There was a time when I swam every day. Diving into the cool water, adjusting my goggles and stretching into the stroke. Glug glug glug, breath. Glug glug glug breathe. Back and forth. Counting the yards. Thinking of nothing. I swam for hours.
I didn’t know it then, but I was trying to swim away from my life. After I swam I would eat a 3 Musketeers and ride the bus until it brought me back to my starting point, then I would get off the bus and walk home.
At this time I was in a relationship with someone I fondly refer to as “the meanest guy in the world”. We worked together at a job I didn’t like and every day after work he would call and ask me to come over. I hadn’t yet learned how to say no. So in order to avoid him I would swim and ride the bus. On the occasion when he did catch me at home, I would go to his house and stay for hours, then walk home across town much too late in the evening for my early morning shift. (I also had a hard time saying, “I have to go.”)
Now that many years have passed, I understand that the relationship was hard to let go because he would be just nice enough to keep me coming back. When he thought he had me he would be the meanest guy in the world, and when he thought he was losing me he would be the nicest guy in the world. I also wanted to be with someone mean.
Being with someone mean gave me permission to be mean. We would have shouting matches where I would say all the mean things I had been saving up. All the tension I felt would be released. Shouting until my face throbbed had a cathartic effect on me, if only momentarily.
He was also kind. And when the meanest guy in the world is kind, you cling to it. I clung to it. And despite all the times I told him to leave me alone, and I never wanted to see him again, he always called a few days later, laughing and joking and pretending like nothing had happened. And when someone acts like they want you that much, it is hard to be mean.
So I swam and I rode the bus and I ate 3 Musketeers (a candy bar which I never liked much and still don’t, but that kind of sums up my life at that time); and eventually, after so many afternoons of me not being home when he called, the meanest guy in the world called me in the evenings. Then he resorted to stopping by for a friendly visit. His visits always left me feeling glad I didn’t see him more often. Eventually I moved and didn’t tell him. I haven’t seen him since. But he did come to me in a dream once.
In the dream he talked a lot about nothing. He told me he was gay now. And he complained about the abusive relationship he was in, and how they kept breaking up and getting back together, and how this time it was final, and how his boyfriend was such a jerk. And I knew he was the same as he ever was. I hadn’t missed a thing since we lost touch.
Years later, I suppose I can say all that swimming and bus riding really did take me away from the life I didn’t want. I swam away from the need for drama, or the idea that drama was interesting. I swam away from the belief that pain made me deep and romantic. I swam toward a life that is peaceful and beautiful, where I am free to be kind. A life I wouldn’t have been prepared for in the past.
P.S. I am now married to a very kind man. I told him if we had met years ago I would have been mean to him then because I felt the need for one party in every relationship to be cruel. If I had been with him in those days, I would have been the cruel one. He responded by saying, “I would have let you too.”