When I woke up with a pounding headache, I was ecstatic. I double checked the date and felt even more relief. “No water polo for me today,” I thought and leapt out of bed.
My high school water polo team has yearly alumni games around Thanksgiving. The students from years past who are back from college for the holiday compete against the current team. As much as I love water polo, I was hoping to be as uninvolved as possible this year. My plan was to say my hellos and goodbyes, wave, smile and leave. I arrived at the pool prepared to execute my plan without a suit or towel.
My relationship with my water polo team has always been fraught. It is a space in which I continue to be uncomfortable sharing my queerness and a space where I continue to make concessions about what people say. Things that I would never allow someone at Yale to say to me are fair game back home. There is little that I won’t shoot down.
As I walked up the hot bricks towards the pool, a walk which felt almost foreign in boots, I smiled to myself and practiced my lines. “Yeah, I’ve been really sick this break, so I don’t know if I’m going to get in.” When I walked through the gate, however, I was immediately greeted by two faces, which lit up immediately. “Fuck. There are only three of us here.” I thought. This is a bad sign. I might have to play. After the “how are you’s” and “I’m doing well’s,” one of my old teammates asked,“Are you still interested in the policy track?” I was caught off guard. Science policy? “No not really anymore. Too slow for me.”
I was caught off guard because the last time I had talked to him was in May. I was shocked that he had both remembered and had such an interest in it. The rest of the day continued in such a manner. I was continually surprised by how excited my old teammates were to see me.
As I took a seat on a hot metal bench recovering from the sun which had been reflecting from it, I was graced by a vision. It was Ryan. His entrance went almost unnoticed to everyone but me. In my mind, he entered like a bull shark. His hands swung from his sides like pectoral fins; his gait was a saunter; he wore dark shades. But as he emerged from the awning of the pool house and into the sun, I noticed that he was thinner than I had ever seen him, paler too. He had a few new tattoos, all of which I loved, and one of which apparently Brad Pitt had in “A Star is Born.”
He joined me on the metal bench and we struck up conversation like old friends we were. I did not feel the same feelings I had felt towards him in high school. Ryan had been the reason I almost quit the varsity swim team. After being placed on the JV team, my coach had promised me that I could join the varsity team later if I became fast enough. Week in and week out, I worked, and a few weeks before districts my coach let me onto the varsity team. That week I jumped into lane eight with pride.
But by the end of that week, I was certain that I would quit. My teammates had been making constant jokes about me. Most of the jokes were about cows, with a few about fast-food chains and Appu from the Simpsons peppered in for variety. Even though I did my best to not react (advice that was reiterated by the assistant coach) Ryan continued leading a charge of jokes. I didn’t quit. That’s another story.
But this time around things were different. I was different, and unintimidated. Silently confident in my queerness, certain in the beauty of my brownness, I was unfazed by his presence. And all of a sudden we got along well. He must have thought that we always got along well, but this time, I thought it.
As the game commenced, my old coach found me a Speedo and I was goaded into the game. In the middle of quarter two, Mo, an junior from Egypt, took a break, and all the players in the pool were white passing. “Oh boy! We gotta get Frankie in now that Mo’s out,” Ryan hollered. He didn’t hesitate to clarify why: “We’ve gotta keep the diversity ratio in the pool up”. The instance was performative, racist, rude, reminiscent of my high school days.
And all I could do was laugh, not because I thought it was funny, but because it seemed impossible that he could bother me.
Frankie | firstname.lastname@example.org