11-year-old me would be pretty damn excited to learn that one day he would live downtown, in a condo with two cats and someone who loves him. But he’d actually be the most excited that said condo has a swimming pool. 11-year-old me, although a boy from unquestionably landlocked Colorado, was actually a mermaid. This was confirmed when he saw Splash with Tom Hanks and Darryl Hannah. Hannah’s character Madison, a once cool for mermaids only name that has been appropriated by suburban moms (When will the horror of mermaid appropriation end, honestly?), was immediately identifiable. For those who don’t remember, Madison comes ashore to New York City and is forced to acclimate fast to a weird, harsh world that she didn’t belong in. I mean as a gay child that was literally my experience everywhere I went–from baseball games to camping trips and beyond. The one place this mermaid child felt at home was in water. Pool, beach, river didn’t matter. I came alive when I could just bounce in the water. My favorite was swimming underwater. It was quiet and I could hold my breath for a long time so it was just me and water and not the other things in daily life that seemed hard and alien. Like Madison, I didn’t stay underwater and I always returned to an awkward life landlocked.
Some 34 years later, this mermaid-merman has learned how to live among non-merfolk. Sort of. I mean I don’t know if I’ll ever pass as someone who gets this whole life thing but I’ve found some ways to make it feel less painful and less alien. I should stop using alien in a negative way. Misunderstood mystical beings from other places should be cherished. (Oh when will our stigmatizing of aliens ever end?) The point is I’ve accepted and even begun to love merself. Even when hanging out at my condo pool. On one of those Sweet-Jesus-Is-It-Possible-To-Die-From-Summer-Exhaustion days where the air is stifling and hot, I trotted out to the pool after work. Just a quick dip, a little float to help rinse off my day. Naturally, the bonus for pool situations for nosey people like myself is to spy on other swimmers. What are they wearing? What’s the group dynamic? Which one of those blonde girls in the denim cutoffs and bikini top is named Lauren? Why is that guy fixing his hair obsessively and taking selfies? There’s a lot to unpack at the condo pool and I’m ready for it. On this day, I was grateful that the omnipresent group of drunk people wasn’t there.
The last time my husband and I went out together, we were bombarded by a group of boozy forty somethings (or thirtysomethings who drank enough to look a decade older). They were day drinking, which was always a favorite pastime of mine, and swimming. The longer we hung out at the pool, the faster we could see them deteriorate. A woman in pigtails on a rainbow raft kept barking at us to push her to the other end of the pool. A large, loud man pounded cocktails from big plastic tumblers and stumbled in and out of the water. The other friends who hadn’t drunk as much packed their things and scooted off before they got messy, an ability I myself never possessed. As for the husband and I, we laughed and paddled to other, more sober parts of the pool. We causally looked at the booze fueled train wreck but didn’t make direct eye contact, for fear of more slurry speech interaction. It’s always enlightening to see drunk people in broad daylight. Like now it feels so weird and out of place. My daytime hours are so dull and on such an autopilot, I forget that I used to live my whole life like those people at the pool. Yet the minute I wanna get super judgey about daytime drunks, I have to remember that I once drank and took ecstasy on a Tuesday afternoon just for something to do. It’s just a different life now and a sort of return to that mermaid existence where I am again a creature not doing what everybody else is doing.
Th large, loud and now certainly most hammered guy in the group soon was organizing where they all would drink and play pool one they left. In no shape whatsoever to drink more but had enough wits about him to get together a plan for more alcohol was a mission I certainly identified with. How can you enjoy a drunken daytime moment when you have to figure out how and where you can keep drinking? Anyway, we shuffled off to the hot tub as they left the pool in a wet huddle of swerving, yelling disarray. It was amusing from a distance. It was deserving of a few one-liners and eye rolls. But it certainly didn’t wreck our moment at the pool.
As we hopped back in the water, shivering from the temperature shock, the now silent area felt more like those waters where this merchild first floated. Just me and the water and my merhusband. When we went to the Caribbean a few years ago, I remember this amazing smile on his face as we jumped in the warm waves. That same smile comes back sometimes even when we’re in the pool. He doesn’t always fit in on this earth either. He doesn’t like what everybody else likes. But he loves the water and me so we can float through all of this together.