Today, I smelled like chlorine.
It made me remember
the summer I turned eight, when my brother and I
joined a local swim team,
and while I did not win any races
(and I still cannot do a proper underwater-flip
to change directions while swimming laps),
I cherished the ribbons I did earn and kept them
for years. Red and white and blue:
your time has improved.
eighth place in butterfly
(I always wondered
if they saw my three–no more, no less, just
three–breast stroke kicks and figured that
Now I wonder if they did
and if I earned that ribbon
for having fewer frog-kicks than the others).
White, and one Red:
third and second places
not on my own, but a group effort,
When I was thirteen and in
a different city, a different state,
a different school,
I would stare at these ribbons I had kept,
these memories of a summer spent
and eating pizza with friends after the meets,
and I would smile, and I would wait
Then we would leave this new city
and swim, and swim, and swim
until we reeked of chlorine once again
and relaxed in the water’s caress.
That hypothetical choice between breathing underwater and flying
has never been difficult for me.
When I was fourteen, we moved again,
and I threw out my ribbons.
I left them in a trash bag and
told myself I did not need them,
did not need to keep them any more.
I played new sports that I did not love
with teammates I did not know
and slowly, slowly made new friends
who did not know how much of me missed
that handful of colorful ribbons
and chlorine in the air
and water in which to swim.
and water in which to swim.
I wish I had kept a few–
red, white, orange.
There were deep purple ones
for first in heat and a green one for fifth
and so, so many brightly neon yellows
for the odd ones out, like my ribbons
for twenty-second place.
I had at least three.
I turn twenty-two next week.
I still miss those ribbons, but now
I am learning to be an adult.
I have a college degree and
new friends who may not know about
my ribbons, but do know an awful lot
I have a new job, a new boss, a new desk–
a new place to prove myself capable,
Today, I scowled at the morning and
glared at my alarm
and rolled my eyes when I
remembered that I so often say, “I’m a morning person.”
I stomped all the way downstairs
and through the house
and into the car
on the way to the gym.
And when I arrived, puffy-eyed, bitter, weepy,
I slipped into the pool and swam.
And when I left the water
and slipped my glasses on again,
the world was a little kinder,
and my scowl disappeared in a smile.
I went home. I ate. I pulled my things together and
I went to work
at the new job, with the new boss, and the new desk,
with the new coworkers
who do not know anything about that old collection
of colorful ribbons that meant so much,
let alone know much about me.
But today I smelled like chlorine,
and every second felt like home.