Okay, okay…the title might be a little misleading. Let me start from the beginning. One lovely summer day, my sister and her 20-month-old joined my daughter and I for a swim in the pool in our condo complex, when a man of about 45, shirtless and holding a cat (I repeat: holding a cat), walked into the pool area having quite a lively conversation with…. no one. Well, maybe
with the cat. He lay down on a chaise and continued to chatter away. Our mommy senses were on alert, but we continued our swim while the kiddo practiced her dives a few feet away from us. A couple of minutes later, the Cat Whisperer rose from the chaise and removed his fedora (the fedora and the cat were all he had brought with him to the pool) and laser focused on my daughter. By the way, the cat was nowhere to be seen by now.
“You wanna see a dive? I’ll show you a dive,” he said loudly, diving into the water and swimming towards us. He got uncomfortably close to us, rambling nonsense about dives and how long he could hold his breath, and I could see his pupils were very dilated; I couldn’t even tell what color his eyes were. He then started asking questions about the baby and reaching out to touch her.
“Time to go,” I said to the girls. They grumbled, as we had been in the pool less than 10 minutes. But the kiddo must have sensed that something was up because she didn’t complain half as much as I expected. She did, however, interrogate me the entire walk home.
“Why did we have to leave?”
“Why didn’t you like that man? He was nice.”
“What was wrong with him?”
“Why were you mean to him?”
I knew I couldn’t ignore her questions; that’s never really been my style and I didn’t want to start then. But I hadn’t expected to have to explain insanity and/or drug addiction to my child this early in her life, let alone while standing barefoot on a hot sidewalk in a wet bathing suit.
I decided to buy some time, at least until we were in the house. I needed supportive undergarments for a conversation like the one we were about to have.
“That man was unpredictable,” I said.
I knew she didn’t know what “unpredictable” meant, but she liked to pretend she knew the meaning of words that she really didn’t; so I let her chew on that for a while.
“But why did we have to leave?”
She didn’t take the bait.
I looked to my sister for help, and through some sisterly telepathy, we both launched into a tag-team lecture on safety.
“As your mommies, it is our job to keep you safe. That man was paying too much attention to you and behaving in a strange way, and it made us nervous. We didn’t know what he was going to do. So, to keep you safe, we left.”
She was satisfied with that. I was satisfied with that. And I was fairly certain I hadn’t left my child believing the world was a terrifying place. We went home with blisters on our feet.
My husband arrived home not long after and asked our daughter about her swim.
“We had to leave the pool because Mommy didn’t like a man there.”
Apparently, my talk had no effect. She still wrote off our departure to surliness on my part.
Later, we decided to return to the pool with Daddy this time. We hoped the Cat Man was long gone, and if not, well, I always felt safer with my 6’2″ husband in tow. The pool was fairly crowded, but our friend from earlier was nowhere to be seen. About 15 minutes into our swim, as we lazily drifted around on pool noodles, Cat Man arrived…no cat, but, this time, with an old woman who was practically catatonic. What the hell was going on in that family? I wondered. He dove into the water with the zeal of the truly crazy or truly high. She inched her way in with the speed of someone who had given up on life years ago. They met at the edge of the pool and he talked a nonstop crazy streak at her while she said absolutely nothing for about 20 minutes. I swear one of these people is going to kill the other in their sleep one day, I thought. I kept one eye on them, making sure they kept their distance, and the other on my daughter, a new swimmer, who was back stroking around and around her daddy and me.
Eventually, I decided the pool was crowded enough and Cat Man was far enough away that he wasn’t a threat, and I turned my full attention to swim time with my family … UNTIL … I felt something brush against my legs under the water. At first I thought it was a kid, a young, inexperienced swimmer who lost his way. Then I looked down. Crazy Cat Man was swimming through my legs. Let me make this very clear: A grown man, who I did not know, swam THROUGH MY LEGS as if they were an aquatic Lincoln Tunnel. Oh, did I mention he was FACE UP?! So, his face was inches from my crotch in some bizarre “
driveby swimby-hi-how-ya-doin’?” to my vagina. And when he got to one side of the pool, he did a U-turn and made a repeat trip through my leg tunnel. FACE UP! It all happened so fast that I barely had time to say, “What the fuck just happened?!”
“A grown man just swam between my legs!” I said to my husband.
He just nodded, stupefied.
“Are you going to do something?”
“No fucking way. That dude is batshit crazy!”
So we went home that day and had a long talk with our daughter about mental health and how everybody’s brain works differently. We told her that some people have to take medicine to keep their brains steady, and sometimes they forget. And sometimes, people self medicate and that makes them act strange, and all these things can make people unpredictable and do things like swim near strangers’ crotches, which is NEVER okay. It was a lesson on many levels.
“Okay,” she said. “But I still think he’s nice.”
I guess there’s a learning curve when trying to explain crazy to a 4-year-old.