The locker room buzzes with mostly-friendly chatter, sounds ricocheting off the walls. Enduring water on the floor, intermittent crashing of the locker doors, the nose-disturbing smell of chlorine mixed with sweat and the jostling for position as the water aerobics attendees splash in from the pool, she changes into swimwear, then slolums her way to the showers for a quick rinse-off.
Following three teeth-grinding, face-squinching attempts, one of which shot the cap across the room like a rubber band, she manages to stretch the swim cap onto her wet head, finally exhaling and relaxing her shoulders as she walks into the pool area, goggles dangling from her left hand.
Before her now slosh the sounds and sights of the lap swim challenge: which lane to choose. Some days she cannot manage the emotional impact of social interactions required to ask another swimmer if they will lane-share. On those days, she paddles around in the baby/whirlpool, resigning herself to stretching and floating while pretend-swimming against the paltry jets.
But, one day, feeling fortified for some reason, she waded in and ducked under the rope into the second lane, then occupied by just one man. He was half-way down the pool, heading the other direction.
The rule is: "Notify the other person in your lane before you join them."
Eventually, as he neared the wall in the shallow end, she posed the usual question,
"May I share this lane?"
"Huh?" Was the response, as if he'd never before entered into this verbal exchange.
She repeated the question.
"Oh. I guess so," he responded reluctantly.
Immediately, she felt attitude rise in her.
"Fine," she thought to herself. "Watch this."
And she took off, executing her best freestyle stroke, a demonstration of prowess she assumed would impress. [It probably didn't.]
Mr. Reluctant-to-share slapped out another lap, hitting her with his arm as they passed in the lane.
Indignation rumbled in her. She stood up in the lane and watched him glide away from the collision scene.
"Really?" she muttered.
From someplace in her came the nudge, "seventy-times-seven."*
"Oh. Right," she thought.
She resumed her swim, switching to back stroke.
Whack! His hand hit her again.
Now, The Rules flooded in. She reviewed them silently, while imagining the appropriate-to-be-delivered diatribe.
Hey, Dude. Here we share the lanes. Meaning, we each take care to stay on one side of the space between the ropes. If you accidentally hit somebody, you apologize.
Retaliation entered the ring.
"OK," Retaliation coached. "There are a number of ways to play this. How about you swim down the middle of the lane as fast as you can and just run into him --
Or hit him back next time: whack!
Or give him a tongue-lashing. You're good at that.
Or tell the lifeguard. I'm sure he's observed what's going on. He'll intervene if you ask him."
By the third time the guy hit her, she'd worked it out with that voice from somewhere inside, which offered:
Esperanza. You don't know a thing about this guy. He might be trying to get you to move. Well, that's not happening.
Seventy-times- seven*; you don't know and you don't need to know what his deal is.
She finished her short swim. As she left the pool, she waited once again for the man to reach the shallows. Then she said,
"Thank you for sharing your lane."
He rejoined, "You're leaving?"
"Yep. I'm outta here."
Then he said, "Sorry for hitting you."
*Seventy-times seven is the number of times Jesus of Nazareth told his friend Peter to forgive an offense. In raising the question, Peter had proposed a generous seven times.