On Tuesdays they have lane swimming. Sometimes in the morning you might see a woman in a green tank top walking on the deck, almost like she’s doing laps around the edge of the pool. She’ll keep walking faster and faster and then suddenly just jump in the pool with her clothes on. Lifeguards will appear holding big placards that read TRAINING EXERCISE and they’ll pace back and forth, holding the placards above their heads. Another lifeguard will jump in after the woman with the green tank top. She’ll drag her out of the water. Nobody will make any noise. The ones with the placards won’t look concerned. Sometimes they’ll make eye contact with you to make sure you understand the sign. They want you to understand that nobody is actually in danger. The couple in the hot tub don’t have to get out or do anything. Everybody is fine just where they are.
This morning there was a man there to fix a shower in the men’s locker room. He wore a work shirt and jeans and big black rubber boots. Everybody just showered around him like he was just another naked guy. I could see that the man’s shirt was half wet from the splash black. It was one of the most unintentionally aggressive things I’ve ever been a part of.
On my way out there was a young woman checking in at the front desk. She was one of the thousands of people evacuated from their homes due to a wildfire up north. The police banged on her door and made her leave without grabbing so much as an iPhone charger or a leash for the dog. They just jumped in the truck with thousands of others and now she’s here. The Y lets her check in every morning to take a shower and workout for free. Later she sits at the cafe next door wearing donated clothing and has a coffee and muffin on the house. Everyone just wants to help out in some way. When I see her I imagine that she would love nothing more than to have one of those lifeguards standing over her with one of those training exercise signs. Letting everyone know that this situation was only temporary. That nobody needed to get up to help. She sits there each day and literally counts her blessings. She tries to think about the things that still make her smile Like the fact that someone she didn’t know and had never met had gone out one afternoon to buy her some new underwear. The underwear she had on right now. Somebody knew that she would need underwear so they went out and bought some and brought it to a donation centre and put it on the big pyramid of women’s underwear that they were building and shortly after that it ended up on her body.
There are these evacuees all over the city right now. They all look like they’re wearing new underwear. I remembered this thing my uncle the firefighter told me once. He said that forest fires are a necessary part of nature. They help the forest get rid of old growth and clear the way for new trees and new life. The forest needs to burn sometimes, he said. I wondered if I should tell that young woman that as I left the Y this morning but she was smiling so I decided not to.
Editor’s Note: It’s never too late to support those who are transitioning out of homelessness whether by natural disaster or any other life event. Underwear is one of the most requested items. If you can, support the Bissell Centre’s Drop Your Gonch event.