It was 1995. The deck was wet. It was the winter, an indoor alabaster pool with 8 lanes and starting blocks standing like sentinels to launch a given competitor into the abyss spotlife of being underwater. Swimmers that were faster than me surrounded my cold awkward 12 year oldedness. That was how it was, but I had friends that were more my speed. That’s how the cliques worked in competitive swimming around DC. The fast kids were friends with each other, and the medium speed kids were friends with each other, and when the slow kids showed up to populate Heat 1 and 2 at an open meet, no one paid much mind. The fast kids were rich, or at least I assumed they were— they had fancy wraparound robes with their initials embroidered on them. They were parkas. They were ridiculous. And they were mean.
I looked into the steamy reality of the big coaches with their favorite fast girls in their laps, glancing at clutch creased programs. I looked at the “take your marks…”—MAHHHHHHH occurring every few minutes for a 100 yard backstroke. Not my event. I looked at all of this, cold from my warm-up in the lap lane, knowing I had a few minutes to spare, and knowing I’d do this exactly as I planned.
I put on big Walkman headphones, thin metal onto a cheap cushion that moistly settled upon my ears. The sounds and humidity of the metal bench overlooking the pool evaporated theoretically as I clicked the play button on my tape. I leaned back, not paying mind to things like when to eat a Powerbar, when to stand up, when to dive— I had time. I had time for only one thing.
The purposeful guitar riff of “Til I Hear It From You” started. It was my favorite. The whole Empire Records soundtrack- I mean, you had to know it if you were born in 1983 and paid a second of attention. But what a fucking Track 1. I had a 100 Freestyle in 10 minutes. It didn’t matter. I closed my eyes and let it surround me. I felt the cute girl I wanted to maybe kiss walk by, I felt that kid I always split races with across the lanes in his team’s section. Felt all of that, didn’t care. That was my moment, for me, clasped on both sides by wet headphones, and letting all of it slide off. Mmmmcha.