My phobia with public pools began at the tender age of nine. My parents sent me to the Lion’s Club summer camp that year as a way to spark my interest in something other than murder and mayhem. Since my social life at the time was pretty piss poor because I was such a strange little fucker, I tended to attract the same type of kids. This summer it came in the form of a hefty Mexican gal named Loretta. She had no friends or prospects, so I was pretty much a shoo in.
The thing about Loretta was she had some pretty gross habits including, but not limited to, wiping boogers on her sock and later peeling them off to scratch her arm, being a wet sneezer and not even attempting to cover her mouth, and heavy mouth breathing. Still, I didn’t have any other options so I went with it.
This particular scarring day we sat down to eat lunch before heading out to the pool. My mom had made me a peanut butter and banana sandwich with Ruffles and a pickle. My favorite. Loretta had two bologna sandwiches with mayonnaise oozing out of them and a can of sardines. I thought that was the grossest thing I’d ever heard of, but she loved the combination and scarfed everything up, loudly breathing and smacking down to the last bite. Jesus. I needed better friends. I looked around in hopes of getting lucky, but now people were staring at us and whispering. I’d already associated myself with the oily fish slurping mouth breather. There was no coming back from this one.
We were instructed that it was time to get our swimsuits on and make our way to the pool. Thank God. I was ready to escape Loretta’s company and maybe save a little face with the other kids. Loretta had other ideas though. She wasn’t letting me get away that easy, and pretty much affixed herself like a tick my side. I tried losing her a couple of times but have you ever tried to lose a tick? It’s not so easy.
The next words are very painful and difficult to put on paper. I find myself becoming physically ill reliving this dark day, but I feel it’s necessary for my healing and also to make others understand why I’m never accepting your fucking invitation to the pool so leave me alone already.
I will never claim to be any kind of athlete, but I can at least jump in a pool without drowning. Loretta could not. Her big ass jumped in, took on water, and quickly began to gag and cough it up. She was hacking so hard that the cough graduated to a throw up. By the time I realized what was happening, it was too late to swim away. Oily, sardine infused mayo began to spew from her mouth into a forceful torrent heading directly toward me. I panicked and tried to swim away, but it was no use. A smelly stream of Loretta’s liquidy lunch had made it to my arm. It was touching me. I swatted at it like a herd of hornets, but then it just got all over my hand and splashed on my face. I don’t know that I can effectively describe how the combination of mayo, sardines, chlorine, throw up, and the piss of two hundred children tastes, but I welcomed death. It did not come.
I wish I could say that was the worst part of the story, but I can’t. Once the contents of her stomach had splashed upon my face, it was all over. There we were, already pariahs, both puking in the middle of the pool. You’ve never seen children scatter like they did that day. The pool had to be closed down and everyone hated our guts, including the grown ups.
I never talked to Loretta again after that, and she quit trying after a couple of attempts. It was too much to relive, and every time I saw her face it was a reminder that I ate her throwup and I wished I was dead. We finished the summer out as loners, me dismembering flies for fun and Loretta scratching her psoriasis with dried up boogers. Thankfully there was no one at that camp from my school, or my entire life may have taken a different turn. I believe in my heart that if classmates would’ve caught wind, I’d now be a schizophrenic bag lady in WalMart parking lot selling hand-crafted necklaces of fly corpses.
Sometimes I wonder where Loretta ended up. I wonder if she knows that I can’t visit a public pool now, thanks to her. I wonder if she ever started covering her mouth, for Christ's sake. I wonder if she’s a hobo in a WalMart parking lot somewhere. But mostly, I wonder if there’s any drug I can take to block out this memory.
I wish for death. It never comes.