What I Was Going to Tell You

I was going to tell you that I took my blood pressure yesterday and the results were better than they had been in six years: 123/83. The systolic reading (the first number) is 30 points lower than it was in March 2015.

I was going to tell you that I have also lost 30 pounds since March 2015.

And, as I was going to say, both are the welcome side effects of being alcohol free since March 2015.

I also wanted to tell you that I met my fundraising challenge of $1,000 for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s.

All of these things may add up to a longer, better life for me and, especially/hopefully in the latter case, for others.

But what’s holding me back is everything else that’s being said and all of the lives not being lived.  A little boy in Aleppo in shock after the bombing of civilians in Syria; his brother later pronounced dead. The news of 50 killed at a wedding in Turkey. Thirteen or more killed in flooding in Louisiana. There are 5.4 million Americans with Alzheimer’s disease at this very moment. All of this leaves my throat trapped with lumps and unspoken words.

And then I saw something today that left my slack jaw even slacker. Something that makes Ryan Lochte’s drunken antics/boldfaced lie in Rio look like a game of tiddlywinks. In fact, I did have something to say about his behavior (and how it reminded me of crazy swimmer shit in Seoul, including my own reckless and drunken stupidity) but I’m not sure it really matters any more. Especially after the words I was confronted with this morning.

I was at Staples, mailing a thank you gift to a friend, when a man walked slowly in my direction. I was about to nod a friendly sort of hey-good-to-see-a-fellow-human-on-this-windy-day smile when my eyeballs met the message on his T-shirt.

Obama loves America like O.J. loved Nicole. 

I had to read it three or four times. Surely it didn’t say that. But it did, and I guarantee my blood pressure zoomed well beyond 123/83.

Words failed me. And the man was gone before I could think of something to say to him. I’m still not sure what to say even now. Oh, there’s a word for that: Ineffable.

I came home and sat stupefied on my couch, surrounded by treasures from the good people of the world. I thought about all of the kind things said to me over the years by Emiratis, Omanis, Jordanians, Palestinians, Cambodians, Syrians, Israelis, Indians, Kenyans, Turks, Egyptians and Yemenis.

What does that man’s T-shirt say about Americans? That we’ve lost our sense of decency? That no line goes uncrossed? That our hate knows no bounds? That we’ll say anything because we can?

How dare he be frivolous with the murder of Nicole Simpson? The number of American women who were murdered between 2001 and 2012 by current or former male partners was 11,766. Nearly double the amount of American casualties lost to war during the same timeframe. (And, dear God, it’s not a contest. It’s twice the horror!) 

But that man’s T-shirt manages to mock the suffering and sacrifices of everyone, everywhere. All of us trying to survive something in the world, and relying on human kindness to do so. Casting doubt on President Obama’s love for his country is also reprehensible and grotesque. You may not agree with him, but he loves America as much as any other T-shirt-wearing American does.

The sheer volume of hate in those seven words — Obama loves America like O.J. loved Nicole — defies logic, understanding and compassion. It’s the kind of loathsome talk that turns people against each other, and begets more violence.

I’m trying to imagine all the things I should have said in response. The message on that man’s chest easily inspires confrontation and rage. But I didn’t want any part of that equation/escalation either. Perhaps I should have hugged him and held onto him tightly as he walked to his car. At the very least, it would have prevented a few other people from having to see those ugly unspeakable words.

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In His Own Time

11753670_10153406445036223_854975750874575516_nAnother summer swim team season is in the books. It was jam-packed with my son’s dual meets and training sessions, with one or the other taking up every single weekday evening since early June.

Although I occasionally felt harangued by the scheduling, I mostly felt glad to be busy during what still is my witching hour — the timeframe in which I (prior to March 2015) used to settle down for the first cocktail of many. My son’s swimming turned out to be just the distraction I needed from old times.

Until I started going overboard on his times.

At every meet, I closely watched David’s races and delighted in the fact that he was improving. In early July, I realized that he was just a few seconds from making the State Championship qualifying time in two events.

That’s when I went bonkers — becoming obsessed with the cut just as I’d once been about any number of mine. I strategized (to put it mildly) with David about how to shave time in his raceIMG_3102s. I gave him pep talks before each race. We can always swim faster than we think we can. Start at 100 percent and accelerate from there. Hit the wall like you mean it. Rise up at the end of the rise. Conquer or be conquered. 

I was annoyed when, time and time again, he wasn’t quite up to speed. Although he was improving his personal records — dropping second after second — he wasn’t winning races and he wasn’t making the cut. I found myself getting very frustrated. David could read my body language and noticed the lack of positive reinforcement. He cried his eyes out one evening and begged to go home before the meet was even over. On the silent drive home, I had a pep talk — with myself.

David is NOT me. He swims for fun and fitness. Not winning. He’s whole identity doesn’t hang in the balance with each race, each record, each cut, each victory. He loves the water. He’s
not at war with it, as I once was. And thank goodness! All of my fighting with time and competition in the pool went on to become a lot of fighting with real and imagined foes on land. I’m 50 years old, one year into sobriety, yet still fixated on winning — even projecting it onto my son who swims only to enjoy the summer breeze and share joy with his pals on the team. Stop it, Nancy. For once and for all, stop it. 

Cut to Thursday night, at Burlington Tennis Club, the last dual meet of the season and David’s last chance to make the State cut.

Two things happened.

One: I invited a photographer to use the gorgeous setting to take the picture for my book jacket.  Considering the subject matter of TANKED — swimming and drinking — I wanted my picture to have water in the background. But I also needed the picture to serve as proof that I was over all that shit.IMG_2961.JPG

Two: I told David to enjoy the water and his races. To forget about the cuts and just swim for the sheer pleasure of it all. And I meant it. No pep talks. No mean face. No nothing.

We celebrated each moment. Each splash, not each stroke. Laughing at the silliness of little things, like the fact that I had to beg the snack bar operator to give us hamburgers for free since I didn’t have any cash. I usually volunteer as a race timer, but I chose not to on this occasion. Instead, I  sat contentedly  in my uncomfortable folding chair. Happily getting up to cheer on the other swimmers with David. For some reason we decided to scream things like “Carpaccio!” and “Cacio e pepe!” instead of “Go!” and “Get ’em!” After it was over, I hugged David and congratulated him on a terrific season. I hugged the coaches too, for having all the right values and for sharing them with my son.

Hopefully my author picture captured all this joy. When I look at it next year, sharing the story of TANKED, I want to remember these — the best times of our lives.

The High Dive

Since going sober sixteen months ago, I’ve dreaded Friday nights and the party mindset that comes with the weekend. But recently, I decided to change my perspective. I took my 12-year-old son David to the public pool, and we spent the early evening redefining “Happy Hour.” I joined him on the long twisty-turny slide, and I followed him up for a turn on the high dive.

With my toes over the edge, I looked out over the turquoise water and families of all colors who’d come to swim in it. Looking down, though, my brain went haywire. What follows is the 15-second reel that played inside my head before I jumped…

This is longreally high. I don’t think I can do it. But I can’t turn around and go back down. How humiliating. I’m 50 years old. I’ve seen far scarier things. I saw Greg Louganis hit his head on the high dive in Seoul. He was okay. I watched my father die a slow miserable death from Alzheimer’s. Not okay. I’ve faced the murder of a friend, even faced the murderer. Then, the suicide of a sibling. I faced my own drinking problem head on, in the desert of Abu Dhabi no less. This board is nothing in the scheme of things, yet somehow everything is riding on it. David is waiting for me by the ladder. He just jumped. A big smile on his face. I hope I don’t look scared, or pathetic. What’s the worst that could happen? My ears burst from the impact? That would be good because I have two little pools of water stuck in my inner ear. They drive me crazy. Sloshing about. Probably just one drop in each canal. An ENT said there was nothing in there, when I asked. He’s wrong. I spent my whole youth in a swimming pool. Those drops are the residual of that life. Maybe I don’t want them to be gone yet. Proof of my champion swimmer history lives in these ear drums. Man I used to do double back flips off the high dive at my club pool back in the ‘70s. Fearless then. Okay, I’ve got to jump now. Screw my eardrums. It’s sort of dizzying up here, jutting out over the Earth. I wish I could hold onto something. Why does the railing end about five feet before the end of the board? We need more things to hold onto when stuff is falling away. Even my brain cells should have little guard rails. My head feels more confused than it should be right now. Wobbly, just like this board. I hope it’s not the initial signs of Alzheimer’s. One of the first things my dad lost was his sense of place in space. Proprioception. When I drop, I fear my head will feel like it’s flying off into the wild blue yonder. Is there such a thing as diving board sickness? Like car sickness? Maybe that’s what I have. I never had it at David’s age. Twelve. What do people see looking up here at me? A poor frumpy lady who probably had a better body in her reckless youth? Not a former Olympic contender or man-eater nymph, two ways I used to see myself. I should just go, let my jiggly skin jiggle all the way down until the splash cover me up. I can feel the kids waiting in behind me getting antsy. There’s only one way out. Down.

I popped up, from the deep end. David was beaming and screaming, “Great job, Mom!” The rush of adrenaline felt incredible. A small feat, but a huge relief.

I’ve finally beaten Friday night at its own game. Jumping into liquids is far more exhilarating than drinking down copious amounts. Sixteen months ago, I was drowning from the inside out. The high dive catapulted me into the exact moment I’ve been working toward.

A fulcrum between then and now.