no returns accepted

Ages ago, Suzan said to me that the number sixteen was magic, and so far, I'm inclined to agree. For women, dropping back down into the sixteen-and-under range brings you back into the land of the living, the normal, the everyday.Sometimes, what's utterly normal and everyday for the rest of the world is terrifying and magical and scary for me.

Today I went to a sporting goods store. Doesn't sound like much, does it? Keep in mind that before January, there was literally nothing in a sporting goods store that would be of any use to me. Sports equipment? Yeah, as if I was capable of playing. Clothing? As if I was capable of wearing it.

But time, and exercise, and friends are starting to wear me down a bit. Or maybe it was just the text message from Joyce I got when I was in Atlanta two weeks ago:

"Want to go swimming?"

* * * * *

The thought of swimming has had me paralyzed, terrified, and sadder than I can possibly begin to explain to you for, well, longer than perhaps you'd like to believe. Once upon a time, in another (thinner) life, I loved swimming. I actually contemplated getting Red Cross certified. In the water, it didn't matter that I was short, with a short torso and short legs. All that mattered was that the water moved when I told it to, and when I was in it, I felt—free, in a way that I never quite did on land, where everyone was much taller and so many things out of my reach.

With a single exception dating to the scorching-hot summer of 1996, I have not swum in ten years. I have walked on the edge of the ocean not once, but twice, letting the water slap at my knees and wishing like hell I had the bravery to turn away from the sand and just—fall.

Fall into the water, and let it take me from there.

But I could not find a swimsuit I could wear, much less get over the mental devastation of trying to accept the thought of myself in such a thing, and so when I moved away from home, the beach towels stayed in the bottom drawer of my mother's bureau, and my water dreams stayed just that—dreams.

* * * * *

It was the photos that did it. A couple of random photos and the words of someone I trusted, who told me to look at him, look in his eyes, and to ask myself if the look on his face said I was something so horrible as what my mind says I still am. I looked, and I saw not revulsion, but admiration, and it gave me courage; just enough courage to cup between my hands and hold away from the wind.

Courage, for me, is achingly soft and fragile; I hardly know how to hold it in my hands without dropping or crushing it.

Then there were the photos. Photos I still can't quite come to terms with, because they're so different from what I see in the mirror. I get more confused with every photo I see, even though intellectually I understand that all the workouts I've done since January can't not have had an effect.

My mind still sees me as this, or on even worse days as this, one of the worst and most personally painful photos I've ever seen taken of me.

But I don't look like that now. On Monday, I linked arms popup('/images/2004/brian_amy_aaron.jpg', 'with Brian and Aaron', 500, 451); ?>for a quick photo that's had me reeling ever since the first time I looked at it. Just for proof, I checked other photos from this weekend and found the posed shot of the dragon*con TV staff, and … it looks like the other photo.

Last night, I stared at those photos and asked myself if I could put my fears aside, find a pool, and make peace with that portion of myself that's ached for the water since I was a teenager.

This afternoon, I found out that Huntsville has three city pools that I can get access to. I called, and found out the prices were extraordinarily reasonable ($1/swim, or $15/month for an unlimited pass) and I began to ask myself…why not? Joyce swims in a tank top and shorts.

Why can't I?

I went for my daily workout, but packed my wallet, which I usually don't do. Afterwards, I went to a sporting goods store.

* * * * *

A few bewildering moments after walking into the sporting goods store, I realized something that made me want to dive behind the nearest rack:

I belonged there.

There were things in this store I could use. That I wanted. Goggles first, then wandering, and wandering led to changing rooms and swimsuits.

Swimsuits. Sonofabitch, the bane of my existence. I read the tags on the suits, reminding myself that any kind of clothing made by a company called "Speedo" sure as hell wouldn't make anything in my—

Oh my God. Those numbers match my measurements.

I scooped up the suit, hoping no one was looking at the chubby girl in the swimsuit section, and darted off to the changing rooms. I had to know. I had to know. Was I a part of this world again?

I tried it on and it was tight, but I expected that. A swimsuit. I ran my hands over it, trying to resolve the mental dichotomy of me, my body, in a swimsuit. It had been so long that I'd forgotten the overall tension of the lycra, the tug necessary to make the suit settle over hips.

It was a little tighter than I would've preferred, but in the land of constant weight loss, that meant it was perfect. At first, I could swim in tank and shorts, realigning my knowledge of swimming with this body that has changed so much, and then in a few weeks, it would be ready to go.

I changed back into street clothes and held the suit in my hands, remembering the smell of the chlorine in the pool at the Hyatt, and—oh, God, I could sneak off from dragon*con this September to go swimming—and by then the suit would definitely, easily fit.

It was time. I knew it with the kind of finality that can't be argued with, can't be denied, can't have anything done with it except be stared in the eye and accepted.

I was at the cash register within thirty seconds.

* * * * *

He rung up my purchases, and offered me a signup for a rewards program. My mind bellowed, "Don't be a dumbass. You don't need anything in this store, can't wear anything in this store, don't belong here—"—but there it was, blue racerback, absolute proof that what's going through my head is wrong and maybe has been for years—and I signed up for the program and was done with it.

He asked me about swimming as I swiped my debit card. I told him it had been a decade since I'd swum, and that I started working out in January. Now that I'd lost about twenty pounds, I felt okay with the idea of getting back in a swimsuit.

He put down my purchases and looked at me with a gaze I'm coming to know—face, breasts, hips, breasts, face, all meeting approval under his gaze—and shook his head.

"Hon, you didn't need to lose twenty pounds to get back in the water. You're fine as you are. You shouldn't have waited so long."

I took my purchases and fled, nearly running, to the car. I sat down and opened the bag, touching the swimsuit that's mine for keeps, no returns accepted, and whispered to myself,

"It's time."


Nice cashier. [No, I didn't steer you to a store where I knew cashiers.]

OMG! This gave me happy jitters :) Yay! Your pictures look great by the way... I must find the way to do this too. It seems happy. Yay for swimming!

"Hon, you didn't need to lose twenty pounds to get back in the water. You're fine as you are. You shouldn't have waited so long." I am now going to have a fantasy that a clerk said that to me...what a lovely thing to brighten your day! Many, many congratulations on the weight loss. You are where I expected to be by now, but I've failed miserably in my goals where you have achieved beautifully. Enjoy your swim. :D

Thanks for putting a big smile on my face as I needed it - having to works friday evenings is a drag! The photo's looked great. As someone who lost 35kg's 10 years ago just by swimming 3/4 times a week and being sensible about the food I ate, it brings back good memories. Once you start swimming on a regular basis you will become adicted (more so than the gym)as it is very relaxing and is always a good time to think with being disturbed. Just watch out for the lane hogs!!!

You look amazing!

WOOOTTT!!!!!!!!! Have fun on your first swim!!!

At risk of seeming creepy, I just want to say that you're kind of like a role model for me..I read some of your site about two and half months ago and have been going to the gym ever since. I have only lost 6 pounds, but your sucess helps me to remember that it is possible to take control of your life. :) Thanks for all the movtivation. Also, you do look great! And you know PHP? Cool.

Glad I could inspire you. :-) So, when are we going swimming?

Your doing so great!!! I wish I had the motivation you and my sister have. She's doing great too...lost 40 pounds in the past year...and we both know the feeling of not belonging in a sporting goods store!

You made me cry. Again. This is beginning to be an ongoing thing. :) I love reading these entries. They give me hope.