Partially Completed, with Blisters.

We visited my mom’s parents in Odebolt, Iowa several times a year, and one of those visits was invariably in the summer. I remember the weather during those summer trips to Odebolt as being hot and dry, the sort of heat that limited us (my two younger siblings and me) to drinking lemonade and panting in the shade of the tall oak trees in front of my grandparent’s house. Our grandparents’ house had a few toys. Looking back now, I remember that those “toys” were wooden spools and a pair of boxing gloves. There was a big backyard, but it was too hot for running around. What got us through the heat of those summer visits was the Odebolt Municipal Swimming Pool.

The pool must have been there since forever, because our mom had learned to swim in the pool and worked there as a lifeguard. It was a big, blue rectangle of a pool, with a shallow three feet on one end that sloped to a depth of twenty feet at the other. There was a standard diving board and a high dive in the deep end. I had worked up the courage to climb the high dive several times, only to become petrified as the world bounced gently below me. Eventually (I’m sure it was less than several minutes) I would topple off of the board and smack into the water below. Despite the smarting pain and cloudy head, I would resurface with a determination to have a better jump next time.

The bottom of the pool was not smooth. It was rough like a textured ceiling, and it tore through the soggy, raisined flesh of our feet as we bounced around in our play. The lacerations weren’t deep enough to draw blood, but our feet always looked chewed on after a day of swimming. There was also too much chlorine in the pool. The tangy, chemical aroma was noticeable from the parking lot. Though the levels were no doubt high enough to bleach hair and clothing after prolonged exposure (photos of my mom offer plenty of evidence to this), we were in the pool just long enough that our eyes became a burning, bloodshot red, which caused us to squint even tighter in the summer sun. But the water was cold, and it was a delightful break from the heat of the day.

One day at the pool stands out more than others. And that was the only day that I neglected to slather myself with sun block. As a child, you don’t think about how much sun hits your body while swimming. Sure, there are the children who realize that lying prone on a towel will allow their skin to roast and crisp into an idyllic golden brown, but few are aware that the sun is ever present within the water too.

Standing chest deep in the water, I had effectively placed myself into a convection oven. The sun’s rays reflect off of the bottom of the pool and dance on the reflective surface of the pool’s water. The sun assailed my fair, Dutch-Irish-Norwegian skin from all sides. Of course, as I threw a ball back and forth with whomever (we make friends much quicker, and with much less thought, as a child) my skin’s tone turned from cream to carnation to strawberry to maraschino to burnt. I’m not sure when I became aware of the sunburn, but it made its presence most felt as I toweled off before heading home. The soft fluff of the towel was a rasp against my shoulders and neck. I gingerly tugged on a shirt and leaned forward, off of the seat, in the car ride home.

Later that night, the blisters appeared. One on each shoulder. They were the diameter of silver dollars and rose a half-inch off of my shoulder. I couldn’t wear a shirt because the skin of the blisters was stretched paper-thin and any contact with them caused the skin to tear, and the blister would weep its angry yellow fluid, the color of snot. My mom dabbed them with ointment and covered them with thin gauze, but I slept sitting up that night and the two following. Eventually, the blisters receded and the loose, dead skin flapped and tore away. My siblings went back to the pool everyday during that visit, but I stayed in my grandparents’ house.

I could be mistaken, but I think that might have been the last time I went swimming in Odebolt. It seems to me, that shortly thereafter, my grandparents got sick and each successive visit was spent at nursing homes and hospitals rather than at the local pool. Weird.

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