Judy Minkove
Judy Minkove

Swimmingly

“How are you?” they ask.
“I can’t even imagine,” they say.
“You are so strong,” they add. “Don’t know how you do it.”

I claim my spot at the pool’s edge, stuff my hair into my cap and adjust my goggles.
Then I ease myself into the water—feet first. Too scared to dive in.
A shiver rushes through me. I raise my legs and stretch my arms, straight as I can.

The water embraces me; I am weightless.
Overhead lights make the water shimmer—dance—like Rachel’s eyes when she smiled.
I tighten the goggles, sealing my eyes from the chlorine sting.

Fully immersed, arms extended, I commence my laps.
Eighteen strokes later, I come up for air.
Eighteen—“Chai.” Life.

Keep going. Breathe, blow bubbles, long strides … then glide.
The goggles begin to leak.
I stop at the pool’s edge and tighten them with my palms. I push off again—stronger this time.

I must go on … without her.
But there she is, in my head again. My daughter. My precious muse.
She warned me to take care of myself so I could help care for her triplets.

Before her treatment, she’d had an ovary removed and frozen. Whenever we drove by the vault where it was stored, she waved.
She’d picked out “strong” names for her future babies: Evan, Rafi and Zoe: Stone; God heals; Life.
Now the ovary belongs to science. I imagine the tissue under a microscope, triggering insights.

A splash from the swimmer in the lane next to me jolts me back to my workout.
I’ve lost count. Is this lap 26 or 27?
When in doubt, subtract a lap. It will only make me stronger.

I propel my body forward, faster.
Glide, breathe, blow bubbles, rotate those arms. Breathe. Kick!
Oh, how I took you for granted, precious lungs. No more.

Need to head home soon to fix dinner. Just the two of us now. The boys have their own lives and precious children. As it should be. As it should have been for her.
The lifeguard taps me on the shoulder. “Time to leave,” he says, reminding me of pandemic restrictions. That’ll teach me not to sneak in four more laps.
I shower, get dressed, blow-dry my hair and paint my face. Then I schedule the next day’s swim.

Dusk emerges; I dash to my car and click on my headlights.
Fifteen minutes later, I’m home. Dinner and household chores beckon. But first, I head upstairs to hang my towel and bathing suit.
Then I grab a tissue, dab my eyes and make my way down to the kitchen.

About the Author
Judy Fruchter Minkove is a senior writer at Johns Hopkins Medicine, in Baltimore, Maryland. She is working on a memoir about her daughter.
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