i am a bit of a spoiled princess. i admit it

i’m super grateful for the bully that called me “disabled” at the y. i know what you’re thinking, “what? really? thankful for a hateful bully?” yes. you better believe i am grateful for her, because her hate speak taught me an invaluable lesson.

i am a bit of a spoiled princess. i admit it. i hate to wait in lines and will always look for a way to skirt it. i generally feel like established rules are more of a suggestion and don’t really pertain to me. i have ZERO problems asking for special treatment, basically from anyone. i approach my life with a sense of entitlement that things should go the way i want them, when i want them to. this doesn’t really work very well as a long-term life plan, i know that now, but it’s the way it was for me.

since i’ve been swimming, and have been gaining strength and speed, i have spent countless hours and endless and needless worry on being forced into a circle swim. a circle swim occurs when there’s more than three people in two lanes and then the swimmers are forced to go up the right and down the left, one after another making a circle instead of going up and down one lane. you have to be fast, or better swimmers will pull along side you and over take you. if they’re too slow, you crash into them. it’s annoying and frustrating and almost always you end up with someone’s feet in your face. it’s no way to swim like a mermaid, that’s for sure.

between christmas and new years, i was swimming backstroke in my own lane, happily singing along out loud to david guetta’s “lovers on the sun,” when i got crashed into. i stood up, sore and annoyed, and realized that there were a bunch more people trying to get in on my awesome, solo, good time, by forcing my lane into a circle swim. there was this 20-something guy i knew from before, who can’t really swim, and who had crashed into me on two separate prior occasions and really injured me. the first time it was a week before i could get back in. the second time, 8 days until i was well enough to swim again. every time i see him, i try to get away because he has no sense of himself in the water and is a real hazard to the people around him. and there was also this 60ish lady, who i see all the time. she’s a run / swimmer. she swims one lap and then run / walks through the water back. she’s also a hazard. she has like 50 props for her swim and she’s slow and has crashed into me hurting me another different time. it’s all so very annoying for someone as invested in things going her way as i am.

so these two people, whom i usually try to avoid, hopped in, and whacked into me. i stood up annoyed and asked what was going on. i was informed we were going to have to circle swim. i said, they could wait, just as i had for my lane, but then the hazardous 20-something guy pointed to a sign that clearly states if there are more than three people you have to circle. i said i wouldn’t do that. there was no way i was going to do the backstroke with two people who are totally unaware of themselves in the pool in a situation like that. i wasn’t trying to get injured a fourth time by these careless people. instead of calling them out on the bad stuff they had done to me in the past, i said “look, i’m simply not strong enough to circle,” figuring if i put it on me, they would back down and leave me alone to finish.

uh, no. that’s so not what happened. the 60ish lady decided to go all norma rae on me (look her up, youngsters) and rally the troops (the other swimmers and swimmercizers) in what can really only be categorized as a military coup. she started screaming at me, telling me that i was selfish and the rules clearly state and blah blah blah. i said to her “look, i can’t circle swim. i’m not strong enough.” she then went too far and said “if you can’t physically follow the rules, then maybe you should find a pool for disabled people.” believe me when i tell you, it really took everything in me not to just backhand smack her for saying something so hateful. i’m not disabled, i’m recovering from injury. but even if i were disabled, that’s certainly no way for anyone to talk to anyone ever, i don’t care the circumstance. for probably, what was the first time ever in my whole life, i let this lady go nuts on me and i didn’t go nuts on her back. i just stood there silently and let her have her nasty, hateful say. another swimmer said to me, during this lady’s mounting campaign against me, that they would open another lane in 4 minutes. i could wait for that if i didn’t wish to circle and then we could all be happy. i said “that sounds like a good idea. i’ll wait.” and i swam over to where the lane would be established and i waited quietly and patiently for the four minutes to be up.

well, that wasn’t enough for norma rae. she came running over to me, hopping out of the pool so she could lord over me on the ground and scream down at me into the pool. she made the most ridiculous, and embarrassing scene. she really gave me the business, chronicling for me every time she saw me ask for special treatment, every time i asked for another lane to be opened, so i could swim more comfortably. basically, she recapped everything i ever said to anyone ever. it was like this lady had been following me around keeping tally of my every move, word and gesture, like a crazed stalker or a detective for just this moment. finally, she tried to rally the swimmercize ladies, all of whom are over 70 and all of whom are super nice to me because many of them had the same injury as me, against me. it was seriously ridiculous and a fight that was totally beneath me.

finally, i looked at her, as she continued to shout in my face “you don’t get to have it your way!” instead of going nuts on her, and screaming back, i did something very unlike me. i just said “okay, bye bye.” and put my headphones back in and turned up the volume. she continued to shout, made a ruckus, trying to get everyone on her side, but everyone just wanted to do their own thing. the y is a community place with communal activities, but swimming is a solitary sport even though it is practiced on a team. it’s not basketball or baseball or soccer where you have to rely on teammates, it’s a lone activity. so, i stood there for another minute, this lady still screaming at me, like she was in a silent movie with the accompanying soundtrack of “lovers on the sun,” while the lifeguard made the new lane. no one stopped her from screaming at me. no one intervened. in fact, the hazardous 20-something dude popped into my newly vacated lane and now there were only three people in there. they weren’t even circle swimming, after all that grief. when the song ended and my lane was made, i restarted the song, it’s got a good beat to swim to, and finished my swim, singing as loud as i could and still breathe. i wish i could say, taking the high road made me feel like a rockstar, but really it broke my heart.

i view my time in the pool as my “me” time. with lil’ flipper firmly planted in the terrible twos and a husband who has needs of his own, i’m busy. between housework, my writing work, mothering and teaching my boy and loving and caring for my husband, i’ve got a full plate. my hour in the pool every day is a time for me to unwind and just take care of me. to swim like no one is watching and do my own thing. and here was this nasty bully terrorizing me in my “safe” place. it made me nauseous.

i have never liked a bully. generally, in the past, when confronted by a bully, a couple of things happen. firstly, i get really meek, which is weird, because if you know me at all, you’ll know me as a confident, outgoing person who is really affable and funny. i can charm most anyone, and leave them feeling like we’re besties after a few moments of hilarious chatter. the second thing that happens is that i get really angry and i fester until i explode like a super nova at completely the wrong moment. that’s so totally the wrong way to go about life, but in the past that was my bad cycle. a bully would be mean, i would make myself meek and then i would fester on it for an unreasonable amount of time and turn it into something massive that it didn’t really need to be. this was my very unproductive and really self-hurtful behavior. i wasn’t teaching anyone a lesson by letting their bad behavior get to me. i was teaching myself that i was meek and weak and not worthy of standing up for.

i have seen her at least 2 days a week since this happened almost a month ago. there hasn’t been a moment since it happened that i have stopped thinking about it. every time i see her, the same pain is in my stomach. my heart hurts. i have terrible anxiety about circle swimming and being confronted by her insane nastiness. but there also hadn’t been an appropriate moment to address the situation with her head on, so it went unresolved. until today. today, i took my life into my own hands and i stood up for myself in a healthy and productive way.

we had to circle swim today. instead of pitching a fit when the lifeguard told me that we would have to circle because the swimmercize ladies and the one old guy in the class, wouldn’t be done for 20 more minutes, i went back to where norma rae and the 4 other people were and said “we have to circle.” everyone was fine with it. i was totally intimidated. until i got cracking and then i was a goddess in motion. i wound up lapping norma three times, and kept excellent pace with the fastest swimmer. my 1/3 of a mile came in under 15 minutes and i was on track to do one of my best mile swims ever.

eventually, two of the other people got out, and it was down to me, norma and this other dude, who i see often and who swims very well and fast. we rejiggered out of circle swim and back into up and down, which was awesome for me, so i could swim more leisurely. norma and i found ourselves alone in the shallow end for a moment and i realized this was my opportunity. this was my chance to confront her and tell her what she had done to me.

so, in a very unlike me move, i got her attention and said, “i’ve been meaning to talk to you about what happened between us during the holidays. i have been very upset about the hurtful way you treated me over something as ridiculous as circle swim. i felt totally humiliated by the cruel way you spoke to me, about me and the scene that you unnecessarily made.” she went “oh, that was you?” like she didn’t know, but i could see in her eyes she was lying. she knew exactly who i was. everyone always knows exactly who i am. i’m a big personality, it comes with the territory. it’s hard not to notice me, is my point.

“yes, that was me,” i continued, undeterred. “the things you said and the tone in which you spoke to me were cruel and unkind. i love this y. i love all the friends my family and i have made here, the encouragement i have received — i know you don’t know my story, but i’m recovering from spine surgery. i was well over 300 pounds and largely immoble and now i’m 120 pounds thinner and so much stronger and more athletic than i have ever been and i credit it to loving and healing energy of this place. i hate that every time i come here, i dread seeing you because of what happened between us, and your hurtful words keep rattling around in my head.” i went on to explain the reason why i didn’t want to circle that day was because i had been injured by them both on three separate occasions and i wasn’t trying to have a fourth. well, she stood there with this surprised look on her face and said, “i had no idea. i was just trying to get you to understand the rules.” then she stood there for a moment and looked at me and could see i was really hurt by her and earnest in my willingness to resolve this matter. she then said, “i’m really sorry about that. i didn’t mean to be unkind to you or cruel. i just felt like you weren’t understanding my point of view and so i lost it. i love it here too and i wouldn’t want to have a bad experience like that here. i’m sorry i did that to you.” i smiled at her and thanked her and accepted her apology.

then i lapped her ass three more times and swam a 42 minute mile; a personal record. as i was chasing lil’ flipper around the bouncy castle in the gym later, i felt peace in my heart. i CAN circle swim. in fact, i’m one of the better swimmers at this y now. never again will i doubt my ability to keep up with people i think are “faster” or “better” than me. they can eat my dust. i’ll never hold myself back from something frightening or challenging because i fear i “can’t” do it. screw that. i can do ANYTHING. and even if i can’t, suiting up is a win. i’m a winner just for trying something difficult.

but mostly, i was proud that i stood up for myself in a productive and healthy manner. the old me would’ve gone nuts on her. but because she was the one who lost it, and not me, i was in a better position to explain my point of view in a calm, collected and thoughtful manner. i was better able to explain to her why what she said and did was hurtful and relate it to her in a way she could understand and identify with it. i finally understood why my parents were constantly telling me to ignore bullies throughout my childhood. it makes them crazy when you do, and that is so much more satisfying than the instant gratification of blowing that lady out of the water with my unrestrained rage. had i done that, i couldn’t have ever shown my face there again and that would’ve been a real tragedy for me and my whole family.

but instead, i realized norma rae does not deserve my attention when she acts out. i was right to put in my headphones while she screamed hateful and bigoted phrases at me. she isn’t a part of my actual life, she is just window dressing i pass along in the lanes of my life. no one is worth me losing myself over. i’m way better than that. and i totally schooled her, by being strong, confident and self-possessed. i totally won, not by beating her to death with my words, but by besting the worst part of myself. and for that, i will always be grateful to that nasty bully for her bad behavior. it showed me i am not weak, i’m stronger than i know and that fills me with real pride.