You learn a starling number of things while starring at the bottom of a pool.
This is how to kick your feet and move your arms. Moving in water is a different battle entirely.
This is how to concentrate intently on one thing for a period of time - it is very hard work.
This is how to have your body hurt so badly that you limp out of a congested pool and out into the foggy air. Gasping for breath.
This is how to sit in a hot tub. Soon you two will be the best of friends.
This is how to cheer when you find out that you made the team. But don't celebrate too much, your aching body won't appreciate it. Remind yourself that you enjoy being there.
This how to hide your tears while being yelled at during an intolerably hard set. You swear that water was just in your eyes. You swear.
This is how to feel lonely while swimming in a pool filled with people. You realize that loneliness is not a function of solitude.
This is how you say no to all future non-aquatic social interactions. Strangely enough, this is also the same way that you figure out that Nyquil is 50 proof.
This is how you go home and fall asleep while trying to complete homework.
This is how you explain to your mother (who finds you asleep on your homework) that you cannot possibly quit swimming. For your friends.
This is how you lie to yourself and say you swim for your friends. Or for the love of the sport, if you're having an especially proud day.
This is how, in a moment of stark realization, you realize that you swim due to some strange addiction. Put this thought off for later exploration.
This is how, after an especially tough loss, you see human beings sit in one place and just hurt.
This is how you realize that no single individual moment is in and of itself unendurable. You feel the bad and remember the good.
This is how you realize that it is permissible to have goals, to want things.
This is how you chase those goals, fantasizing about achieving them.
This is how you achieve some, not all, but some of those goals. You realize that wanting something is often more fun than having it.
This is how, that as the season begins to end, you will miss the way your body hurts, the way you almost fall asleep on the drive home, and the fact that the last thing you smell before you go to sleep is unadulterated chlorine.
This is also how you realize that you can fall asleep while screaming.
This is how you explore your previously discovered addiction to swimming. You decide that it isn't the camaraderie, the bad jokes in the shower, or even the superior physical fitness. No, you like the respect. The fictional respect that you imagine other people give you because you complain to them about how you woke up at 5am to go hop into a pool and swim back and forth.
This is how you learn that other people don't spend as much time thinking about you as you imagine they do.
This is how you catch an alligator. (This one is entirely unrelated. Just there to make sure you aren't skimming. You bastard.)
This is how when the season ends and you hang out with your (now) ex-swimming friends, all you an talk about are the memories.
This is how you make jokes about how you may or may not have developed Stockholm syndrome for a particular coach.
This is how you realize that you weren't the only one addicted to the false respect of high school swimming. That you and all your friends, lonely as can be, developed a legitimate community in response to your shared suffering.
This is how you suffer withdrawal symptoms for something that is completely legal (and encouraged / celebrated).
This is how you miss something you're not sure you ever really loved. Yet, this thing had complete control over you, it consumed your existence for a number of years. You learn to shake its hand, look it in the eye, and finally walk away.