Chlorine Breakfast

Chlorine Breakfast

Paula Turcotte

5:18 A.M.
Second snoozed alarm, ruder than ever. Right hand between my knees, left arm gropes for the phone. I’m up.

5:22 A.M.
I always leave the lights off while I brush my teeth. This feels like cheating: one degree closer to sleep. My bathing suit hangs stiff on the tub tap where I left it on Saturday. Mental note to make another laser hair appointment.

5:26 A.M.
The bunch of bananas I picked up at the convenience store yesterday are still disappointingly green. I twist one off anyway and cram it in the side pocket of my bag.

5:40 A.M.
I don’t remember driving here but somehow I am in the parking lot at the pool. I turn off the ignition and heave my backpack out of the passenger seat. The backpack is covered in a rubber-duck pattern, which I find equal parts amusing and embarrassing. It was a gift from Mom two Christmases ago. Before.

5:41 A.M.
Auto-doors slide open. The smell infuses my sinuses and warmth coats my skin and I breathe deeper in spite of myself.

5:42 A.M.
Locker room floors are always least disgusting at this time of day, before anyone has had a chance to drip on them, to shed loose hairs and whatever other detritus they’ve tracked in from the Outside.

5:43 A.M.
I’ve used the same lock since seventh grade gym class. 36-24-38. Could be a model’s measurements. Certainly not mine.

5:45 A.M.
I rip out some baby hairs putting my cap on. There’s a bald man in the next lane and for a moment I’m bizarrely jealous. I tuck in the strays at the nape of my neck and lick the insides of my goggles, which is objectively gross but necessary. Those anti-fog wipes you can buy don’t work for shit.

5:46 A.M.
Inhaling, I step into the deep end the way one might step off their front porch. Water seals my ear canals as I float upwards. When I started to think about death, I spent a lot of time looking up ways to die slower. Ten Out Of Ten Doctors Agree that swimming is a “gentle yet effective” form of cardio. Anything to avoid jogging.

5:47 A.M.
Today, I do math between lengths. Three swims a week, fifty-two weeks in a year, almost twelve years since I was eighteen. Subtract the two months I spent in the psych ward. One thousand eight hundred and forty-five swims. 

5:58 A.M.
This sport works for me because I’m forced to think about survival. No room to remember my stomach or Mom or my 117 unread texts in a little red bubble. One, two, three, breathe. Repeat, repeat, repeat. If I miss a “breathe” I will probably sink. I wonder if the bald man will try to save me.

6:30 A.M.
I haul myself onto the pool deck, spent. 

6:32 A.M.
Good: hot shower. Bad: seepage from the neighboring stall. Good: five more minutes of quiet. Bad: fluorescent lights remind me of the hospital. Good: water pressure. Bad: forgot my conditioner.

6:40 A.M.
I love the way my skin feels taut after I towel off. I squeeze lotion out in thick lines onto all of my limbs. My forearms feel the way E.T. looks: scarred, rough, foreign. Thirty seconds after I’ve put it on, the shoulders of my shirt are soaked through from my hair.

6:43 A.M.
I walk out without standing under the dryer. I’ve kept myself afloat once again. For a while.

Paula Turcotte