The first thing we saw when we got to the pool was a very large colored ball being batted around the water by kids Charlie’s age as some very young-looking lifeguards stood at attention. Charlie got in slowly via the stairs at the shallow end and Jim had swum to and back from the deep end before Charlie got in. Charlie’s eyes were big and staring and his face seemed just a little glum.
For haven’t I so often referred to Charlie as the kingfish and to water as his natural element? And we had indeed swam in this pool before: It is our YMCA pool and Charlie has made himself at home in these waters before.
In all those previous times at the pool, Charlie has swum in a special weekend program for autistic children only. There are high school volunteers and, while it is hardly an organized event, the presence of the volunteers and of all of us parents watching from the sidelines lends a sort of structure to things. The younger children stay in the shallow end, most keeping close to the volunteers or their parents, while a far smaller number swim in the deep end. All are good and strong swimmers like Charlie. They get stuck sometimes staring at the stairs in the deep end or gathering a dozen swim noodles under them—like Charlie, they move in patterned ways—a bit more deliberately, a bit more solidly; maybe one or two dives in, carefully, methodically.
Today it was Open Swim and, while there were probably fewer children in the pool, there was a lot more commotion. At least three and sometimes eight kids rode a foam raft, laughing and ducking when someone jumped in suddenly from the side of the pool. A man swam laps using a butterfly stroke. Kids dived in anywhere and at all times; kids sunk to the bottom in contests about who could stay under the longest and bobbed up out of nowhere; that big ball rolled and lolled around the deep end (both Jim and I got in its path and pushed it on).
A completely different pool.
Jim gave Charlie piggy backs to the deep end, with the two of them sinking almost instantly underwater, and then Charlie was on his own, I swam nearby and Charlie started moving through the water, seeking open space. He hung by me for a while on the ledge in the deep end before making the journey back across, again skirting the faster-moving, loudly laughing, other kid swimmers. The three of us fell into a brief routine of Jim swimming back to coax Charlie to the deep end while I added encouragement. Charlie started smiling a little as he made his way around the pool. As was inevitable, another swimmer, or a leg or arm, came into his path and Charlie first paused, then kept moving, steady as he goes.
After 25 minutes, Charlie got himself into a tangle of swimmers rolling the gigantic ball back and forth beside the crew on the raft and Jim and I had one of those fleeting moments when Charlie was just another kid in the water, holding himself up among his same-aged peers and swatting at the ball when it rolled by him.
After 35 minutes, Charlie turned himself over onto his back in the deep end and, close beside the lane marker, swam the length of the pool with his signature grace that often leaves me wondering, what if Charlie spent more of his time in the water than out of it………..
As Charlie was getting ready to go to bed, Jim was putting some of his books onto the shelves in Charlie’s room (it used to be my father-in-law’s study) and whistling (People let me tell you ’bout my……). Suddenly Charlie sang out,
“All time bess friend.”
and (after Jim sang “He’s a warm hearted person”)
“Heh’ll wuv me too duh ennn.”
and (as I was about to turn off the light)
It was some sweet harmony.