Formidable

A viola pedagogue said I had a formidable technique.
Once, I concertized on a Strad. Fourteen years later,
I relearned to swim. 

Swimming was how I maintained my Oberlin weight
of 150 pounds. Laps swum between classes and practice,
count determined by the number of X-Files episodes
playing in my head - seasons one through five, 
when the show was filmed in Vancouver,
my footage of choice. Goggles as green screens,
each lap a nautical Netflix for the queueing.
When people asked how I stayed so thin,
I told them Canadians and UFOs. 

Swimming gave me 45 minutes to forget rivals
like the unfathomably talented Liz, sublime
bastion Duke, and Marco whose stage mother
I mimicked with the aid of a drawl and potato
chip. It ferried me past an asexual relationship,
divested my fixation on a dirty blonde with weed-
dealer eyes, the songs blared in that watery arena
a smattering of scenesters and Sugar Rays beyond
my breadth, though I admit to owning Blink-182's
Enema of the State, member Tom DeLonge a tall
glass of lip ring so long as you tuned out his voice.

Swimming pools were the first spaces as an agoraphobe
I gave up. Suppose I encountered a floating Band-Aid
or spent condom? My turnstile of phobias never explained
how a semen lily pad could appear in the lane, I simply
assumed whatever forces out to disease me would. Pools
were joined by hotels: is-it-ejaculate on a towel, pillow
blood at an inn. I'm grateful my source of income,
the Canton Symphony, performed in a high school
concert hall, its restrooms used mainly by those 18
and under, the rationale being these facilities
carried less contagions, the residue of a Rust
Belt zit spared my agoraphobiOCD.

The following summer was a regimen of medication
and cognitive therapy. My "graduation ceremony" - 
the purchase of a foot-long Subway sandwich in a food court,
heaped onto a tray dined off of by hundreds a week, eaten
with money-not-so-grubbing hands. I hoped theirs
was a formidable dishwasher, hoped two-and-a-half
months pharmacying my way back to life made me
relapse proof, a desire contested over the next 11 years
as setbacks begat moves home and an instrument sold
to fund a parent's hospital stay - viola harmless to others,
pathogenic to me. Home to a neighbourhood pool, cache
of X-Files on VHS, Lake Michigan an hour northwest. 
Water, water, like malware among recovering me. 

***

The decision to enter my apartment's swimming pool
came after I painted myself into a domino effect
of hydrocortisone and a heat rash, Arizona an over-
the-counter slather that made treadmills impossible, 
trying to reach a fraction of my Oberlin physique. 
The pool I passed daily to check my mail or toss
my trash: its deck chairs like frosted toaster strudel,
heavy-as-a-convention-of-gila-monsters gate.
Its No Lifeguard On Duty sign posted near
a cleaning net aged into a parabola, the appeal
into which I stepped, having scanned the water
for bandages and prophylactics (old habits hardly die),
my swim trunks observed by a southwestern species
of bug as it crossed the "diving prohibited" pictograph.
The Nazca lines of a neck an arthropod will make - 
reclamation, the goggles where everything resembles reality TV. 

Some days a phobia strays. A pool's just a pool, my first
since the turnstile formed. Three feet into five, submergence
less baptism than surface breath; clemency,
a sideways swig of chlorine. 

 


Jon Riccio is an incoming PhD candidate at the University of Southern Mississippi. His work appears in aptBoothCutBank OnlineHawai'i ReviewThe HIV Here and Now Project, and Redivider, among others. He received his MFA from the University of Arizona.