It’s the 1980s and I complain as my legs burn against the sun-heated blue vinyl of Mom’s Oldsmobile. We are getting ready to head to The Complex, where we go almost every day during every summer that I can remember as I child. The perfect place to cool off – a huge indoor pool (my pale, freckled skin doesn’t have to worry about sunburn) with lots of fun. Two diving boards, a lifeguard stand that we could jump off of with permission, diving platforms.
Sometimes we sit 3 to the front seat when the next-door neighbor’s kids go with us. My favorite spot is in the front middle – I like to be next to Mom. When we’re lucky she takes us to Hardees after we swim (the only fast food in Fort Mill), and I like the cheeseburger and chocolate shake, though I have to pick the seeds off of the bun. I’m always ravished after a swim.
Kids mostly overrun the place, although on occasion there is an adult swimming laps along one side of the pool, lost in his/her own thoughts as they calmly move back and forth across the 25-yard lane. Sometimes I think these adults are boring. Why would they want to swim alone, not talking to anyone or splashing or seeing who can dive deepest (the pool is 10 feet deep and your ears pop if you touch the bottom.) or who can do the most flips in a row? But mostly I ignore the adults, and I play with my siblings on the other side.
The Leroy Springs Recreational Complex is where I learned to swim. It’s where I learned gymnastics, ballet and how to play piano. It’s where Jenny and Kevin played T-Ball and basketball and you could say Jenny started her career there (she went on to go to college on a softball scholarship and then become a coach.) Middle school dances were held there, and I took a sewing class one summer. I knew every inch of that place, from the spiral staircase up to the ballet studio to the “workout room” off of the ladies locker room. It was a shortcut to the pool and it was always freezing cold after a swim.
My boyfriend during the summer after sophomore year of high school worked there, tending to the baseball fields. I used to bring him Gatorade on his breaks and then one week he was acting strangely. I brought him a Gatorade and his boss was sitting next to him on a golf cart. “He doesn’t deserve that!” he said, smiling, as I handed Matt his green refreshment.
“No, he doesn’t,” I said a little more seriously and held Matt’s gaze. That look in his eye is how I knew it was over, and we never spoke again after that day. Probably the simplest breakup of my high-school life: on the baseball field at The Complex, with no words spoken but everything said.
I had a first date there with a different boyfriend (we rescued a bird trapped in a wire fence. It was very sweet.) and an interview there (for a zero-interest loan that helped send me to college). I hung out on the soccer fields and the playground. I learned how to do flips over uneven bars and earned gymnastics ribbons and my photo in the Fort Mill Times (at 3 years old, on the balance beam that’s about 3 inches from the ground).
To say this place holds a huge piece of my childhood would be an understatement. Although I live about 15 minutes from there, I have not been back in years (except for once about a year ago to use the restroom after a hike on the Greenway.) A few days ago, Kevin asked me to go swim some laps with him in the morning before work. Some things have changed, but I could tell you every single difference there is. The smell is the same (chlorine), the workout room is different (instead of a treadmill and bike from the 80s, there’s new workout equipment in the room the middle school dances used to be held). The pool is the same; the walls are tan instead of blue. The diving boards are gone but the the platforms are still there (but painted white.)
The gym is exactly the same but it feels much smaller now. The gymnastics equipment is gone (please say it’s just been moved somewhere else). The spiral staircase is still there, and the small bathrooms that I never used (always used the pool bathrooms).
And on this day, I’m the adult swimming laps along one side of the pool, lost in my thoughts as I calmly move back and forth.
Is it bad that I still want to splash my brother in the lane next to me and challenge him to a cannonball-off-the-diving-platform contest?