Texas Swimmer Boys

All this talk in the last year about Lance Armstrong and performance enhancing drugs has me a little hot. Not angry hot. Sexy hot. Squirming in the driver’s seat hot. NPR drones on the radio as I drive to work after swimming my morning laps, and the chlorine off my hair triggers the delicious memory of lanky teenage swimming boys. While the pundits debate Lance’s role as the fallen hero, I am awash in memories of the club swim team that I shared with him and the other swimmer boys who were not yet men. Lance was not my favorite of the swimmer boys–too much swagger, too much talent. I prefer the others, those who didn’t end up Tour d’ France winners, whose names I can’t remember, but whose naked torsos I can’t seem to shake out of my head, like the water stuck in my ear.

My Texas swimmer boys were an odd bunch. They either seared with intelligence or stared blankly. No one can do two hundred mind dulling laps in a pool without imagination or the absolute lack there of. And all that thought, or not, occurred beneath a metallic mop of hair. But, I digress. This was 1980’s Plano, Texas, the epicenter of high school football as king. Ever seen Friday Night Lights? Change the jerseys to maroon, keep the P, and relocate to the suburban sprawl of North Dallas and you have the vibe of my coming of age. If you didn’t play football or dance on drill team, it was as if you were an organism in the Mariana Trench subsisting on sulfur rather that carbon. I still have anxiety dreams that I show up to try out for Planoettes mortified to have not learned the routine. But it was worse if you were a guy, participating in a sport in which the boys were encouraged to shave their legs.

My middle sister was a Planoette Drill Team Captain and was dating a Neanderthal football player who would mock my swimmer boys as “pussies.” I would defend their athleticism. He would grunt.
But, unlike my sister’s boyfriend, I was quiet and observant. After morning practice, I’d sit on the deck next to an outlet and blow dry my hair and wrap it in hot rollers. From my deckside perch, morning after morning, turning my greening hair into 1980’s big hair, I would watch my swimmer boys with their lanky leanness and their coltish prancing. After their showers, they would gather near the bleachers on the other side of the entry gate. I thought of it as the swimmer boys’ corral. They’d tease each other or hackey sack, or hijinx or whatever boys becoming men do. But everything they did, they did with their shirts off and only 2 buttons of their buttonflied jeans fastened.

Their shoulders were broad, leading to swelling pecs which formed perfect isosceles triangles pointing down, down, down.
But, down to where? Back then, I was fourteen, a few months shy of my first real boyfriend. I just knew that after morning workout, waiting for the bus to bring us to school, I treasured my time watching them romp shirtless.

The memory of those swimmer boys leaves me wanting, but for what I don’t know. I wouldn’t want to go back and change my teenage life, and become someone different than who I am. But, I wouldn’t mind going back to a freeze frame in my mind of a swimmer boy and tracing a single finger down his pectoralis muscle, over his obliques, and down into that sweet hollow. To let my finger feel those smooth lines that had only just swelled, filling the bony willowness of boyhood. These jostling colts were so much more alluring in their 501s than in the speedos, and they were my little secret. In school, everyone thought they were dorks with their chlorine hair, but I knew about the hidden Adonis below the wrinkled rugby collars.

It may seem crass, a forty year old woman reflecting on the bodies of the fifteen and sixteen year olds of her youth. But, it’s not crass. It’s wanting and memory. And a wish to glorify those unnamed Texas swimmer boys.


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