For at least 50 minutes, a few times a week, I make it over to my local Northern Virginia recreation center, where I splash around in the pool with a group of mostly silver-haired, white, senior women for aqua Zumba, aqua fit, and deep water fitness classes. The locker room and the pool exist in another world, a sometimes neutral zone tucked away from the harshness that can be experienced on a day to day basis in our interactions with strangers and sometimes colleagues and away from the partisan polarization of the real world outside.
I arrive already showered, dressed in my swimsuit, and ready to just discretely disrobe, toss my street clothes in my shoulder bag, slip off my sneakers and into my pool shoes, walk thru the locker room showers and then into the natatorium for class.
These women obviously have been taking classes together for a while and know each other from community ties and social events. “How was your granddaughter’s wedding?” “Did you make it to the craft show?” “I didn’t make it to church last night. I know I’m going to hear it from Elsa when I see her.” “Is that your daughter? My how she’s grown. I didn’t even recognize her.” There is a nice kinship that can be felt between women in the locker room. In the pool, once we overcome the shocking temperature of the water, we are all in sync, bouncing, bobbing, jogging underwater, doing semi-weightless jumping jacks, cross country ski moves, and on Sunday mornings we are all like extras in a music video from the 90’s, led by our instructor to do what he calls, the “Sunday Morning Booty Shaker”. This exercise has us moving more provocatively than we ever would, unless these ladies were freaks back in the day, cloaked by the blurry movement of the water all around us. Invariably a sheepish grin of embarrassed splashes across everyone’s faces followed by out loud laughs as we watch the instructor perform these moves above the water up on the deck for all of his on looking public to see. Is this really a Zumba exercise? Thank God no one can really see us beneath the water.
The kinship is so great between some women that at times instructors have to tell some women to stop talking and pay attention, “I am not going to talk if you two can’t stop talking”. “Do I need to separate you two?” Each class I introduce myself to someone new. “I like your swimsuit”. “Oh thank you, I’ve had it for years. My name is ________”. “I’m Cheryl”. Or “Wanna go rogue and move beyond the lane rope into the deeper water? We’re both tall.” “I was waiting for somebody to do it first. Let’s do it. By the way, my name is _________.” “I’m Cheryl”.
Class ends and we make it out and back to the locker room. This is where things really get interesting. I’m all for kinship, but I prefer it while clothed. Here is where I begin to differ from my silver-haired gal pals. As fast as I disrobed to get in the pool, I try to get out of the locker room even faster. I dab off pool water to the point that I can either slip on an oversized cover dress, like my Aunt Gladys used to do after water aerobics once upon a time, or I slip on a pair of yoga pants on over my damp swim suit, pull on a shirt, flip out of the swim shoes and back into my sneakers, pop my mask back on, and I’m out. All the while I’m hearing, “Wow you must have had severe knee problems. Are those surgery scars on your knees?” “What does your tattoo mean?” “Look at this one.” “Can you scratch my back? It’s still a little damp." I am in a little disbelief. Not only are these women prancing around the locker room naked – not even wearing towels, they are inspecting each other’s bodies and having conversations about what they are observing. Oh my to the toddler-age young boys whose mom brings them into the women’s locker room with her. What an eye full and early education on ageing they are getting.
Sitting in my car for a moment still sitting outside of the recreation center, I take off my mask and I think to myself, what universe am I living in? Here I am in Northern Virginia, home of the Confederate South, home to presidents, celebrated Civil War Generals, Jim Crow, the place my older sister went to college and where my mother once told me not to call her to get me out of jail if I got pulled over by the police when I was just in my mid-20’s, knowingly driving with an expired Ohio driver’s license and bad tires. I just spent upwards of 50 minutes making friendly with a group of silver-haired white women, who just may be the some of the same women that voted for Donald Trump - twice, were probably quiet about the broad daylight murder of George Floyd last year and mum as far back as Trayvon Martin’s killing and the acquittal of his killer, George Zimmerman. They could be anti- Black Lives Matter ladies because they refuse to believe or understand that Black lives have always been and still are devalued unless they are attached to the preservation of the republic. They may be the mothers of mothers who are vocal at regional school board meeting leaping onto the no Critical Race Theory bandwagon without having a clue about what CRT really is about, or they could be among those that just flipped the state house republican. Lord knows who and what they think I am, joining the pool party without too many silver hair credentials showing through, wildly tossed kinky hair, trying to make nice. Humph!
It is difficult to put all of that mental work aside out in the real world of my car and beyond, but for 50 minutes, in another world, we do, each of us splashing, kicking, jumping, running, dancing underwater, seeking better health for ourselves.