Treading.

I’ve run more than 50,000 miles over 20 years and it’s led me to this swimming pool. My legs creak, crack and pop after years of pounding pavement. I decided to be kinder and gentler to my body and signed up for aqua aerobics classes at the community pool. Every Wednesday morning, I join the Water Whackies for an hour-long cardio and toning workout.

That’s right: my classmates call themselves the Water Whackies. Retirees tend to have a healthy sense of humor. You see, the Water Whackies are mostly retirees. Who else is free for aqua aerobics at 9:30 on a Wednesday morning? Oh, that’s right: me.

There I am in the pool’s shallow end once a week, wearing my electric-blue racing Speedo. I have more in common with the skirted ladies and bosomed gentlemen around me than with my contemporaries: I’m unemployed, my body demands TLC and I crave the company and chit-chat more than the caffeine of the post-workout coffee served in the lobby.

The Water Whackies are much nicer than me, though. They’re patient when I can’t move out of their way because I’m an uncoordinated aqua aerobics newbie. I used to huff, grumble and clip the heels of slower runners in my path on race days. If my pool mates are type-A, compulsive competitives, they don’t reveal this side during class. They encourage me, tell me I’ll get the hang of it soon, and to just have fun.

I wasn’t having fun last Wednesday. Terry, our instructor, played an oldies mix for our workout. I don’t mean retro 80s or funky 70s but Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons old. She showed us a leg-kick and arm-pump combination with a noodle that would move us from the deep end to the shallow end of the pool. I was frustrated. I couldn’t master the move and Frankie’s falsetto pierced through my ear plugs. I kicked and pumped my arms but remained stationary. When I did manage to move, I went backwards.

“Atta girl, Nancy, you’ll get it soon,” said Louie as he and all the other Water Whackies sailed past me. Their wake discombobulated me even more and all I could do was watch as Frankie sang Walk Like a Man. They were having fun, like the retirees rejuvenated by the lifeforce-filled pool in Cocoon. I wanted to submerge myself like Ben Braddock.

I felt formerly – as in former kick-ass athlete, used-to-be employed, once-upon-a-time had a grip on life – and scared.  My anxieties were going to pull me under: fear of my thesis, of life after graduation, of the wisdom of pursuing a writing life.

Have fun. Hang in there.

So easy for them to say. Yet they’ve been at this thing of life longer than I have and might know something. The problem with life is it offers no guarantees, yet that’s what I want. I know others’ advice is well-intentioned and I should value it more, but that’s another problem with life: I have to live it to know it.

The Water Whackies waited in the shallow end for me. I kicked furiously and barely moved.

“Take your time, Nan,” called Louie. “I need a break. Terry’s working us too hard.”

I know from experience that more movement doesn’t always translate into forward progress. I stopped, took a deep breath and focused on my kicks and arm movements. I moved, forward, slowly. It felt like it took me forever, but I made it to the shallow end while the Four Seasons backed-up Frankie’s cheery wails that big girls don’t cry.

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