When Hannah Silver was in the swimming pool, she wasn't just logging laps. She was soaking in thoughts and images from her entire 77 years on this earth. The same way Proust's seven volumes began with a bite of madeleine, she says, when she swam, memories came flooding back. "My mother, 'the hostess with the mostest.' My father holding a drink marching around saying that if Nixon got elected, the world would come to an end. The teenagers, including me, flirting."
She even wrote the first draft of a pool-inspired novel that she titled SPAZZ! "It's about one year in a boarding school, a girl with a handicap—and you can guess who that is."
Hannah has a weakened left side and can't use her left arm very well. But it wasn't much of an issue after she started swimming five days a week in 1990. The arm relaxed and hung at her side in a natural way as opposed to curling up next to her chest.
"I'm a vigorous person despite my age, and I never thought about my age. I never thought about any of that stuff. I wrote a novel. I was reading short stories at the Marsh Theater. I have a boyfriend."
Much of that changed on March 13th of last year. "Friday the 13th," she remembers, when the pool at the Jewish Community Center near her house closed, along with many other pools. She'd been taking the bus there, arriving at 9:15 am, working on her laptop, getting the swim in day after day, leaving at 3 pm feeling strong. Months after the swim ban, she felt much less so. In August, she sprained her ankle on her weakened left side.
Now she isn't able to leave her house without assistance. Because there's no railing going down on the right-hand side on some sections of the stairs, she's confined to her third floor hallway in her walkup. She does her laps on those 44 feet of carpet. She does seven of them, five times a day, for a total of 3,000 feet.
"It's not swimming, I'll tell you. My left arm—the spasticity has increased. Now I hold it up without even knowing it until I look at myself in the mirror and see my arm at my breast."
She says her landlord won't fix the railings and says she herself can't hire someone to do it. So in a lockdown, she's additionally locked in.
"I would consider myself a medium level casualty of Covid. It's really altered my life in big ways. It used to be, for a while, I could get down the stairs by holding onto the wall and take a cab to Trader Joe's or to the drug store. Now I can't do that. Jewish Children and Family services delivers dinners Monday through Friday, except that today is a holiday [referring to the day of this interview] and there is no delivery. I planned ahead, but still: there's a problem. All I have left is one big frozen chicken pot pie and I have trouble lifting it out of my microwave."
"The general idea is I'm supposed to get some healthcare worker in here. I've resisted it because this is a studio apartment. What am I gonna do, have someone sit here in the room with me and empty my garbage? I cancelled the interview because of the Covid problem."
She's hopeful the pool will re-open, the stair-railing will be re-built, and she will regain her physical life. In the meantime, she's calling a neighbor to come get the frozen dinner out of the microwave.