I slipped off my clothes and dove in the pool. We are 96 percent liquid. There is nothing more sensuous than a good splash against naked skin: the initial rush of cold, the smooth acquiescence of inner fluid to the outer mantle of wet.
I couldnít believe I hit Colleen. I was usually so polite, so full of shit. Itís true, I never really liked her. She was an all-natural vegetarian: no sugar, no fast food, a superior being all the way around. Not that I could take the Twinkie defense, I was into being healthy, just not to a point of inconvenient excess. All things in moderation. Even moderation. Her son was the attraction. He was almost two, like Gina. Well, she had plenty of other friends who liked roly-poly bugs.
I eased onto my back, floating under a halo of fruit trees. Our yard was small, but perfect. The pool was heart-shaped; not like a perfect Hallmark heart, but like the real lopsided thumper than you live or die by. It was an oasis framed by a fading redwood fence. Drifting, I could imagine valley living back when the condos were grapefruit orchards and the air smelled sweet and a person could see the pink mountains thirty miles away. Land ho! A horse neighed from a nearby ranch, a survivor. Gina loved our long walks around the neighborhood visiting the pig, the donkey and the old blacksmith who still made house calls. We knew just where to find the old West among the decorative wagon wheels and dry wishing wells. We loved it here.
A shudder woke me from my reverie. A string of twinkling Christmas lights had slipped. It dangled down against the back of the house. Jim did things 100 percent or not at all. At night, our house sparkled from every angle. December was a memory, but the holiday spirit lingered. I used to think it was his sense of romance that kept those lights up all year long. Later, I realized it was laziness. I plugged them in one Memorial Day just to be a smart-ass. I fell in love with the instant magic. They looked so darned happy. After that we kept them plugged in. So itís romance after all.
Our pink crepe myrtle and a flowering white oleander framed a perfect palm tree in the distance. It was my own personal palm tree, rising up like a bottle rocket from a flare of fuchsia bougainvillea, exploding in a burst of languid fronds. My eyes slid slowly back down the long skinny trunk past the fence into the pool.
Time to get moving. I rolled over.
Thirty years of swimming has given me the perfect form. Fingertips first, gliding under the surface, over the barrel, finish it off, elbows up. I breathed every other stroke, alternating sides on a good day.
I never felt finished unless I swam a mile. Sixty-six laps is a long way. Especially in a backyard pool designed for zebra floats and water wings. One circle equaled a twenty-five-meter lap. Sometimes it was just back and forth, back and forth, and I felt like I was trapped in a bathtub, counting down to freedom. Today it was freedom. I could tune out everything. No one could get to me. No one could stop me. A hydraulic high. It didnít matter where I was going. Chances were good that Iíd hit that perfect rhythm by lap 66.
Every life has a rhythm. The trick was to recognize the rhythm when you found it. Last September, I lay in the hammock with Gina, just after her nap. She was peaceful, sucking her bottle in the crook of my arm. I was laying there, loving her, loving Jim, loving life. The high trees were waving to me, telling me, this is it! The moment was joyful and content. The thrill of creation, the awe of immortalityóthe adrenaline rush of new motherhood.
But it was only a moment.
I tucked my head for a flip turn. My shoulders rolled forward, under. Nearly upside down, my hips twisted left by remote control. I kicked out my feet to push off Öbut the wall was not there.
Panic. For the first time, I recognized the sensation of drowning. I lifted my head up, breaking the still surface of my peaceful world. I stood, stranded in three feet of water. What happened? I tried to catch my breath; instead I caught my reflection.
A stranger stared back at me. The mutation was both subtle and violent. The invasion of gray hair at my temple, the triumph of blue veins trespassing on my thigh. I had slipped through the invisible hedge of adulthood. The voltage was high: the ravages shocking.
I was not old. But I would never be young again. I could no longer call myself a girl. I was a woman, and there was no turning back. I had reached my peak physically; now there was only downhill.
I had to find that rhythm again, that perfect rhythm, perfection. From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from 66 Laps by Leslie Lehr Spirson. . Excerpted by permission of Villard, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.