On a recent spring outing in Denver, and after dropping vials of tincture, we were walking through walls of puppies. We’d come into random contact with a wide array of dogs at Washington Park’s annual Furry Scurry walk — large breeds, small breeds, everything was lit up in sounds of human conversation and K9 breath.
After 20 minutes or so, listening to my girlfriend and Sean (the New Age guy) squeal through the various reactions felt when witnessing cuteness, we decided it was best we started what we’d come to Wash Park for: a swim. The only issue being, I didn’t have a suit.
Caprice and Sean planned this swim at the Washington Park Recreation Center for weeks, and nothing was going to get in the way, not even puppies.
Sean, who has a violent pastry addiction, claimed swimming high felt like moving through a tube of liquid butter and Caprice, who has intimately revealed to me — time and time again — that she was a dolphin in her past life or will be a dolphin in the next, jumps at any opportunity to feel as though her life really is being lived next to the sea. Our weekends, Caprice feels, should be spent next to languid neighborhood pools or roaring coastlines, tanning and drying, with the patterns left up only to the sun.
My suit, this thigh-embracing number (think Pele in Brazil’s 1970 World Cup match) had been left in the backpack I planned to bring on our walk to the park. I should tell you, when I am sober I have trouble remembering what I’ve had for dinner and when I am stoned my mind tends to wander, leaving things behind. So after receiving several complaints from my two friends about the way my mind works, we headed toward the closest sporting goods store, Sports Plus.
Inside we found a pair of red shorts. They looked good enough, not too long or heavy, and after holding them to my waist we decided they would definitely fit and in no way become see-through after getting wet.
So, $13 dollars later we were back at the pool. And while standing in the rec center’s lobby buying day passes, I felt overcome with happiness. There is an emotion, I’d realized, that is kept inside most rec-center lobbies. An emotion unique to the venue, one that holds enough energy to overcome the linoleum floors and supermarket lighting. It is an energy that overwhelms the poor aesthetics because most rec centers revolve around communal fun.
In the bathroom, Sean and I changed and giggled in our stalls about virtually nothing. Sean, who finished getting ready first, decided he would find Caprice and that he would shoot a couple hoops in the gym before our swim. After he left, I was left alone to the sounds of my own undressing as it scattered over the walls. The tincture had turned on me. Weed is funny that way, when you first find yourself in a situation alone — unwinding from an intense high — you can feel vulnerable, soft, overdone.
I was feeling horror.
The shorts were not what I had expected. I could barely stretch. My knees were fused together. In some last-ditch attempt I stood in front of the bathroom mirror and moved the shorts in different directions, anything to find a fit, but it just wasn’t there. I needed to swallow my pride, buck up and find Caprice and Sean. Walking through the lobby I kept a towel wrapped around my waist and avoided eye contact. As I turned into the gym, I let the towel fall.
Caprice and Sean broke down into heavy low-gut laughter. There were tears and they were on their knees. In the gymnasium doorway I had paired my brown leather chukka boots with the ill-fitting red trunks. I tried to act natural, picking up the basketball and lobbing up a shot, but I couldn’t bend and my thighs were sticking together. Caprice, choking down her laughter, insisted we leave immediately, and swim.
She wanted to hide me in the water. She was feeling my high burst into bubbles of blood-thinning anxiety.
But once we were in the pool, everything lapped away with the water. It felt cool. I was floating in and out of the chlorinated waves with a grin. The water was soft and the typical shock that comes with jumping into cold public pools had vanished. Maybe it was the weed, maybe it was the dread I had felt from my shorts, but the water’s temperature was perfect. For an hour we swam in harmony, taking laps, treading water for upwards of 15 minutes. It was bliss, and I say this despite having a fear of water.
Growing up thousands of miles from the beach, and a great number of miles from any lake, I have never felt comfortable in water of any kind. I am land animal, bred by the mountains. I had never swam high, and it opened me up to a different world. It stamped out my fear and embarrassment. I was wrapped up and hidden in its waves, exercising, diving in and out of a public pool.
“Maybe,” my girlfriend had said as she watched me swim laps, “You could learn to like water too.”