Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Triathl-umph

we walk lightly through the cool gray dawn air,
ghosts gliding gently through a sleeping world completely unaware of
our existence.
but o, we exist, exist fiercly,
nerves a-jangle with the newness of the morning, the task at hand…

(I awaken before six for two things in this world:
flights and ski races.)
given these associations—and the novelty of the monumentous morning that lies calmly
in wait for us—
I’m hyperkinetic, aware ,
a cat ready to pounce.

we arrive to adrenaline—
I can literally feel my pulse ratchet up to match pace with the
pumpingtiresstretchinglegsfiddledwithhelmetsnervouschitchat
as every mind around me hums the same mantra so loudly you can almost hear them, like crickets,
on the fresh morning air:
can I do this?
am I crazy?
can I do this?
am I crazy?

head for the end of the dock,
we form a protective huddle
it’s just like the Superbowl!
well, except that all of the players are about to compete against each other in a fundamentally ridiculous (brutal) task, and they will not reconvene until all their mingled blood and sweat and tears have stained the water, the ground, and it’s over.

in my head, the mantra pounds, crescendoing:
can I do this?
am I—
dammit, I’m trying—
crazy?
can I—
to listen—
do this?
am—
to the official instructions!
I crazy?
can—
did he say two swim laps, or four?
can I do this am I crazy can I do this am I crazy—
“Good luck!” he booms

and suddenly it’s too late,
for listeningwonderingpussyfootingselfdoubting
we are in the water,
this mass of adrenalin-fueled (nutty?) humanity
and—
“1…2…3…go!”
and ahead we go,
a violent yearning seeking wanting tangle
of arms and legs and hands and feet and bubbles and energy
flashing, flying forward with all the strength we possess, have possessed, will ever possess,
high on endorphins, inhaled sea water, and competition,
each person stiving to break free, ahead
to grasp the Holy Grail,
of clear open water—

we move ahead,
deep-breathing mass trembling with energy, disentangle and..
it’s on.

suddenly I’m gasping for air,
hear pounding and
is-this-what-swimming-felt-like-back-when-I-was-12-and-racing-and-in-kickin’-shape?

now every breath I draw is so many knives,
a quick frenzied gasp,
a frantic gamble with the universe,
as I plead:
please-let-me-keep-going-and-not-drown-or-sink-to-the-bottom-please-let-me-at-least-finish-one-more-stroke

until

I breathe again, desperately,
air and seawater sear
my open mouth and lungs

I forgot the way the crawl stroke feels,
its desperation,
the somehow graceful gracelessness
of what is, essentially, a frantic movement,
a plea for survival

of my environment I know only flashes:
sea
sky
sea
sky
and breathe
and swim
and gasp
and swim
one…more…stroke…forward
come…on…Meg…an
you…can…do…it

and now I wish for the mass,
mourn the loss of the comfort, security
of a hundred bodies,
malefemalefatthinbrownwhiteblackoldyoung
writhing against each other in time,
a symphony of beautiful frenzy
and yet—

I am here
alone
I see only
sky
sea
sky
sea
and can…I…even…move
my…arm…through…the
wa…ter…once…move
draw…one…more…breath?

and (in some cruel twist of Fate perpetuated by an angry god)
the water’s suddenly molasses,
the air fire,
each stroke, each breath
sending shooting pain through every inch of me

but, as I look
up down up down
at
down
the
down
dock,
I see people milling, talking, sitting on cars, checking stopwatches,
acting as if other things exist than
my here now moment,
epic struggle for survival
for breath
for one next stroke forward

up
down
up, down
and
down
now
down
I
down
see
people walking by me,
they pass me,
their speed, their grace, their ease of movement, their unbroken conversation
mocking my very effort to
keep…moving…a…head

“all right, Megan! You’re almost halfway there!”
floats a voice from above.
I want to thank R,
to jump out of the water and hug him,
to clap him on the back,
to exclaim, “you don’t know what it means to me, to know that I’m not in this struggle against the sea, the air, the universe, my body, ALONE!”

and yet
right now,
I cannot even manage an acknowledgement,
a nod, that surplus of motion, of effort,
completely impossible at this moment
as my every fiber is now tense, focused upon
simply…moving…forward.

I rest a moment at the halfway point,
perch upon the gloriously solid concrete,
watch the faces and arms and legs of my fellow warriors
as they pass slowly by,
each engaged in his own private war against
the sea his body himself

it’s funny,
how in this alien environment
our distinctions disappear,
each person I see identical:
a pair of goggles arms legs,
nothing more,
as they pushpushpush forward,
gasp for air
keep…on…swim…ming

and suddenly we are one,
all of us,
competing not against each other
but against the human condition

I think of it now, gloriously,
(morning flashback in sepia tone)
one stalwart group of men and women trotted down to the start gate near dawn,
jumped in the water, and
casually redefined what it means to be a human being.

and now I’m nearly done,
lap 3 and I’m rolling along,
the pain, the gasping a distant memory of a time long ago, a person I once knew,
I’m humming along singing Green Day to myself,
and I could literally do this forever,
just put one arm in front of the other and breathe, survive

finally (mercifully) I look up,
reach the orange buoy (o beautiful savior!)
for the FOURTH TIME,
get up, look back
NO ONE’S IN THE WATER
I’m in last but,
for the first time since 1985
I don’t care
I SURVIVED!

“son of a BITCH!”
I yell, so eloquently
as I (somehow!) pull myself up onto the slick concrete and—promptly—
fall down.

I wonder momentarily if my legs and arms
[if that’s what I can truthfully call these long hunks of Jello which seem to be attached to my body]
will ever function again,
think nostalgically of the time—
was it real? or did I just make it up?—
when I could merely walk without being aware of
every ouch
single aie
movement eeeeee,
as though a minor miracle is taking place every time I put one foot in front of the
other
and now I have to bike and run.
?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

I trudge to my bike and hop—
well, if a ninety year-old crippled person can be said to hop—
on,
begin to pedal and…
this is cake!
I might as well be lying on a beach in a chaise lounge being fanned with banana fronds eating grapes ,
for all the physical effort this is taking me,
a long vacation after breathing fire and fighting barely liquefied molasses for over half a mile

the four bike laps pass in a quick beautiful dream,
almost over before they began
until…

I finish my last lap.

suddenly, it’s time to abandon my speedy chaise lounge
I dismount gingerly,
afraid my Jello appendages may collapse under me.

the pavement feels…foreign.
[have I ever walked before?]
breathe in (huh)
breathe out (huh)
take my bearings.
okay, now it’s only me, 5 K, the road, the baking sun, and my sneakers.

I sigh.
okay, just like swimming
one…foot…in…front…of…the…o…ther
and suddenly I’m moving,
buildings and people and cars and bikes
moving slowly by

by now,
our protective mass is a thing long past,
as distant a memory as infancy.
it’s me and the road,
racing myself
(at a snail’s pace at that)

and so, I fall back on the familiar.
set short goals.
walk run walk run.
one fool in front
of the o ther

and, before I know it,
I’m steering my feet—
they’re no longer me, really—
through the now-familiar gray graffittied M posts,

and (oh glorious day!)
I’m heading down the hill,
into a moment I pictured with such clarity and fervor so much during my private agony
that I almost feeling I’m reliving it as it happens

and I’m home I’m golden
and people are clapping
and the sun is shining

and oh God, did I really do this,
redefine what a human can do,
what I can do?

I’m shining as I cross the line,
glowing with sweat and pride and perfect,
gold as the sun and
free.

1 comment:

littlefieldmccreafam said...

What a scarybeautiful tumble of sparkling images and language! You've carried me along on the roller coaster of emotions so intensely that I'm breathing hard at the end. I love it.

K.