It was surprising how it came back to me when I stepped into it, smelled chlorine, and heard the echo of voices high into the expanse of the community Rec Center. Water Aerobics. My friend had said, "you'll be the youngest person there." And, I was. That was last week, a long time—twenty years, in fact—from when I first came here a month following the miscarriage of my second pregnancy. In the midst of a grief, the likes of which I could have never conceived, I wanted to take swimming lessons. I imagined the pool water washing away my dolorous skin and making me new.
I only remember one momentous thing that happened during those swimming lessons besides learning what can only be described as a lopsided butterfly stroke. I lost an expensive lens out of my prescription swimming goggles. I traversed the lane slowly looking downward, holding the remaining goggle lens to one eye until I saw the other shiny coke-bottle-bottom lens far below on the floor of the pool. I sucked in big gulps of air and after several tries, nailed a less-than-perfect surface dive to the bottom to get it. Maybe it was then that the pain finally subsided, or maybe I am romanticizing. Maybe it just took me a long time to let go. You see, I had a child already, so knew what I had lost. Never mind that everyone says things like that happen for a reason. I had lost a fetus and I despaired. I was determined to push the grief out of my body with every clumsy stroke.
And, just like that, my short, less-than-illustrious swimming career ended. The goggles—with both lenses—are still safe at the bottom of a drawer. Then, out of nowhere, I experienced a momentary reemergence of that grief when I stepped back into that pool for water aerobics with a group of women who assured me it was ok if I couldn't get all the steps right.
What am I grieving for now with every exaggerated water-resisted, salsa step? My beautiful daughter just got married, but I’m not sad about that. I am happy for her. My husband and I have already easily slipped into emptynester-hood. In fact, the joke is that when we took our daughter to get her driver's license at sixteen, it felt like she got into her car and drove away from us forever. That is as it should be.
I want to say that a miscarriage is part of some divine…I can't use the word plan, I just can't...the word process is better, I think. But I won't give up the word divine, meaning, of a god, because it—the process whereby a fertilized egg is spontaneously aborted from a body seems almost—though I don't believe in these kinds of things—godly. In reality, something was not—or maybe it was—working perfectly, as designed with the fetus, or with me, or with our time together; so, we said our farewells. I used to picture microscopic-sized Brazilian tree frog-like finger tips clinging to the wall of my uterus that one by one let go. At first, I wanted to know what had gone wrong. Over time, it didn’t matter. I never became pregnant again.
This new dip into that pool is about another body—my own—that seems also to be slipping from my grasp no matter how hard I try to hold on to it. I feel my fingers trying to cling to…to what exactly? time? quality of life? to life itself? That's why after more than twenty years, I walked back into the pool at the neighborhood Rec Center. I have added water aerobics to my cache, or rather to my bag of tricks, to try to keep my body as strong as possible as I enter the final leg of my journey. I do what I can: track my daily steps with a monitor, practice yoga several times a week, workout with free-weights and gym equipment. And, now I go to water aerobics with my new friends. When I stepped out of the pool—that pool—last week, I felt really good and really happy—different than I had twenty years ago. My new friends made me promise to come back. For a few minutes, I forgot that water aerobics was about my new constant struggle to cling tight to a stronghold.
I pick up my sister in the mornings to drive her to the hospital for radiation treatments for lung cancer. Before I get to her house, I go through McDonald's and get her a large Coke with extra ice. I bring her homemade soup and new hats to cover her bald head. "Thanks," she always says, in her raspy, radiation-pinched voice. The Coke feels good on her throat. We always get back to how lucky she is that it was caught early, that she has only one more week of radiation left, that the whole thing will be over in a few months with only two more rounds of Chemo. After that, it's a waiting game.
Prior to the recent daily radiation trips, my sister and I hadn't seen each other more often than a couple of times a year for the past several years. We used to share a room when we were kids. We're like life-long friends who get together every once in a while and swear that we must be sisters because there is a strong bond. We’re the epitome of what people mean when they say that. Perhaps, more accurately, we are sisters who feel close enough to be friends. After just the first trip to the hospital a couple of weeks ago, we were revealing things one would only tell a close friend or a sister—the small irksome thing someone did that day, adult children who aren't attentive enough, bodies that ache in the mornings and no longer work as well as they once did—all the small things that would otherwise go unspoken.
"I've been thinking about mom, lately." I say.
"What are you thinking about exactly?" she pushes.
"I've been thinking about how inwardly critical I was of her at the end; how I always felt she had simply given in to her stroke and refused to try harder to get better and to regain strength. I am beginning to see what kind of determination it takes to keep moving. I was critical of her and I regret that." This is something I've never said aloud.
"It's ok," she says. And when I hear her say that, I feel better. She says nothing more. It's becoming hard for her to talk.
I tell her about the water aerobics, but I don't mention how being in that pool makes me think about when I had a miscarriage. It was so long ago anyway.
"Would you mind if we stop at the grocery on the way home so I can pick up a few things?" she asks.
"No, I don't mind," I say. "I have all the time in the world." And, as irrational as that statement sounds, for a moment, I feel as if I really do.
© 2015 Grace Curtis