by Katherine Kopajtic
Katherine Kopajtic is a writer, actor, and producer based in New York City, and performed her solo show Modern Witches around the country. Now she is figuring it out. She does historic European martial arts (sword play) for fun.
I start swimming competitively when I am a stringy haired string bean five year old. Swim practice goes before water aerobics and I see cleavage for the first time in the women who wait their turn. When I take a breath I look for the biggest bosom and stare, thinking, “there’s the crack."
My first test is the 6-and-under 25 freestyle, a dash from one end of the pool to the other. We are outside in a wooded park on a chilly June morning and the steam that rises off the surface makes the pool look like an ancient bath. The water feels like ice. I win.
Practice is a prison and pool water has a taste. It can be metallic or gamey depending on the day. Sometimes I force myself to gulp it down so that I throw up and get to sit out. Looking at the older women’s breasts turns into looking at my teammates’ bodies in the fifteen years of practice that follow.
I learn to love swimming for the glory and protection it gives me. As long as my body is a vessel for points I can go through a goth phase unbothered. I bring swimmers to homecoming and prom. Practice becomes a private room with a white noise machine and in the white tipped churning all thoughts may come and go: his dick is surprisingly small - weird that I masturbated to my girl friend - will I be late to Bye Bye Birdie rehearsal?
In the thick of end-of-year championships I decide to quit.
Senior Week is a time in June where hundreds of newly graduated teenagers flood Ocean City, Maryland to have a lil’ Bacchanal. It is a cesspool of parties, blackouts, date rape, bar fights and sunburn. It is a blast, and a terror. I meet Chef Cliff at Senior Week. He is taller than me, née hott. He explains the brilliance of sautéing garlic in mustard while he dresses a grilled cheese sandwich. I invite him to have me. There is no epiphany. I tell him that I was a virgin ;) and he asks my age. When he hears “eighteen ;)” he solemnly asks me to buy him cigarettes. I refuse and shame him for ruining his body.
I do not have a hangover. My fresh young liver saw to that. But exhaustion increases the volume on some small grief. At the beach in the morning I hide behind a cap and goggles, laughing with my friends at my one piece Speedo which feels like body armor compared to the bikinis around me. I bob through ocean swells, dive down to the muddy sand and watch my hands pull with increasing vigor. I am forceful and the ocean laughs. The saltwater makes me retch. I return parched and find a warm Smirnoff Ice buried in the sand next to our towels. We all cheer—we cannot believe our fortune!