Dear Diary,

Stroke, stroke, stroke, breathe left.

That’s my cadence as I freestyle slowly from one end of the pool to the other. I try to choose my swim times when no one else is there. The pool opens at 9:00 AM, and that seems to work pretty well. By 11:00 AM, when the weather is sunny and hot, people are jockeying for chairs and tables. Soon thereafter, they’re equipped with noodles and floats, and the two marked swim lanes become floating lanes instead. Evenings are nice if the pool hasn’t been crowded during the day, but if it’s been busy, there’s a fine layer of sunscreen on top of the water, and I feel like I’m chewing it every time I open my mouth. Gross.

I started playing pickleball two years ago when we moved to our RV resort in central Florida. Friends taught us the basics, and we never looked back. Pickleball can easily become an obsession if you let it. I let it. Sadly, however, my body wasn’t on board with supporting that obsession. First it was (and really still is) my back. I’ve had injection after injection to keep me on the court, but it’s not a sustainable solution. This winter, it’s become my knees. My left knee gave way in early January, and I’ve run the healthcare gamut since then. The first MRI suggested a “mass with ill-defined margins.” Google that, and at the top of the list is cancer. So, a second MRI with contrast was ordered to help identify the mass. I then found out it wasn’t a mass at all, but a hole in my bone, along with a torn meniscus.

“I’m not going to fix your meniscus,” my first ortho doc said, “Because if I clean it out properly, you’ll have Swiss cheese bones when I’m finished.” I found out I have SONK (Spontaneous Osteonecrosis of the Knee). At some point, the blood flow to my knee was interrupted, resulting in bone death. And to add to the mix, all the cartilage under my kneecap is gone. The fix is a total knee replacement.

So, I’m waiting for insurance approval and for ortho doc #2 to call and schedule my initial appointment, then to schedule the surgery itself. I injured myself in January, and I’m worried it’s going to be 2025 before I actually get a new knee.

I can barely walk right now—let alone play pickleball—because of the pain, so swimming has become my go-to. It’s the only exercise I can tolerate, and I need to lose as much weight as I can to alleviate the pressure on my knee and my spine. This isn’t weight loss for vanity (I give very few fucks any more about meeting the societal expectation of beauty), it’s for quality of life. Carrying around 60 extra pounds isn’t helping my already-collapsing bones. It still hurts my knee to swim, but it hurts substantially less than doing anything on solid ground.

In the blink of an eye, I’ve gone from the very social sport of pickleball to the very solitary sport of lap swimming. Virtually all of my friends at the resort are pickleball players. It’s where I’ve made most of my connections. Pickleball isn’t just a fun, competitive sport, it’s also a social outlet.

Swimming is the exact opposite. 

When I’m swimming, I don’t have my glasses on, either, so I can only see about five feet ahead of me. Everything is blurry and ethereal and a little bit disconcerting. I have to exist in the very close present because I can’t see beyond that. 

I’ve discovered that’s not an awful place to be.

Now that I’ve figured out a comfortable pace, and I know when I need to breathe, I’m not so focused on my form and my oxygen. Instead, I’ve begun taking this silent, solitary time for contemplation.

Here are some of the things I’ve thought about recently in the pool: My grown kids and their current state in life; my divorce; my current relationships; my past relationships; whether I should make tacos or chicken for dinner; whether the new novel I’m writing is boring; which indie presses I want to send my memoir to; whether I’m not invited to events because I’m gay or because I’m just not interesting; how blisteringly hot the summer might get; whether my mom and sister are hanging out together somewhere in the Universe; why Brandi Carlile had to get so famous that I’ll never get to see her sing in a small venue again; whether I should grow my hair out and braid it like Granny’s; the total eclipse that’s coming on April 8; the sex scene I need to write… and then BAM! I see a dead spider on the bottom of the pool, and all my zen is gone. Suddenly, I’m kicking, splashing, moving ten feet away, because even though the spider is dead, it’s still a spider.

Today, I swam 34 laps. (I count one lap on the way down and one on the way back as two laps. So sue me. I feel better with higher numbers.) I stopped at 34 because if I’d continued, I would have had to at least go to 38. I couldn’t stop at 36 because 6×6 is 36, and six is the devil’s number, and it’s Easter. Yes, that’s how weirdly my brain works and how deep my organized religion runs. No, I no longer believe in any part of the religion, but it still courses through my veins, no matter how hard I try to leave it in the past.

But think about that: I’m pondering tacos for dinner, Brandi Carlile’s rise to fame, dead spiders, and the Mark of the Beast within the same five minutes or so.

That’s going to make for some great writing later.



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