The Innocents Up-Island
Alex de Havenon
“Swimmers take your marks.” BEEP. The strobe goes off. So does my daughter. In an instant she disappears underwater. If everything’s going according to plan, she’s vigorously snap, snap, snapping out the count with her hips while keeping her upper body locked in a streamline position—arms forward, fingers intertwined, chin dipped. The crowd is roaring. You would think these kids were trying out for the Olympics. I glance at the scoreboard and look back down again. My heart sinks as the other swimmers come up and begin splashing their way towards the turn. I hear myself count: Four. Five. Six. Where is she? At that moment Cecilia breaks the surface having covered nearly half the distance of the pool.
Quietly, I urge her forward; “Go C.” That’s the nickname her coach gave her. Why “C?” Probably because it’s just one syllable, as opposed to three. When you’re shouting, every millisecond counts and Tom, good coach that he is, does his share of shouting. Not angry, at least not usually, but shouting because has to. Wouldn’t be heard if he didn’t. It’s the tiles. Words bounce off them like a candied-up second grader on a Halloween bender. By the time they reach their destination, they’re just noise.
It’s a cold February morning. The meet is well to the west of our little corner of paradise known asEast Hampton. Cecilia, my wife and I, stumble out of the house in the pre-dawn darkness to make the trip up-island. After an hour and a half of driving, we find ourselves amongst the likes of Blinds A Go-Go and Mr. Kwik’s Oil Change before arriving at our destination; a high school deep in Joey Buttafuoco country. You remember Joey and his underage lover Amy Fisher don’t you? Him: unfortunate last name: owner of highly regarded auto body shop. Her: the Jewish-Italian high-school girl next door gone bad, really bad. Comes to Joey on the sly after banging up the family car. Falls in the sack with Joey. Falls in love with Joey. Shoots Joey’s wife in the face when Joey tries to dump her.
Where was I? Right: my daughter, the swimmer. Twelve years old. One of the smallest kids in her age bracket, but she’s got spirit. I’m so damn proud of her. All the work she’s put in: two and a half hours a day, six days a week. Tom’s asked her to join Nationals next year. On top of regular practice, they “get” to do weight training three times a week and in-water sessions5:30Tuesdays and Thursday mornings. I’ll be the one driving her.
Cecilia started swimming three years ago when we moved out ofNew York. She’d been a serious gymnast in the city. But there wasn’t a program anywhere near us on theEast End. So we needed to find something else for her to do; some other way to use up that energy of hers or she’d drive us crazy. To tell you the truth, I don’t miss gymnastics meets much. Little girls dolled up in make-up, sparkles and hair-gel flipping and flopping to the same idiotic tune playing over and over and over again. On top of the girly-girl stuff, nearly everyone on Cecilia’s team had suffered one injury or another, some pretty serious.
I don’t remember exactly how we found out about the Y’s swim team, probably through one of the swimming counselors at our club.Devon’s a swell place. Prime real estate on a quiet stretch of Gardiner’s Bay in Amagansett.Lot’s of pink shirts and pants with spouting whales or clacking lobsters or some other preppy-correct marine life. Not many year ‘rounders, mostly summer people. Bankers. Lawyers. Not a candlestick maker in sight. You get the picture. Weekdays, kids have the club pretty much to themselves. Dads (generally it’s the dads) are in the city doing what they need to do while Mom’s job is to make sure little Muffy or Biff arrives at9 amsharp for the flag raising and is promptly picked-up at the end of the day. Tennis. Sailing. Swimming. They’ve got it good those kids.
Devon’s swimming lanes are out at the end of a long pier. By July,Gardner’s is awash in jellyfish and sea lice. Our kids have learned to put up with these nasty creatures (WASP stiff upper lip and all that) but the other camps refuse to swim against us chez nous. So twice a summer our ”Junior Yachters” (it’s a little precious, I know) are bussed over toMaidstonea few miles away. A much fancier club,Maidstonehas a golf course and a heated swimming pool just a long three iron from the ocean. To call these get-togethers “swim meets” is a bit of a stretch. They’re more like a swim socials. The kids aren’t timed and the races max out at 25 yards. Compared to the other meets Cecilia goes to, winning atMaidstoneis like shooting fish in a barrel. Doesn’t seem to stop her from enjoying them though. Guess she’s still young enough not to get hung up on the competition, just basks in the glory.