Have you ever had a specific memory resurface, from years ago – one that keeps looping over and over – and you can’t figure out why?
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about this one specific memory from high school. It’s at the Big 9 Championships (I think?) in Michigan, and I am about to compete in a swimoff to get into the finals (I was at the bottom of the top – high-end mediocre has been my life’s motto since I can remember). It’s me and one other girl from a local high school, and she’s the cousin of one of my good swim team friends, and also someone I’ve swum with on club teams for years. I’m wearing a racing suit that isn’t our team suit, and my gangly self is probably jumping up and down by the blocks to stay warm and amped up for the race. It’s evening, a late fall indoor meet in Michigan, so the pool deck is a little less brightly lit than usual.
After that, I remember being in the water for this 50-yard showdown, kicking and pulling as fast as I can, breathing as few times as possible. And I win. I hit the pad fractions of a second before my competitor. I win. My team is so excited and everyone is jumping up and down, screaming that I had brought us a victory (for the semi-finals at least). The other girl probably calls me a bitch in a friendly way while we commend each other on a good race, and then I get out of the pool to a towel wrapped around me and lots of hugs. And then we all go home, because we’re in high school and we have another meet the next day.
I also remember a picture from this meet that was taken on the pool deck with one of my friends – I couldn’t tell you if it was before or after the race. It was taken on a disposable camera of course, since it was 2001, so no way to tell what it’s going to look like. But my hair was slicked back, I had no makeup on, and I was grinning widely and squeezing my friend like I was having the BEST time. I remember after she gave me a copy of the photo, her telling me how pretty she thought I looked, and I laughed, thinking that this was definitely not the most flattering picture of me. But looking back, I did look pretty! Not because I am a stunner immediately after taking a swim cap off, and not just because I was young and unlined (though, let’s be real, that helps). But because I was really happy and un-self-conscious, and in that moment, I was just glad to have a team and friends who came to watch our notoriously boring swim meets.
For some reason, as I’ve been listening to and watching a lot of media nostalgic for the early 2000s, this is the memory (and the associated picture) that keeps coming back to me. Not prom or graduation, not heartbreak or excitement about a crush, not even the much bigger state swim meet I went to. This memory of a regional meet, in which I had to re-race someone to get to the next day is the one I keep circling back to. Do I miss this level of competition in my life? Am I wishing for a simpler time, when all I had to do was swim my heart out and study hard? Perhaps it was the unabashed joy I felt at winning and seeing friends and the lack of concern about running around a pool deck in a literal Speedo. Or maybe I just randomly remembered this memory and now my anxiety won’t let it stop looping in my brain, won’t let me stop swimming laps in my mind.
I had hoped writing it out would bring about this moment of clarity, that I would be struck with some sort of wisdom I could share. But…it didn’t and I wasn’t. I have nothing to share with you except this memory I’ll probably keep trying to dissect. Thanks for coming along?