I swim at the Pojoaque Wellness Center, not enough of course, but I swim. I arrived for laps several Tuesdays ago and the lanes were full so I swam next to the rope on the non-lap side. There was a group of swimmers in the pool, adults with different mental wiring. I'm not sure what the P.C. term is, but in New Mexico the parents of such children know they are special and gifts from God. This is a landscape of faith so thick the air is Catholic.
As I was gingerly entering the water a woman with curly brown hair said to me, Are you ready for Valentine's Day?
I said, "We have three weeks, but I am getting ready." I went to the rope to begin my laps, hopeful that my precious exercise wouldn't be interrupted. As I came back down the lane she asked again, What is your name?
I told her Joanie. The name Joan really confuses people here as there seems no Spanish equivalent. And she asked what I was doing for Valentine's. I said I was making Valentines and taking them into nursing homes. She wondered if they were in Española, and when I said, "No, Santa Fe" I felt a bit the traitor.
Every time I came down to her end of the pool she was waiting and almost every time she asked, What is your name? Often she'd inquire about my Valentine's plans and I'd say she must be very excited. Her name is Shelly and I asked her to see if she could remember my name till I came back. Once she did remember but mostly I was met with, What is your name? And more discussion of the Big Day. I lost count of my laps, and just enjoyed the back and forth, the give and take, and the pleasure of our odd and splash punctuated meetings, each time as if by chance.
I thought the conversation might distract me from my sacred swimming, but I came to look forward to her waiting at the shallow end. I swam more laps than I usually do, spent an hour in the pool to my usual restless 30-40 minutes. Towards the end of my swim she asked if I had bought my candy. I told her, no,
I better remember to do so. She advised very seriously, Write it down.
When I went into the locker room, stretching and floating until the group had time to shower and dress, she sat on the bench in bra and jeans. She seemed to have no recognition of me in this non-watery element. As she was leaving I said, "Happy Valentine's Day, Shelly" to her, and the group helper said, "Oh, she has been talking about Valentine's Day for months." Of all the love I receive, this one was Valentine of the Year. I will be curious to find her in the pool now that the holiday is passing. Will we be on to Easter or still obsessed with hearts?