It was the summer before I left for college. Thirteen cousins were over for the week, and mom had some things she needed to get done at the house. So the younger kids were at another aunt's house for the afternoon and the rest of us decided to spend one afternoon at the public pool. Mom dropped us off planning to join in a couple hours.
A group of us rushed, without running, toward the diving board. The concrete was rough and sediment-y under my toes. I could feel the sun baking my skin. We stood in line at the diving board, making half of the line ourselves, and called out types of jump suggestions to each other. "Cannon Ball!", "Can you do a jacknife?", "Dive as far down as you can!" and so on. Finally we went back to our chairs full of damp towels for a rest.
A group of them were sitting there, doing nothing.
"Come on!" I challenged one cousin who was probably seven at the time, "Why aren't you swimming?" I expected a complaint about the water being too cold.
"The lifeguard told me I couldn't." She mumbled.
"Which one? Take me to her?" I followed, not sure what to expect. Her older sister followed, too. She stopped next to a lifeguard on the edge of the pool, far enough away to stay out of it and let me get between her and the life guard. "Hi, my cousin said you told her she couldn't swim? Why not?" I was completely confused. And out of my element.
"T-shirts aren't allowed in the pool." The lifeguard responded.
I wish I could tell you what the lifeguard looked like but I have no idea. I'm not even completely sure it wasn't a he. I was too focused on trying to breathe steadily and understand what was going on and avoiding confrontation.
"But they have to wear T-shirts-- it's a family rule." I tried to explain.
I'm a dedicated introvert. I don't like standing out, I don't like being the center of attention, and I really don't like talking to strangers or being wrong. Generally, I feel drained by people and I need to get alone to recharge and feel more like myself. But there is no rule saying introverts have to hide away and stay out of conversations and stay away from people. I do enjoy being around people, to an extent. I like small groups of people where I don't feel challenged. But this was not the case that summer day. I was not able to ignore the problem and go on swimming or hide under my towel. If I didn't stand up for my cousins, there was no one here who would.
The lifeguard tried to get back to watching the swimmers. "Sorry, it's a pool rule."
"I don't understand." Why was it such a big deal to them?
"Would you like to talk to the manager?"
No. "Yes," I said, ignoring myself. My cousins were here for one week, we wanted to swim, my mom wasn't going to be back for a couple hours-- we weren't going to just sit under an umbrella that whole time, and we weren't about to go swimming without our cousins who had to wear T-shirts.
I followed the life guard inside to where the offices were, and a couple sisters and cousins followed me. I'm not sure who all followed, I wasn't paying attention. I was too concerned about standing up to a stranger about established policies.
The lifeguard went into a room and came out with the manager. She was in her early twenties I think, and was wearing a lifeguard T-shirt, a name tag I didn't read, shorts, and one of those red lifeguard fanny packs.
"What's the problem?" She asked, seeming genuine. The lifeguard left to get back to her post outside.
I took a deep breath and tried to go slow. "My cousins were told they can't wear their T-shirts in the pool, but it's a family rule and their parents aren't here so they can't like ask for permission or anything." I held my arm. It was cold in this air-conditioned hallway.
"Let me explain. We have this rule for a couple reasons. First, we have to know the swimmers are actually wearing a swimsuit, so white T-shirts are ok."
I-- yes me-- actually interrupted. "But that defeats the purpose."
"Actually, white T-shirts still keep you from being burned."
"I didn't know that, that's cool. But the whole thing is it's a modesty issue and a white T-Shirt does nothing for modesty."
She wanted to explain the rest of the reasons. "The fibers on the T-shirts will also get caught on the water slide and will slow it down, and also potentially rip the T-Shirt."
Interrupting seems to be habit forming. "OK, I could tell them they can't go on the water slide. I think they'd be willing to do that…"
"Well alright, but there's still the dyes in the T-shirts. They leak into the pool, and although they won't necessarily change the color of the water, we have to keep the pool at a specific pH and if we let everyone wear T-shirts it will be nearly impossible to keep up with it."
By this point I was just indignant. I didn't understand why this lady couldn't just let my cousins swim. I didn't care that my face was red and that my palms were sweaty, I was too busy defending my cousins.
"There are only five of them here- that can't be enough to mess it up…"
She seemed to be surprised that I was being so persistent. Or maybe it was just me that was surprised. At any rate, she said "I just can't let you do this all summer-"
I was so close. "They're only here for the week, and we're only planning to be here today and only for a few hours." It came out in a rush.
"And no water slide."
"Alright then. Just for today."
She went back into the room, and we went back outside. I remember we were all excited, glad we had been given permission, glad I had somehow succeeded. We gave the OK to the cousins who hadn't heard the news yet, with the caution that they could not go down the slide. They scampered away smiling, but I just sat in the chair wrapped in a towel, trying to calm my heartbeat, wishing I hadn't needed to talk to anyone.