At first, things were great. I was welcomed to the team with open arms! The boys and I would swim, swim, swim – not unlike our brethren working on the railroad – all the livelong day! We’d laugh, we’d cheer each other on, we’d slap each other on the ass. A couple of the guys even started inviting me out to Applebee’s after our meets to connect on a deeper level outside of the pool. I was on top of the world! I was Kate Winslet and the rest of the team was Leonardo DiCaprio holding onto my waist, shepherding me into my new life with them and the waters of the local YMCA or, as I later learned it could be called, the “Y.”
But, then I started to notice something. A slight difference between me and the other boys. I always made sure to wear my swim cap and shave my arms and legs before getting into the pool to cut down on drag. Sure, the change is minute, but why not give yourself every advantage at your disposal to rise to the occasion of competition? Everybody else does it. Why hold yourself back on purpose? But, apparently, I was alone in that regard. “Well, maybe they are just a little more casual about swimming than I am,” I thought. “Maybe they are not students of the art form. Maybe they just do it for the exercise and comradery.”
I tried to put it out of my mind. I tried to just focus on the positives. The fun, the friendships, the health benefits, but I couldn’t. I would lie awake at night wondering. Tossing and turning. My bare, clean shaven skin gliding against my silk sheets. Trying to come up with a single reason why my fellow swimmers wouldn’t be shaving their hair-dense appendages. It didn’t make any sense. I had to ask someone. I had to learn the truth.
The next day, at Applebee’s after practice, I offered to give Matt a ride home. I felt close to Matt. He was the first of the group that I felt any sort of connection with. We’d joke differently than I did with the others. I felt like I could come to him with this possibly weird issue and be met with compassion. That I would be able to rest easy after our conversation and that Matt would tell no one of how I ached over this epidermal quandary. Matt took me up on the offer and after our last frozen cocktail, we were on our way.
I put on some Dave Matthews to set a friendly mood. I wanted Matt to feel at home and I knew how he felt about fiddle in popular music. Like I said, we were closer than the other boys. I glanced over at him. We exchanged a soft smile, I took a deep breath and I started talking.
“Do you feel like I’m fitting in?” It just kind of fell out of my mouth.
“Do I feel like you’re fitting in? Did somebody do something that made you feel otherwise?”
“No. I’ve just… I’ve noticed things.” I said.
“Things?” He sounded confused.
“This might seem strange… but I’ve noticed that I’m the only one on the team that shaves their arms and legs before we swim.”
He was silent for what felt like an entire 100 meter race: Breaststroke. I started to wonder if he could see the nervous sweat that started to collect on my brow. I was just about to speak up and try to change the subject when he laughed quietly.
“We’ve noticed that about you.”
I felt a weight in my stomach like I had never felt before. I was finished. There was no way I could show my face in the “Y” ever again.
“Have you noticed anything else about us?”
I was speechless. I hadn’t fully recovered from his last statement and now I was expected to answer this question?
“N… No?” I forced out.
“We drink water. Lots of it. Gallons and gallons. We drink and drink and drink before we swim. We fill our bladders. We fill our bladders so that, while we swim, we can pee…” I could see danger building in his eyes.
What was he saying?
“…and we pee so that we can propel ourselves ever so slightly faster through the water.”
“I… I guess that makes sense.” I said wholly confused, but oddly satisfied with finally having an answer – no matter how strange it sounded at first.
“You shave your arms and legs to zip through the pool a wee bit faster, meanwhile, we’re chugging gallons of water at a time to zip through the pool faster with a bit of wee.”
The rest of the drive was quiet. I dropped Matt off with nothing more than a soft fist bump and a See you tomorrow. I got home and crawled straight into bed. For some reason, I was exhausted. I felt as if I had just gone stroke to stroke in the lane against the great Michael Phelps. I laid my head down and I drifted off to sleep.
The next morning, I shot awake. I was happy. I knew what I needed to know and I was almost satiated, but I had to do one last thing to feel right. I had to see what this pee thing was all about.
I had two gallons of water with my eggs and toast instead of my usual single shot of espresso. I felt superhuman.
I got to the locker room and greeted everyone with a smile. Matt and I exchanged eye contact and he smirked as if he knew my bladder was full of pee. I felt reassured. That day, I didn’t shave my legs. I left my swim cap on the kitchen table at home. But I was hydrated. Beyond hydrated. I wanted to try out their thing and I wanted it to work for me. I wanted to feel what they felt.
I got set up on my diving block for my first lap. I dove off abandoning all sense of form. I hit the water hard. I felt awkward, but I was determined to make this work.
I started to pee.
I was flying.
Freestyle never felt so free.
I hopped out of the pool and searched for Matt’s approving gaze, but he wasn’t smiling with pride… I heard laughter. Not only from Matt, but from everyone. I looked down my lane where I had just swam what felt like the best lap of my life and I saw it.
The blue dye.
They tricked me, an adult man, into peeing his pants in the pool. I ran off sobbing. I ran straight through the locker room and out the front door. I left my possessions there. I ran past my car and I just kept running. I’ve been running ever since. Swimming is behind me. I’m a runner now and I only run in Reeboks.
Reebok: I am what I am.