Animal Instincts

As I slather SPF50 onto me and my kid, I scan the area and get my bearings. It’s a large, fenced-in saltwater pool at the country club with verandas and cushioned seating along three of the four sides. Along the front there’s a snack bar. My knees weaken at the unfamiliar landscape. It’s like someone dropped me into the middle of the zoo without proper equipment—feed for the lions in Lilly Pulitzer.

The scent of saltwater wafts into my nose. Everywhere I look, there are women and children. The men are on the golf course with my husband, fighting like chimpanzees for their territory. A win solidifies status of smarter and stronger.

When it comes to situations where I’m thrown into the mix with new people, I normally try to blend in. I learn to dress like them, talk like them, be them. It’s easier than being myself. I’m a chameleon.

It’s a defense mechanism I learned from bullies in junior high. If I hadn’t worn the crotch-hugging jeans Mom bought on clearance, I wouldn’t have looked too poor. If I would’ve left my poetry journal at home, it wouldn’t have been stolen from my locker and plastered all over school. I had to blend into the mint-green junior high walls and disappear.

At the pool, I wonder who to trust. The moms who dress to match their kids in bright flamingo-like colors, all with perfect hair, strutting from tennis to swim? Or the moms with oversized expensive beach bags who sit on the sides laughing like hyenas? Or maybe the moms with fresh bundles wading in the baby pool, cleaning their kin like protective elephants?

 “Mama, I want to swim.” Morgan yanks my thumb and startles me from my thoughts.

I’m standing under the veranda at our table in the far corner of the pool, doing my best to shrink into the shade. My head lightens to the point of passing out, so I sit on the wooden bench for a moment and collect my breath. No matter how much I want to be like Morgan who has no distrust for strangers, I can’t get out of my head and just be myself.

I glance over to the snack bar, where a small dazzle of women have gathered like zebras at the watering hole, clear plastic cups in one hand and tugging toddlers in the other. I know the color of the drink they are sipping. It’s most definitely white wine. A bar at the pool—great idea!

“Let’s get a snack first, okay?” I ask her, adjusting my cover-up. 

“Okay!”

We walk hand-in-hand to the snack bar. I smile and nod at the women—my new pack. 

“Hi,” I introduce myself and my daughter as I order my first Pinot Grigio at the pool. They wave and welcome me into their circle. I puff my chest as I prance to them, realizing I’m not a chameleon after all. 

I’ve always been a zebra, looking for my dazzle.