Dappled sunlight dances on the water. Random poplar leaves meander around the edges, swirling and then disappearing. Bubbles and gurgles near the steps, a quiet hum and whoosh near the door to the garage. My pool is open.
Twelve by thirty feet, with a two-foot bump for stairs, it sits nestled between the garage wall and the property line. Edged with overgrown forsythia poking through the chain link fence on the side, lilac and pine at the shallow end and shrubs separating it from the white siding of the house, it lies within a bower of green for five months of the year. The rest of the year it waits, shrouded in its black winter overcoat. Dry leaves dancing across its surface somehow, mysteriously, slipping under the near impenetrable seal, lie in murky darkness until May when the cover is stripped off revealing black musty water and green streaks on pale blue walls. That is when I hate the pool.
Days are spent dealing with wet leaves, dead frogs and even deader moles and mice, twigs and fetid water. Dollars wash away as the water level slowly rises, measured by clicks on the water meter, each click costing me dearly. Trips to Concord for sloshing containers of chlorine that leave white bleach stains on the carpet in my car and on the deck. Twenty-five pound bags of DE are swung one-handed by the pool guys into my car but heaved out in my two arms when I get home. Buckets of chlorine tablets that come individually wrapped and are so potent that you must hold your breath as you unwrap and drop each one into the chlorinator. I am overwhelmed by the pool.
Pool guys from Park or Concord who work quickly, but not efficiently, pulling the winter cover off , priming the pump, opening the valves and leaving a mess and often a malfunctioning skimmer or backwash in their wake. Then I step in to tinker and twitch the valves or the returns or the filter or all of them until the pressure is right, the water is moving and the motor is whirring. I am frustrated with the effort of doing the job I have paid someone else to do.
Finally, the yellow duckie floating thermometer is tied to the ladder, telling me that the water is a balmy 68 degrees. I wade in regardless, armed with my scrubbie glove, and rub down the steps. Then, holding onto the edge, I pull myself around the perimeter wiping away the last vestiges of winter’s dirty film from the pool border. Hauling chaises, floats and the market umbrella to shade me from the summer sun, I am almost done. The final touch is the two pink flamingos who nest next to the holly bush, their heads tilted quizzically toward the pool as if to ask, “When does the party start?”
Then my love affair with my pool begins. Days of floating in the crystal water, gazing at a blue sky through the overhanging green of birch and poplar and white pine. Evenings skinny-dipping under the black velvet sky and flickering lights from the stars and my neighbors’ upstairs windows, heavy humid air and warm water like a sauna surrounding me and easing my aches.
The pool was a labor of love from the start. Tired of schlepping the kids to the pool club several blocks away at Burning Bush, I had been whining about a pool for over a year. Finally, on July 8, 1988, I talked my husband into the pool of my dreams. An avid swimmer, he really wanted a pool but he could not envision one in our yard. The back yard had only a small open area, painstakingly planted with grass seed for three years by my husband. He finally had created a lawn, edged by over fifty poplar trees that surrounded our lot. He was loathe to give up that lawn.
“We don’t have to give up your lawn. We can put the pool on the side of the house, next to the garage.”
“No, we can’t, there isn’t enough room.”
“Yes, there is. Ten feet from the wall of the garage and ten feet from the property line, gives us twelve feet of pool width. I measured. From the front of the garage to the edge of the back deck is thirty feet. So that gives us a 12 foot by 30 foot pool. Enough to swim laps but no diving board.”
“I don’t want a diving board, too dangerous.”
“I agree. So can we do it?”
“If we get a home equity loan, and we can next year, yes, maybe.” He always hedged every concession with a “maybe”.
Fine with me, I had him convinced and I usually got what I wanted from him because I was careful not to ask for too much. Smiling and humming to myself, I drifted off to sleep while he completed the drive to Malone for a family reunion, his hand idly stroking my neck as he drove the last hour.
Eight hours later, he lay unconscious, covered with a white sheet on an Emergency Room gurney, his swim trunks cut up and thrown on the floor in a sodden mess. He had jumped into my sister’s pool and broken his neck. Thirty two days later he was dead and all thoughts of a pool had disappeared from my mind.
But, in the spring of 1989, I ordered an inground pool. My family, my in-laws in particular, went batshit crazy. How could I put a pool in my yard when a pool had killed my husband? How could I expose my children to that risk, that remembered trauma? What was I thinking?
I was thinking that we had planned this. I was thinking that the greatest tragedy of all would be for my two children, his two children, to grow up, afraid of the water, unable to swim, paralyzed by fear near lakes, rivers, the ocean. Children of a man who swam everyday when we were in law school, who was the swimming instructor at summer camp, who sat for hours in the kiddie pool at Burning Bush, dunking our son’s feet in the water or towing our daughter in the deep end. His children had to love the water just as he had, it was their legacy.
I bowed to family pressure for one year, putting my order on hold and schlepping my kids once again to Burning Bush pool, but more often than not, sending them with our Swedish au pair, Caroline. But in the spring of 1990, the pool went in and our children learned to swim and love the water almost as much as their father had.
The pool is getting old. It needs another new liner and the pump will have to be replaced in the next few years. The upkeep wears me down and the expense eats a hole into my already tight budget. I should close it down, fill it in. After all, the kids are largely gone and the season is still so short in northeast New York.
But, I cannot. I can still see his eyes light up as I explained to him exactly how it would look. I can still see his smile as I teased him about midnight skinny-dipping. I can hear him sigh as I described the cooling relief of jumping in his own pool after a long, sweaty day at court.
I will continue to tend to the pool as some widows tend to graves, out of remembrance, out of love.