My husband invites me to accompany him to the wellness center while he exercises. He suggests I use a guest pass to enjoy the hot tub while he swims laps. Having not donned my swimsuit since summer, this idea sounds like a good trial run for our upcoming weekend at an Orlando resort.
I know my suit will fit differently since summer. Much about my body is different since summer. I wear the same size, but things are shifting. Places I do not care to accentuate now have their turn on center stage.
Do you wear your swimsuit there or change upon arrival?
I change there.
Packing my sandals and suit into a string bag, I follow him into the dark winter evening.
The women’s locker room is almost empty, but I am still nervous about figuring out the locker and lock. I scope out the best place to change into my bathing suit. I know people change right out in the open by the lockers. I am not ready.
I push the swinging door to the toilet stalls open and carry my string bag with me there. This room is empty. I feel awkward and clumsy hustling into a swimsuit, trying to be quick about it before anyone comes in to use the restroom. How old am I? Fourteen? I feel fourteen.
Exiting nonchalantly, now wearing a swimsuit, I put my things in a locker. I snap the lock shut, fit its elastic key around my wrist, and head to the showers. It is the final grueling step before entering the pool area.
I realize I never picked up a towel from the towel stack only after I am soaked. I walk over to collect one, leaving a trail of water. I see a lone folded towel on the shelf and snatch it up. Everything about me feels clumsy.
Families and children fill the warm pool. The hot tub is full, as well. Eight pairs of male eyes, in various ages and stages of life, look out from it at me. This is way beyond my comfort zone. I continue past, deciding in that moment to take a lane in the lap pool.
I know everyone is not watching me, I do. I am a 48-year-old woman. It feels that way, though. I feel embarrassed and clumsy when I try to swim.
I swim anyway.
I also walk laps back-and-forth in the swim lane and discover that I really like backstroke. It feels as if I am in a sensory deprivation tank. I swim three backstroke laps before I am exhausted and decide to get out.
I do not know the protocol for exiting the far lane of the pool, and I have to know the protocol at all times. I try boosting myself up onto the ledge and then ease up onto the pool deck. Now seated, I realize I am not going to be able to stand gracefully, so I slip back into the pool casually and swim a few more laps.
My second exit attempt is a success. I use the ladder that is midway along the side of my lane. The hot tub Is much less crowded now. I walk over to it and climb in, sliding my lower back to one of the jets. The rhythmic pounding on aching muscles feels good.
Steve joins me for a few minutes before we exit to our separate dressing rooms. It is time to reverse the process and leave.
I realize there’s no way my clothes will stay dry if I decide to get them from my locker and bring them over to put on in the shower area. I make a choice to face my fear, removing my swimsuit completely. I shower, wash my hair, and wrap in a scant towel that covers my body ~ barely.
I feel conspicuous as I walk to the swimsuit spinner and drop my suit into it. One hand holds the towel tightly around me, the other presses down on the top of the spinner to begin the cycle. A woman stands behind me waiting her turn. I act as if I am a pro at this.
I kind of am at the spinning part, just not at the standing naked wrapped in a towel part. I have spun out a lot of swimsuits and am thankful I know how the machine works.
Extracting my swimsuit from the canister, I walk towards the lockers and find a fellow band mom sitting on the bench in front of mine. She slides over so I can open it. Her daughter finishes dressing. We laugh and make small talk.
I feel more anxious than I care to admit and act as if I am always half naked in the locker room with people I know in various stages of undress. I slide and twist my underclothes on and, as quickly as possible, pull my sweater over my head.
I find it curious that my stomach is the body part I am most eager to cover up. I make a mental note of that as I step into my jeans and shoes. I long to be kinder to and more at peace with my body. It is a process.
I step out into a hallway. Positive body-image and self-care quotes line the wall. Too many to take in at once, I glance over them and continue walking to the kind man who invited me to this experience, grateful for a partner who accepts all of me on this journey when I have difficulty accepting all of myself.