Sometimes I swear I see her sitting in the bleachers.
When my goggles are fogged or when the seal against my face has broken and water has seeped in and the chlorine stings my eyes. You’d think I’d have a resistance to that sting after all these years. I don’t.
It’s those moments when I think I see her sitting there, cheering me on, that steal my breath.
The eighth anniversary has just passed. Seeing her—or thinking I see her—happens more often around this time of year, when the leaves change and the air has a bite to it, reminding you to take a heavier coat and not just a cute sweatshirt or cardigan, or you’ll shiver through all your classes.
But then I blink my stinging eyes a few times, readjust my goggles against my face, look back to the bleachers, and it’s not my mom sitting there but someone else’s. It’s those moments I feel most alone in the world. My father is usually there, but instead of cheering, he’s hunched over his silver clipboard, a stopwatch in his hand. I can tell what the rest of the day will be like with a single glance at the shape of his mouth.
Parents sit in groups, high-fiving and hollering. She used to high-five and holler too. The stakes were a lot lower then. A meet, good or bad, meant a trip to the ice cream shop after. Nowadays, a bad performance in the pool means hours more in the pool.
I blink again. The mirage fades. Again, someone else’s mom.
The squeeze of grief, like a hand wrapped around my heart—it never goes away. Well-meaning folks say it gets better with time, and maybe with a hundred more years, it will.
Then the start beep goes off, and I hit the water, racing against the dolphin-like bodies on either side of me, and she floats out of my mind as quickly as she floated in.