#12Sunset

Twenty four years ago when I went to Stanford you still had to pass a swimming test to graduate. The swim test was a creepy throwback to the universities of a century ago, with their phrenology tests, their Gentlemen’s C’s, their residential colleges with servants’ rooms in them.

So we undressed in the locker room and merged with the women by the pool. Somebody crossed off our names and we jumped in. There were lifeguards making sure no one held on to the sides of the pool. We splashed away from the edge to make way for fresh waves of freshmen.

The pool was full, and there was no visible egress. Some people were struggling to tread water. Then I saw Anders: he looked like he was sitting on a chair submerged just beneath the waterline, listening to the discussion in a seminar or waiting for his order to arrive in a restaurant. Surging bodies gave him space. I followed in his little wake.

At the far end of the pool the ceiling dropped to form a low roof about five feet above the water. When they saw the darkness under the overhang people turned to swim toward the rest of us, but they didn’t make any progress against the imperceptible current. I was watching them disappear into the dark when I noticed Anders studying the situation, sizing up the lifeguards on either side of us, the crowd treading water, and the overhang up ahead. I will never forget his calm, intense gaze as it moved from the lockers at the end of the pool, to the sides, and then the darkness approaching us. After a long few minutes he relaxed.  “It’s okay,” he nodded to me. “This is going to be fine.”

When we passed under the low roof the splashes and voices became disorienting little blows to the head. Then it was light again, and we were in the bright, salty, open water. People spread out in small groups, or swam off by themselves.

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