Things That Occurred To Me While Attending an Aqua Aerobics Class
Hannah and I go to a pool at a local children’s rehab hospital once a week, but once a week isn’t really enough. For one thing, she loves being in the water, and also, it’s pretty much the only exercise she gets (or is capable of getting). So she signed up for an aqua aerobics class.
“It’ll be like yoga,” she said. “Hopefully I can do all the stuff they ask me to.”
I came along as her helper monkey, in order to assist in the change room as well as potentially bend and contort her into the necessary positions.
We attended the first class tonight. Here are some of the things that happened.
- Hannah has to be transferred from her wheelchair to a pool chair, which is then pushed into the water. There are only two functional pool chairs she can use. Both have fucked up wheels, resulting in the chair careening wildly from one side to the next. People seeing me pushing her across the pool deck probably suspect I am inept, or that I have a drinking problem. The pool chair today was especially bad, which made for a great first impression. “I swear to God I’m not an alcoholic,” I wanted to say to a pool full of strangers.
- I was the only male present. It is exceptionally rare that I find myself in a female-only space, and every time I do, I feel like a secondary character in an Alice Munro story. The experience makes me feel quite conspicuous, but also that I’m witnessing something secret and private that I wouldn’t ordinarily be privy to. I feel privileged, in other words, though privileged is probably a bad word to use in this context.
- The aerobics class was held in a different, smaller pool than the one we usually use. We discovered after getting into the pool that it is extremely shallow, and so I couldn’t safely transfer Hannah out of the pool chair. An employee- I have no idea what her job title is- materialized on the pool deck, and the three of us discussed options. We decided to use the ceiling track lift to deposit Hannah directly into the deeper (but still fairly shallow) part of the pool. This process occurred while the class began, and all eyes were on us. Hannah was the only disabled person in the class.
- I had met the Employee before, many times throughout the course of my life. If you have a disability, or are closely related to a disabled person, you’ve met her, too. She was sweet, well-meaning, tried her hardest, but was clueless. It was not a cluelessness born out of stupidity or malice- she was clearly intelligent and kind- but simply a fundamental lack of experience. It occurred to me, while we were talking to her, that she didn’t get it, and couldn’t get it. She has never experienced an environment fundamentally at odds with herself. Life has been good to her in this regard, and life has been easy. It also occurred to me how destructive it is to have an easy life, and how it can limit and damage a person. Trauma, challenges and pain make us more resilient and empathetic than normal. Without these obstacles, it is difficult to reach our full potential as human beings.
- Finally, after ten or fifteen minutes, we managed to get Hannah into her sling and into the pool. The pool had four different levels, separated by shallow steps. We dropped Hannah onto the second level, and in order to join the class she walked down onto the third. Because steps can’t be navigated via wheelchair, it was probably the first step she’d experienced in almost eighteen years. I mentioned this to her and she laughed.
- The women in the pool: by my reckoning they were all older than forty, and all younger than sixty. There were maybe eight of them. They all looked like teachers or librarians, except for one woman who looked like a butcher’s wife.
- I wondered how one goes about becoming an instructor for a class like this. What qualifications would you have to have? Does she perceive yoga and other aerobics classes to be her calling? I suspect it would be an enjoyable job; in any case, I find it difficult to imagine the instructor going home to her spouse and saying, “Boy, I had another hard day at work.”
- The usual pool has an even, warm temperature which is quite pleasant. This one was like swimming around in a microwaved meal; every spot was a slightly different temperature.
- I didn’t actually participate in the yoga, since I was only there as Hannah’s male escort. So I mostly crouched in the water, daydreaming, occasionally being used to support Hannah. Needless to say, I found the experience restful. Hannah did too, fortunately. “Maybe next time we can sign up for the more vigorous one with ‘80s dance music,” she said later. Yeah, why not.
- In the lobby of the rehab hospital, we encountered a dog. I said hello, of course, because it was adorable. The dog enthusiastically nuzzled right up to me and Hannah, and I realized it must be a therapy dog. Later, Hannah explained her plan for the future. “I will live in this hospital,” she said. “Every day I’ll hang out with that dog, then go swimming for several hours, then eat the amazing grilled cheese they serve in the cafeteria. And eat ice. The ice they have here is really good, for some reason.” “That sounds perfect,” I said. “We’ll share a room.”