I am Michael Phelps, so graceful and powerful in the water, but like an overgrown, slobbering toddler learning to walk once I hit dry land. Dropping, spilling, falling, and blurting my way up a steep path that feels all my own. Even while swimming, my thoughts come racing like a rainbow-colored stream too powerful to stop: What does the high school-aged lifeguard think of my flip turns? Does he think it's cool an old person is trying this or do my flying legs look particularly ungainly from where he sits? Does he fall asleep in class after getting up so early? Did I pack my mousse? Crap. I forgot to prep for the conference call at noon.
Then, from the depths I hear the long-lost sound of my friend's mom yelling "PULL" over and over at those freestyling past her, while she bends over the pool, peering down at each one's stroke. Her commands from 35 years ago still make me push the water back with more force, slice through the water faster, with greater purpose. The water calmly crackles and gurgles as it flows around my body, supporting me, providing a respite from the chorus of doubting voices. Just PULL, girl, PULL.
I'm in love with the water. It's there no matter what I do. What I say. It stays strong and never lets me fall. When the laps are over, and I climb the ladder out of the warm chlorinated pool, the brisk air and sounds of the real world hit me like a slap. I immediately feel like a fish flapping its fins desperate to slip back into to the comfort and safety of my watery home.
Picking up the kickboard from the deck, I wonder if my bathing suit is riding up and if anyone's watching. I walk to the stack of kickboards and look for the right spot to rest mine, but without spending too much time or thought on the process so no one thinks I'm odd. Walking back toward the lifeguard I say "Have a good one," hoping he's not watching my backside as I nonchalantly reach toward the creeping elastic, pulling it down so the material covers more of me as I begin the long walk to the locker room. I concentrate on each squishy step in my flip flops, doing my best to remain upright.
I realize how self-involved and ridiculous this is. Everyone is too busy fussing about their own selves to care if my bathing suit is half way, or even whole way, up my ass. I read somewhere that everyone is the star of their own movie. With the exception of a very special few, that is one of the truest statements I've heard. And so is "It's not about you." Cause it never is.
At 49, I've wasted so much time trying to fit into a mold that'll never set. I'll never be that cool woman with a yoga mat strap hanging over her shoulder ala Robin Hood, straight hair pulled effortlessly back with a single tie. The former dancer with the perfectly toned thighs who walks on air. I played softball. My feet hit hard.
I'm a blurter. I know nothing of subtlety or volume control. I can't count the number of people who've moved tables at restaurants to be further away from me and my laugh. When I get excited by a conversation, I get so into it that I completely forget there are other people near me, and I should perhaps tone down my sometimes snorting laugh. And you know what? That's better than okay. That's me. I am my awkward loudness.
I'm fed up with apologizing -- mostly to myself. I am stopping. I invite my fellow Michael Phelps-like fish out of water folk to join me. We all know we are many. Alcohol and drugs soothe the doubting voices and the pain for a bit, but if we can accept our own unique, albeit awkward, awesomeness, we'll experience a deeper and longer lasting high. One that springs from the aliveness of who you really are. We all need to run from the dark corners of the dance floor. Who cares if you dance like Elaine from "Seinfeld"? No one's watching you anyway. Live large. Live loud.