Wilson Park Pool: 12:58 PMThere’s this little kid, like maybe four years old and his mother has just yanked him into the water because he was splashing at us. I find that as a childless woman who teaches adults that I have little patience for small, mischievous children. Sure, my baby nieces are cute and I enjoy hanging out with my friends’ children, but kids I do not really know? Not so crazy about. This might change when I have my own child, maybe.
The Wilson Park Pool: a Fayetteville oasis for summer-freed kids and their parents and for NWAWP fellows who need freedom from chairs and tables and sitting. The smell of spray-on sunscreen wafts through the air, accenting the scent of chlorine and trees. The water glistens like my sapphire-like drop earrings, warmed slightly by the sun but still refreshing on the hot, sunny day. Children’s excited voices blend with splashing and gasps of air: the large plop of a little boy leaping into his mother’s waiting arms, the kick-kick-kick! of a little girl practicing her swimming, the gaspcough of novices learning how to dunk the heads beneath the water’s surface. I’m amazed by the bravery of these children, who splash and leap and submerge as though water were just wet air, posing no threat.
Adults—mostly parents and two NWAWP fellows—watchfully guard their offspring, occasionally joining in the delight of the water. They sun themselves, apply sunscreen. You can tell the families that come regularly: they have their routines, their designated places, their friends who come by smiling and greeting.
A tall lifeguard comes by, tanned and clad in red shorts and chacos, the summer uniform of the teenagers who watch over these waters. They patrol, blow whistles, and keep children from breaking the laws of the land. The pool is its own country and it is dominated by youth and controlled by the posted rules and enforced by the red-suited adolescents. They are wary, watchful, aloof.
We are here to write, of course, but while we’re here, why not take a dip? We leap…well, we lower ourselves, anyway, into the water feeling how it flows over our skin. I move my arms and legs fluidly and cut through the water. I cannot stay still, just as I cannot be near the water without being in it. I would swim until I passed out, if I could. I always regret that my mother never taught me how to swim properly when I was young because I harbor a deep fear of jumping in and remain jealous of the six year olds who leap without concern. And although I’m a perfectly adequate swimmer, I’m uncomfortable straying too far from a hand hold. I watch these kids who dip and dive without fear and hesitation, and I wonder how different my life would be if I were bold enough to leap, anxiety-free, from the diving board.
The hourly break time is over, and at the sound of the whistles, the kids let out a collective cry and leap as one into the water. It’s just like a movie, and we are so stunned at the sight that we laugh. They resume their activities, and the new arrivals pause only for a quick douse of sunscreen before joining their fellow creatures. One mother wrangles her little girl into a swim vest before releasing her into the wild.
Two of the regular adults, a couple wearing their matching sunhats, leap into the pool to cool off. They look as though ten years ago, they were wild and free, into punk rock and possibly smoking pot. Having children and growing older, they find those days have faded to fond memories and hazy impressions and cautionary tales to tell their children. The man is heavily tattooed, an impressive and lovely tree curling across his back, an owl perched at his left shoulder. The tree and owl are artfully done, and I find myself admiring it and thinking that the fact it is not realistic is a point in its favor. I also wonder what it means to him. They reemerge from the water, refreshed, to resume their napping and reading. Their kids are old enough that they do not feel the need to guard them, as the parents of the toddlers do.
A little girl rushes up and plaintively complains of hunger, but her mother is busy scribbling in a notebook and shoos her away. Other children should CANNONBALL while jumping into the water in a manner other than ball-like. I think they just want to shout something and cannonball lends itself nicely to being screamed while leaping through the air.
Everyone complains that the Wilson Park Pool is too filled with children (and children’s water) to be any fun for an adult, but I disagree. For one, the concentration of young swimmers is the shallow end; only the older and bolder venture far from where they can’t reach the bottom, leaving plenty of space for the adults to swim laps, leap from the diving board, or float peaceably far from the splashing and cannonballs and shouts and squeals. For another, there’s something essentially summer about the sounds of individuals who come to the pool not because they need to exercise but for the pure pleasure of moving in and under and through the water. They form small clumps of associates, dare each other to dive or to jump, and chatter excitedly. They are full of joy and life, thinking not about how many calories swimming burns or that their form isn’t just right. All they seem to consider is that the water is cool and refreshing, that humping in is enormously fun, that learning to do handstands impresses their fellow swimmers, and that swimming freakin’ awesome.
A man, approximately as round as he is tall, asks us if we are doing homework. “Writing,” we reply. “About what?” “Well, the pool.” “Good place for it.” We smile and return to our notebooks. It’s almost time to leap into the water again and then to try off and head to our next location. The breeze stirs the trees above us and dries the water off us. If you listen closely, the sound of leaves clattering complements the splashing, shouting, and chatter, and here we are in the midst of a snapshot of a perfect July day in Fayetteville.