Don’t Go in the Swimming Pool
by ELISABETH DONNELLY
It was day five that I snapped. The swimming pool was stressing me out. I told the Brit that I needed to take a moment and I called him, crying. I wasn't planning on crying. "We're just sitting here, in front of a pool! I don't know what to do! I'm from New England!" When faced with a resort hotel, you're supposed to lounge and read and drink and drink and that's the route to ultimate relaxation. I was all wrong for this lifestyle. My books were neurotic New York things - Arthur Phillips' The Song is You, a stolen lobby copy of Amy Sohn's Prospect Park West, a whole dishy book about hating the Park Slope Coop and wanting to fuck Paul Bettany.
I started walking through the hotel, tears streaming down my face, looking like the messed-up drunk chick at a party. My pasty Irish skin - which had already gone through four bottles of SPF 50 - was bright red, an appropriate look for relaxing poolside. In between my heaves, he reminded me, "Of course you're freaking out. You're at a swimming pool. When have swimming pools not been terrible?" Snottily, I took a look at the pool. A throng of middle management in matching polo shirts had taken over one end, bud lights high, yelling out pleasantries about their dicks. In another corner, a couple had their tiny little dog out, sitting on the plastic floating raft that I had been on a mere half-hour before. I envied that dog, with its joy, natural swimming ability, and lack of control over facilities.
And as I stared at that dog, it was like biting into a madeline. All of my swimming pool memories came flooding back. The time I was shot in the back and left for dead by some delusional diva. The time I dived into the pool and was infused with an alien life force that made me feel like young, hot Don Ameche.The time I did it with Elizabeth Berkley and she had an epileptic seizure while she was coming. The time I was writing my pulp English mystery novel in a remote French cottage and this slatternly teenage popped up, proceeding to sunbathe topless poolside while doing every skeevy French construction worker in sight. It was like being stuck in a sauna with the French Paz de la Huerta. It was hell.
But besides reminiscing about days of wanton sexuality, murder, and fountains of youth, I thought about my most salient swimming pool memory: as the locus for "is that all there is?"-style ennui. Benjamin Braddock floating to nowhere, in his scuba gear, diving to the bottom. Mr. Blume in the fetal position in his pool, a curious fish of a kid swimming by in swimmies. A swimming pool may be wealth and achievement, but if you can't grasp happiness in its murky waters, than what's the point? My resort pool mocked me. I should've been happy to see it, ready to party, but I thought too much.
I thought about John Cheever's "The Swimmer": Neddy Merrill swimming home through his neighbors' backyards, swimming through the seasons, ending in the winter of his life; coming home to a deserted and locked home, and, crucially, forgetting all the details. Like poor ever-swimming Neddy my swimming pool was a place of reckoning where I could figure out what I was doing with my life--but I had no answer for it. I wasn't going anywhere. I wasn't even going into the pool.
When dusk fell, the pool and I were going to have a showdown. It was prettier in the night, glowing with an unearthly turquoise light. I thought of one more genre of swimming pool scenes, the only ones that don't suck: they involve break-ins and skinny dipping, from Felicity finally getting Ben in the pool, late night on the WB or that hot makeout scene in Whip It set to Jens Lekman.
The Brit and I got sloshed on desert cocktails. We wore our prettiest girl outfits and flirted shamelessly with the bartenders. Fortified with cucumber and rum, we ran outside and jumped into the pool, wearing our clothes and shoes and ruining our hair. My sequined leopard-print dress, the outfit of a slutty granny's dreams, thanks to Rodarte for Target, grey heavy in the water. The Brit grinned. We ran into the hot tub to warm up, and some local kids started chatting us up. Aware that to them, we were potential manic pixie dream girls, we left quickly with a thanks and a goodbye, running back to our rooms. With the help of the Brit, I said goodbye to being the depressed hero in some statement on the emptiness of modern life. It was time to be my own hero.
"Sensitive Euro Man" - Pavement (mp3)
"The Man in Me (Bob Dylan cover)" - David Bazan (mp3)
"The Girl You Lost to Cocaine" - Sia (mp3)