My daughter and I hop into the pool a mere forty minutes before it’s set to close. Swim team, classes, and other lap swimmers have kept it busy, so the water has churned itself up into being cold and inhospitable. Unpleasant; but, I know after only half a length I’ll feel just fine.
Phoenix hits the water ahead of me, striking out for the other side and the shadow of the diving board. Experiencing what can only be described as a sense of bemused dismay I am stunned at how quickly she can swim, a full year since she quit swim team. She is completely confident and displays correct, if a bit choppy, technique: swinging her head to take that breath, her arms golden and sleek churning the water. Her energy makes me feel tired, but – give me a break, I still have a head cold. I follow behind and make it there, eventually. She remarks on my speed. “Give me a break,” I tell her. “I’m just learning.” Re-learning, really. But it’s been about twenty years.
We finish my half-mile at my pace, and in between my lengths she darts back and forth, easily outstripping me and the other two adults in the pool. Every now and then she pulls herself up to the side of the pool, arms folded across her long and lean belly. Her eyes like tiger stripes, long inked hair framing her serene but savage beauty.
I feel this helpless sense of something after our half hour is up, when we finally emerge from the now-empty lap pool and head for a few minutes in the hot tub. I’m thinking she won’t want to come along next time, especially with me swimming as slowly as I am (still learning to breathe properly and it’s a slog). But instead of trying to beg or hint or anything I simply lean in and tell her, “Thank you for coming with me. You are an inspiration to me as a swimmer.” She replies, “Thank you.” Fifteen minutes later in the car – hair washed, lights spangling against the windshield’s rain – she says, “I want to come with you next time.”
It has been wonderful having her home – no school this week. She is resting, drawing, helping with housework, and in general being a lovely presence. The additional sleep, and the lack of a grueling school schedule, provides her with more patience for her brother than she has shown this school year. This morning: when I wake, I find her curled up in my new oversized chair, drawing quietly and waiting for our day to start. An hour later she dresses for errands including deep plum eyeshadow and her coat with a fur-lined hood; she joins Nels and I for lunch out – and takes to a hot cup of soup with precision and hunger, like a lady.
She is nearly silent when she’s not giggling at video games or a goofy cartoon movie of her brother’s choosing. She is a flower in my home. With her blue-black hair, sharp hips, and long legs, she is a reedy and dangerous exotic orchid twining up the furniture, growing before my very eyes! I have to grab her belly or pull her down on top of me on the couch to get her to giggle helplessly and then I can see it: that brief glimpse of babyhood, the only softness left to her – a gentleness under her chin, a tender oasis hiding above her slim neck.
Rain outside; but the storm, for now, has passed. A soft bed and a warm room; cats, dogs, even the rabbit sleeping now. A bit of bread and olives; a glass of hot water and Chinese herbs.