As I was doing my Saturday morning rheumatoid arthritis exercise routine in the YMCA pool, I heard the first few chords of the intro guitar riff to Billy Squier’s “Lonely is the Night” over the speakers. I immediately smiled. Damn. Billy Squier from 1981’s Don’t Say No. It was never my favorite song. “The Stroke”, “In the Dark”, and “My Kinda Lover” were more popular with me because they were full of so much more sugary-grit bubble gum. This song was guitar heavy and was Squier trying to play with the big boys in bands like Led Zeppelin. If I wanted to listen to truly good guitar-heavy rock, I would have been listening to Led Zeppelin. I favored the most, however, “She’s a Runner” from 1982’s Emotions in Motion. Full disclosure: I still do. I played it for my husband this afternoon and asked him if he recognized it. No. Could he name the singer? No. Shockingly, he was not ashamed to admit that he had never listened to much Billy Squier. “Well,” I told him, “that’s about to change.” He left the room. I enjoyed the whole song. Like Billy said, No resistance–it’s hardly fair / Call my name, honey–I’ll be there I’ll give in to you anywhere..so foolishly. I don’t even have to wait for it to come on the car radio. I will seek it out. True story.
I began to love Billy Squier around 1982, the year after he released Don’t Say No, and stayed committed until about 1984 when he released an awful album titled Signs of Life. Also, my interests were developing in other directions. Judge me not for I was young. Don’t Say No and Emotions in Motion were perfect albums of the early eighties. Squier, with his curly locks (somehow not a perm!) and awkward yet liquid way of moving in leather pants and scissor-altered sweatshirts emulated his own idols: Freddie Mercury and Mick Jagger. My love of him was the gateway to my love of more talented and interesting sexually androgynous men that followed. This was coupled with my love of rock and roll that had evolved a step-up from say, Loverboy. Sorry not sorry Canada. So Squier was a [sexy] step in the right direction, though a rather light step for sure. Fortunately, I had a strong foundation already from my music-loving parents and radio dial cruising ways and I was only a few years away from finding my way to Madonna, Prince, and R.E.M., and before the eighties were over I had discovered Tom Waits and returned to Bob Dylan.
Over the pool speakers, Squier was followed by Journey, then Tom Petty, then Eddie Money. It may as well have been 1983 when I was hanging out at Vet’s Pool in Ann Arbor, feeling good in my one piece suit, certain that everyone there was impressed with my graceful and knife-straight dives off the diving board, and buying Hostess Snowballs at the concession stand because I was an independent woman with babysitting money stashed in my towel and my granola-making mom was not there to tell me I couldn’t enjoy the toxic bombs. For the record, I just made granola earlier this week and I have not consumed a Hostess Snowball since before one day in high school when we hacky-sacked with one in the rain on the front porch of Community High and it didn’t break down from the precipitation or repeated kicks.
I never wore two piece suits, at least not until my twenties. Yes, it took me more than twenty years to become comfortable displaying the scars that mark my midriff due to life saving surgery at birth. (The upper part of my esophagus did not connect with my lower esophagus and stomach and there was an abnormal connection between my esophagus and trachea. So, surgery was necessary and happened immediately. Yay, it worked! I choked a lot and caught pneumonia easily. Breathing and eating created minor complications but for the most part I was a normal kid whose father occasionally hung her upside down and beat on her back until she expelled whatever was choking her. This is not the recommended method for dealing with choking but here I sit, writing this.) I have two deep puckers near my belly button and one very deep one on my side. I also have a line down my abdomen, as well as a few other cuts around my body. The scar on my side was revisited when I was fourteen because it was so deep, scar tissue doesn’t stretch and I was growing. I lay on my opposite side one afternoon, fully conscious yet locally numb while a plastic surgeon “brought it closer to the surface”. When I was quite young and my friends and I would gather our t-shirt bottoms and loop them through the necks, creating halter tops, I displayed my scars. I was still in the free, body loving years of youth. Other kids would comment upon and ask about my “holes” or “extra belly buttons”. My baby fat and short middle made my scars look deeper than they do now. (Oddly, my middle-age-fat middle does not do the same.) No one was unkind. They were just curious. Sometimes even funny. When I grew older a friend jokingly called me “Jesus” because of the deep hole in my side like Jesus’ piercing from the holy lance. Oh, Catholic kids can be hilarious! I was never hurt or upset but I did become self-conscious and embarrassed enough, as well as done with other children asking if they could put their finger in my “holes”, to give up on two piece suits for quite a few years.
I have always spent plenty of time in water: pools, lakes, rivers, and great salty oceans. My father fished; my family had a canoe; my mother had been a lifeguard as a teen; my family had limited money for entertainment – all of these factors added up to water sources being a go-to place for fun and relaxation. My mother was also smart and thrifty enough to know that expensive breathing therapies were better replaced with swimming lessons.
As an adult my life has been one of pendulum swings, each period one of effort or recovery and very little time spent at equilibrium. Well, there’s now. I’m maintaining more equilibrium now. And so I have spent much time in water because water challenges and water heals. After a car accident in which my leg was burned on the catalytic converter I spent time soaking my leg in special baths so that the skin could be removed easily and as painlessly as possible. When my feet and ankles were recovering from multiple broken bones, I swam often. First, I simply walked figure eights in the water, learning to trust my feet again. In the late nineties, in the years following the broken bones, I swam frequently as a counter-balance to so much biking, walking, and running. I swam at the indoor pool at Welles Park in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood, one of nearly 30 fabulous indoor pools maintained by the Chicago Park District. It was me and a regular group of older women in matronly and architecturally impressive suits and daisy-festooned swim caps in that pool. I was young and skinny and wore a red suit and black speedo cap. The ladies called me “the ballerina” because I always went through a series of water stretches. We would gather in small circles in water to our shoulders, treading, bouncing, hopping from side to side, and chat. For awhile there was a lot of talk about Monica Lewinsky and I listened rapt as they clucked disapproval at her for thinking HE would leave his wife.
During both pregnancies I swam often – especially during the first when I had more free time. I credit so much buoyant movement, so much double-wombing, with making both natural deliveries fast and easy. Of course, my Irish heritage and ample hips also helped. I am all things: the Monty Python character dropping yet another baby, the Dickens character saddled with another mouth to feed, and the goddess warrior with a baby on one shoulder and quiver of arrows on the other. In any case, I can drop the babe and finish hoeing the row before the first nursing.
And now, I am in the pool about three times a week and in the hot tub almost every day. My poor neighbors. Our back yard is pretty private but when the leaves are off the trees one or more neighbors may have suffered the sight of early morning or late night naked hot tub yoga. In water I am buoyant. I am mobile and agile. I am nearly pain free. The water supports me as my body goes through all the motions that are sometimes hard on land. I put a foam belt around my waist and run, and run, and run. I lazily swim slow laps from one end of the pool to the other in a meditative motion. I stretch and lunge and jump. And, if I do this a few times a week, life on land is easier. I am going to Zumba again. No more Saturday morning cardio hip hop to Nicki Minaj. No, I go to Zumba Gold (gold means for active older adults!) and I love it. Right now, we’re doing the Hustle every week and each time I twirl during the bridge, I am one of Charlie’s Angels. I feel that amazing, that light, that free. That glossy.
So when Billy Squier joined me in the pool this morning, it felt fated. A memory to provoke my memories. A voice to remind me what I once was and forever shall be. Somebody’s watchin’ you baby, so much you can do / Nobody’s stoppin’ you baby, from makin’ it too / One glimpse’ll show you now baby, what the music can do / One kiss’ll show you now baby, it can happen to you. . .
Oh, Billy, so many things have happened to me. Life is full and wondrous like that. And now I’m more like one of those ladies at Welles Park Pool with gravity and my bathing suit battling for control and my own ballerina buddy in the form of my youngest daughter who swims with me on Saturdays as part of her own physical therapy. She has to strengthen her VMO due to a ligament injury at gymnastics camp four years ago.
Yes, that camp, that advertised REAL OLYMPIANS and was nestled deep in the heart of unmarked roads in Tennessee shall forever haunt my daughter, her friend, my friend, and me. We drove our daughters down to the middle of Tennessee the day after I had outpatient surgery and the morning after the night I saw Book of Mormon a few hours after leaving the surgery center. Those were all choices I made. Amplitude increase of said pendulum, I suppose. A week after that 14 or so hour round trip in which we dropped our young gymnastic team daughters off at the camp, we returned to pick them up. We found injured girls and an end of camp performance in a large, hot gymnasium pumped with loud pop music and narrated wildly by gymnasts that had clearly been blowing lines of cocaine for hours because they screamed at us like far too motivated motivational speakers from the eighties. Other than such memories, the knee injury is what is left from that camp. Neither girl is still on the team.
And so water heals us, moves us, blesses us, hydrates us. It is cleansing and mightily powerful. Water can move us or allow us to simply float. Back when I swam with the older ladies in Chicago I learned a few things and I am happily swimming in their direction with my own younger companion, whose name happens to be in one of my very favorite songs about water.