and watched as she walked over to “our” spot. She was limping badly. We talked about it and she said she was going to see a doctor about it that week. She was pretty sure she had pulled a muscle working as an aide in a special-needs class. A child had thrown a chair and Mary had dodged it, but she fell down. It had been bothering her since it had happened in June but was getting worse.
The pool water was freezing and we didn’t spend much time there that day. My days got busy and we didn’t have any contact with each other until Labor Day, which fell that year on Mary’s birthday. I texted. No response. I figured family time.
The next day she responded. “You need to come over. I have to tell you something.” I persisted with another text. “Why?” She finally answered: “I have lung cancer.” It had already metastasized to her brain and bones (thus the hip pain).
Mary was a smoker, but this type of lung cancer, the doctor told her, was not related to smoking.
For nearly two years, I would go over to her house on Tuesdays during my lunch hour. It was “our” time. She passed away in February, on a frigid, icy day.
I never went back to that community pool. In fact, my husband and I moved out of the suburb not long after Mary died. So my new pool doesn’t have any Mary memories.
But the good news is that those memories are getting easier. I remember the good times now.
And we did have a good time, walking back and forth in the water.
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