I dreamt of my mother swimming. First it was in my youth at the grandparents’ pool. She was in her late thirties, I guess, and I saw her so clearly in her multicolored one-piece suit with the pleated skirt standing at the pool’s edge, stretching a heavy rtubber bathing cap with her two hands inside like a muff, her palms facing each other as if in divided prayer. The she wiggled her head into the space between her palms and tucked stray hairs into the cap, all the way around the cap, before she stretched the rubber strap attached near her left ear beneath her chin and snapped it tight over her right.
Next she waded slowly, unimaginably slowly, down the stairs with great groans and shrieks of dismay as the water reached first one tender bit of flesh and then the next and gradually up to her midriff before she lay cautiously on the water’s surface on her back in the dead man’s float her grandfather had taught her as a child. She waved her hands slowly, gently near the water’s surface with barely a ripple and all the langor and clumsy style of a lone Busby Berkeley synchronized swimmer in one of those dated films about a never-lived era of ease and glamor and lassitude.
To dream of her “swimming,” she who loathed the water and refused to put her face in it, is to pull myself back into times before me, times I do not know. Then the dream shifted. My mother was again poolside but now in Florida with me and my boys as young children. Her ritual is intact, except that now it is altered by the boys splashing in the shallow end she favors. Perhaps to escape them, she swims with her face held stiffly above the water, with careful strokes of her arms bent like a swallow’s wings. Her crimped and timid stroke makes clear the accuracy of its name: the crawl. She advances cautiously upon the water’s surface, her weakly flapping feet and slow-arcing arms making no sound and producing only the faintest ripple.
Even in my dream, I am aware that at this point she is in her 60s and still able to turn a head in her swimsuit and her white chin-strapped cap with the multi-colored, many petaled flowers. The image lingers, and I am glad for its company on this cold snowy day when I am far from my first born on his birthday.
April 4, 2012