Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Indigo Sanctuary

It all started when I decided to unwrap the plastic jar of gummy bears in my hotel mini bar.

I had been debating back and forth between ordering room service or going for a swim in the pool. Once I downed a few rainbow handfuls of smiling sugar bears, I decided that I could skip dinner because the candy would suffice. I pulled on my blue one-piece suit, black sweatpants, and black hoodie. Of course, this is me we are talking about, so I also grabbed my camera. I already knew in the back of my mind that I would be taking pictures of the pool for one of my weirdo artsy projects.

The pool at the Westin O'Hare in Chicago is my favorite Westin pool in all the Westin hotels I have visited in the United States (probably the world, actually. It's not like I am holding out for this one even better pool at the Westin in Mexico City, although it may indeed be a lovely pool). The pool at the Westin O'Hare in Chicago is so beautifully blue, and it has a white, slightly bouncy bottom with the Westin logo across it. There is never anyone in the pool, ever. There are rarely people in the immaculate adjoining gym, either. There are rarely people there, except for tonight.

Just as soon as I was satisfied with my collection of dreamy turquoise pool shots, I had only seconds to spare before a woman walked into the pool area. Had she entered but 10 seconds earlier, she would have been privy to my strange, angled water shots with my feet kicking in the shallow end as I attempted to capture the perfect crystal flecks of swirling chlorinated liquid.

The woman who walked in proceeded to silently claim the hot tub area by herself, so I figured that I could continue on with my water-sports-and-activities-show for one. I hastily pulled a rebel move and decided to let my hair get wet with pool water without soaking it in the shower first. Any girl with color treated hair knows this is a cardinal sin. But tonight was a night when I was too lured by the synthetic Caribbean calm of the turquoise water. Tonight I was not concerned about my hair turning chemical green.

Let's not forget, though, that this is still me we are talking about, so I did have goggles and a swim cap, along with my camera, my black pants, my black hoodie, my metal water bottle, my plastic room key card, and my unwrapped jar of gummy bears. I came to the pool at 10:30 PM on a Tuesday night like a mother packed and prepared for a family picnic on a Sunday afternoon. Locked and loaded.

Once I submerged the steps into the three foot depths of the shallow end, I contemplated the fact that, because it was just me and the woman in the hot tub, perhaps the scene was too sombre to kick it off with synchronized swimming hand stands and underwater somersaults. No, I had to ease into this one, because the woman in the hot tub was facing towards me with a sight tilt to her blonde head, as though curiously anticipating how one could use such serious looking gear as my reflective triathlon goggles and jet black Speedo swim cap in a pool the size of a teeny tiny urban backyard. 


I love pushing hard off the wall when starting a series of laps. Back and forth, back and forth, I clumsily alternated between breast stroke and freestyle while testing out my bum, stiff, right knee (damn Seattle walking city vacation...) Soon I was expanding my portfolio to include not only lap swimming, but a few conservative somersaults and two of my fun and favorite pool games that I play by myself, called: 'Swim at the bottom for as long as you can hold your breath', and 'Pretend you are in first place at the Lifetime Fitness Summer Triathlon.'

As I zipped around the pool, doing weird dolphin kicks, and allowing myself to be more liberal with my splashing, my mind wandered to my pool memories. I have these very distinct, solid, so-real-I-can-smell them memories of times in swimming pools as a child. These times are so vivid that I wonder about the effects of chlorination fumes on the hippocampus in the brain. Perhaps the scent of pool chemicals is a trigger that leads to flashbacks of Coppertone sunscreen, itchy potato chips, heavy wet towels, and rough grey concrete.

Some Swimming Pool Memories

My Grandma Nina (pronounced Nine–Ah, as she Norwegian and also happened to be the 9th of nine kids) lived in an apartment that had a swimming pool. My brother and I used to go there with our twin cousins, and Grandma Nina would do the ring toss game for us. We would sink down to the creepy depths of the 10-foot deep end, and gather pink, purple, and lime green rubber rings. 

When Grandma forgot her pool rings, she would throw her set of keys because they were on a thick and indestructible metal ring and it was easy to retrieve them. Now that I think about it, that was pretty ballsy of Grandma Nina to toss the keys to her Oldsmobile and her apartment with the expectation that her elementary-aged grandkids would retrieve them out of the deep water. This was intensified by the fact that Grandma Nina did not know how to swim.

When I was in third grade, the moms at our school planned an end-of-the-year pool party at Scott M's house. Everybody was invited. It was the event of the year. Scott's house was so big and beautiful that it made you feel like you were on vacation in Florida when you got to swim at his pool. I remember on that day, all the third graders laid out their towels on Scott's lawn, and I have a faint memory of a grill set up with hot dogs. My swimsuit was hot pink and fluorescent green (my favorite color) with a conservative pink ruffle on the back (not a skirt).

Just as it surprises me to remember my Grandma Nina tossing her keys into the deep end, it baffles me to remember what happened on the day of the Third Grade End of School Pool Party. 

The day went from laughter and happy yelling to complete, air-sucked-out-of-the-room silence. All of a sudden, no body was in the pool. There was the sound of a mom screaming, and then there was a loud splash. Then silence. I don't think I understood at the time what I saw next. The rent-a-lifeguard girl launched out of the depths of the deep end near the small white diving board, and in her arms, like a damp long strand of life-size fettuccine pasta, was eyes closed, mouth open Joel L. Joel L. was limp and vacant. Out of no where this life guard had plucked him from the deep end of Scott M's pool.

The next thing I remember watching was Joel puke up what seemed like a gallon of water. There were sirens blaring and soon I was scared because when I looked at the now open eyes of Joel L, they were covered in blood. He had bright red, fully blood shot, blood soaked eyes due to the force of his vomiting.

The life guard burst into tears the moment Joel L. was carted off to the hospital. We did not know why she was crying (she was a hero for saving Joel!), but later we were told that it was, "The Stress and Responsibility of Joel L. nearly dying."

I never liked competing in sports much, but I played in close to a dozen of them during my dozen years of school before college. Not a natural competitor when forced to compete (I have to be able to pick my own battles), I was not much of a fan of being a member of the competitive Hopkins Swim Club.

The only fantastic thing about swim club and swimming meets was the opportunity to spend time with my BFF, my partner in elementary crime, Alicia M. Alicia M. and I had the most fun at swim meets doing anything and everything but swimming. We would slink off to a tiled corner and sit on the floor to play a game of cards. My poor mother would be sitting high up in the hazy humid bleachers, fretting that I would not make it to my swimming block for my start time. 

My mom told me that she was always certain that I would miss my heat (that's the group you race with for your event). I never once missed my race time because our coaches would use black Bic pens and write all the numbers and race times on our fuzzy little arms. 

Not that I didn't want to skip my heat and the race altogether because I totally did. Only rarely did I get the blue or red first or second place ribbons. I usually became accustomed to white (third place), light pink (fourth place), or – let's be honest – green (fifth place). The two things I detested most about swim races were: 
  • The Loud, blaring READY – SET – GO beeps. They scared me so bad, I think I sometimes peed my swimsuit before diving in.
  • The Bright ruddy red swimmer's face I would get after my race that would literally linger for hours. "Are you OK? Do you need water or to sit down??" NO. Leave me alone. I just need to get in the car and get some Burger King on the way home.

A New Swimming Pool Memory

Tonight at the Westin O'Hare pool, after I was finished with my dolphin tails and loop-de-loos, I decided it was time to venture over to the hot tub. I wasn't sure if the woman in the hot tub and I would do the obligatory, eyes closed, 'I'm in a relaxing trance and I do not notice you four feet from my face' or, if we would chit chat. Luckily for me, it turned out to be the latter.

I had such as easy-peasy opener. She had already said something nice about me being good about swimming laps before indulging in the hot tub (I didn't mention my french fry/chicken taco/brownie fest from the night before) and so I just smiled. The pretty blond woman had this dazzling sparkly necklace – a shiny silver chain with a dark blue stone encircled with diamonds. It was elegant, simple, chic. 

"That is a beautiful necklace!"

"Oh, hey, Thanks. I have a son named Indigo, so my husband gave me this necklace as a gift."

Little did I know that this would be the simple intro what proved to be a very special conversation about life, love, spirituality, and our Purpose here in all this (Capital P). We told each other our life stories, and we were soon comparing and contrasting notes about our separate journeys.

"One thing I have learned is that it is important to take note of where you are at in your life, decide where you want to be, and then expect that you will get there."

I found this message so profound that I wanted to write it down somewhere with my soggy, raisin fingertips. Here was this woman, being so open and honest about the ups and downs of her life choices. I felt like I was getting a sneak peak of what's to come. I felt like I wanted us to be friends.

I also learned that she has the most beautiful name, but I am choosing not to share it because I already told you her son's name. Just know that her first name is pretty kickin' and her last name is one of those names you envy so much because you just know that you could make yourself into something famous if you had it.

I had to smile upon our eventual exit out of the hot tub, because I helplessly tried in vain to sound-out the weird title of my blog to her.

"I am going to write about you tonight! Go to Brand... New... Sour... Milk, dot Blogspot, dot com."

"New Brand of Spoiled Milk?"

"No –"

"Brand Name Sour Milk?"

"No –"

OK, she says. Here is my email address. Look me up the next time you are out in the Pacific Northwest. 

Really? Ok! I will email you.

And there it was. Just like that, I made a new friend and a new Swimming Pool Memory. 

(Oh – do you want the rest of my gummy bears? They are a little sticky now, but probably still edible.)


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