The young women weren’t threatening me, not exactly, not yet. I’m just back to the locker room, around the corner from the showers, towelled up, at the end of the late shift with my co-lifeguard, Claude, who had already closed up and gone on his way to the men’s. My dripping speedo is where I left it to go shower, laying on the varnished wood bench just behind the women standing in front of me now.
Not really women, girls themselves, I see, about my own age – 19, 20 – all in the short buzzy haircuts and tattoos, that, on women in the late 70’s, were not common. Except on military bases, on young military females. This is CFB Namao, north of Edmonton, only an air base, so no real problem, I reason with the arrogance of a former army brat. The wider girl, tacky rose tattoo showing on her right boob above her bra, says to me:
“Is this your fucking bathing suit making the floor all wet?”
Oh I get it. They do think they’re tough. Especially three of them together. I probably look like a skinny little girl in my towel and stringy wet hair, but I’ve had my own lifeguard training, and I also use the weight room, which in those days, was not that welcoming to women.
Well, yes, I have to admit there is quite a puddle. But this is a locker room, you know. I say this sweetly. I promise to wipe it up with paper towel later.
Rose Tattoo doesn’t move, so I turn my back to her and open my locker – nobody locked up back then– and now, mostly drip-dried, I deliberately drop the towel and reach for my own underwear.
Another one asks, “What unit are you with?”
Well, I’m not in the military, I say, back still turned to them; my husband is a Met Tech in Air Operations.
“Oh, how nice for you, a kept woman and all. Don’t you do anything?”, Rose Tattoo taunts.
I go to University.
“La –de- da, you must think you’re pretty smart. Lucky your husband pays for you.”
By now I’m mostly dressed except for socks – the floor is wet after all – so I saunter over to the washroom area and get a handful of paper towel, all the while chatting them up as if we were all new friends. Big Rose moves a little, to let me by.
Well, you’re right, I say, I am lucky. But it’s hard, too, going to university and working as much as possible while my husband does shift work and tries to work on his own degree part-time. He wants to be an officer. He plays on the base hockey team. I lifeguard and work full-time in the summer. I play sports. We have no family in Edmonton. Do you?
The follower girls are backing off, getting dressed, mumbling, not so sassy anymore. One mentions that she works at Base Ops, too. Another says tryouts for women’s soccer are coming up. Rose Tattoo hesitates, then starts dressing herself. Just locker room girls, like me, lonely and far from hometowns, getting by, making lives. None of us is really so tough. We’re all pretty tough.
Leaving the rec centre, I glance behind me. I don’t think they will follow me out, but once I step away from the leaking light of the building, the high prairie night sky a clear velvet black stabbed with starlit points of light, I take a deep breath, and run all the way home.
P.S. I do make the soccer team that spring.