For me, the word conjures up all kinds of iconic images.
Things like riding around in the car with the windows rolled down:
Or enjoying a delicious snowcone with my sister:
Or I picture myself finally getting that tan my pasty white skin has been crying for since I started putting on shorts way too early in the year because I was so tired of jeans:
But I think one of the main activities most people picture when they think of summer is, of course, swimming. Whether it’s at the beach, the lake, or at a pool, people quite wisely love to combat the relentless heat by immersing themselves in a body of water. When I was very little, I was terrified of swimming. I insisted on a life jacket, water wings, and constant parental supervision. I would spend the entirety of my time in the pool clutching onto the side and slowly inching my way around. Then, suddenly, I simply decided one day that I loved swimming. Through the rest of my childhood, my father had to bully and threaten me any time I was in a pool because I would refuse to get out. My favorite trick was to simply duck continually underwater and pretend I did not hear him telling me to get out.
Considering how much I loved swimming, the fact that I did not have a pool of my own was a constant, painful ache in my soul. I would pitifully try to worm invitations into the pools of my luckier friends who had one in their own yard. I tried to con people into taking me to public pools, and whenever we were at hotels, the time I spent at the pool was always measured in hours. I was a fish without a pond of her own.
Then, when I was in seventh grade, we moved to a new house that had a lot of land. And my parents finally decided we could have a pool. It was like the fruition of every childhood dream I had ever had, and I finally got my pool.
Nine years later, I must admit my zealous devotion to swimming has waned a bit. Actually owning your own pool has a way of doing that. It’s a sad case of losing interest in something once you have it. Also, pools are a huge pain in the ass. They require a lot of care, guys. And they are really expensive to maintain. And then you have to close them down every fall and reopen them again every summer. For me, the glamour of pools has been swept away in a backwash of wasps and leaves (you’ll understand that if you own your own pool).
My job every year when we open the pool is the ceremonial Cleaning of the Pool Steps, and it is the worst part in my opinion. Each summer brings to me another episode of Inside the Wedding Cake. Sadly, in spite of its misleading sounding name, that is not a TV show about me eating different types of wedding cake (if anyone is interested in making this show, however, I AM AVAILABLE). Now, most people whose pools I have swam in either have an in-ground pool with steps built in, or else they have an above-ground pool with a simple ladder. We, on the other hand, have an above-ground pool with an expandable liner that is partially sunk into our yard. This apparently meant we had to have a unique pair of steps. They look like this:
We generally refer to them as the wedding cake. Now, just looking at these steps you might wonder what could possibly be difficult about cleaning them. Well, for the outside part, there’s nothing. But I also have to clean the inside of the wedding steps. And trust me, the inside is always much, much nastier than the outside. Dirt, leaves, bugs, and water all collect inside of the wedding cake, and it’s my job to get them out. Unfortunately, the only way to do so is to get inside of the wedding cake. And this is the reason I am the one who has to do it every year- because I am the only one who will fit inside.
It’s a complicated business, cleaning inside the wedding steps. First of all, even if I scrubbed everything inside of it to a perfect bleachy white, it still would not be clean because all the gross, nasty stuff collects at the bottom. You have to tip the steps over so the gross stuff comes out the side.
Those holes you see in the bottom are worthless, because that section is raised and all the gross stuff just collects in that little moat running around it until you tip it out over the lip. I also can’t just get inside of it and clean because I will hit my head. You have to lay the wedding cake on its side. And much like Aladdin trying not to be crushed by the giant turret as it rolls off the cliff, I have to be delicately positioned to slip into the wedding cake when we lay it on its side.
Normally, my kind family will move the steps into the middle of the yard and assist me by gently lowering it onto me, giving me time to get situated inside of it without smacking my head or scraping myself going through the too small opening into the inside of the steps. Yesterday, however, my parents had to go and run an errand. I was not too worried, however, because my sister was still there. She was reading when I went to go outside and clean the steps, but I assumed she would be along shortly.
I wander over to the wedding steps, which are resting on our deck, just as they always are when the pool is not open. I look at the steps, which are both larger and heavier than me. Then I look at the path down the steps of the deck, out the narrow gate, and far away to the yard. I decided I can clean the steps just fine on the deck.
Let me foreshadow here and just say, this was my first mistake.
My second mistake was thinking to myself, Oh, Rachel will be along shortly. I’ll just go ahead and pull the steps onto me and start cleaning.
This was a rather difficult and unwieldy maneuver to attempt, and it should have been a clue to me that I was, perhaps, making a poor decision. But I had my bathing suit, I was ready to swim, by god, and the steps were standing (quite literally) in my way of the pool. So I pulled them down over me, scraping myself a few times while trying to wedge myself into it and actually get the steps to lay on their side. When everything was arranged to my satisfaction, I went busily about my work and had the inside cleaned fairly quickly. I scrubbed the last slimy spot and sprayed everything down with the water hose (cleverly threaded through one of the small holes in the side of the wedding steps) and sat regarding everything in satisfaction.
Then I tried to lift the wedding cake off me.
It barely moved. About this point it occurred to me that I had never heard my sister come outside. I tentatively called for her, thinking I had surely just been distracted. There was no answer.
I called again, much more loudly, and heard nothing but the wind in the trees and the chirping of birds.
With more force, I shoved at the wedding cake. It moved, and then slammed to a halt. I tried again, and it lifted to exactly the same spot and then banged to a halt. I realized then, what happened. In all my blind maneuvering inside the wedding cake trying to get it to lay flat, I had managed to wedge the rail of the steps under the rail on our deck.
I began frantically trying to scoot the whole thing back, but the incredibly awkward angle of my person within the steps made it essentially impossible to get any leverage. Even when I managed to scoot the steps back a ways, they were met by the large pot of plants my gardening mother had put upon the deck. A very heavy pot of plants.
I began thrashing about, panickedly shoving forward and back and up on the pool steps, desperate to get them loose. I also began hollering for my sister, even knowing that there was no hope. She clearly had forgotten to come outside. Tiring quickly, I eventually slumped back, trapped in a world of sharp, dripping wet plastic and shame. Distantly I wondered if I would have to sit there and listen until my parents finally came home and then try and scream for their attention.
It was a low point in my life, Readers.
After sitting morosely in my damp prison for a few minutes, I figured I might as well keep trying to get out. I kept trying to slip the rail out from under the rail while simultaneously scooting the steps back. I don’t know how much time passed before I finally felt the rails give. A little bit more space opened up in front of me, and I decided there was no way I was sitting in there any longer. So I wedged my legs out of the too narrow opening. And then I started scooting. I dragged myself on my back, feet first, inching along the rough wood of my deck through about a handsbreath of space between the steps and the deck.
There were leaves and dirt and god knows what sticking to my back, but as I slowly wiggled my way out, all I could feel was the rising, exuberant joy of being free. With a last, great lunge, I threw myself forward and allowed the wedding steps to smash to the ground, as I let out an exultant shout. Luckily, only my dogs were around to see me, dripping water and leaves and dead bugs in my bathing suit, madly punching my fist into the air next to where the steps lay on their side like a conquered beast. I am a heroine, I thought joyously. I rescued myself.
Then I looked at the steps, looked at myself, and realized that I had trapped myself in a set of pool steps.
Car rides, snow cones, sun bathing… and self-entrapment. In wedding cake shaped pool stairs.