we walk lightly through the cool gray dawn air,
ghosts gliding gently through a sleeping world completely unaware of
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
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?
dammit, I’m trying—
to the official instructions!
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,
we are in the water,
this mass of adrenalin-fueled (nutty?) humanity
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..
suddenly I’m gasping for air,
hear pounding and
now every breath I draw is so many knives,
a quick frenzied gasp,
a frantic gamble with the universe,
as I plead:
I breathe again, desperately,
air and seawater sear
my open mouth and lungs
I forgot the way the crawl stroke feels,
the somehow graceful gracelessness
of what is, essentially, a frantic movement,
a plea for survival
of my environment I know only flashes:
and now I wish for the mass,
mourn the loss of the comfort, security
of a hundred bodies,
writhing against each other in time,
a symphony of beautiful frenzy
I am here
I see only
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
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 one next stroke forward
people walking by me,
they pass me,
their speed, their grace, their ease of movement, their unbroken conversation
mocking my very effort to
“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!”
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
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
how in this alien environment
our distinctions disappear,
each person I see identical:
a pair of goggles arms legs,
as they pushpushpush forward,
gasp for air
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
“son of a BITCH!”
I yell, so eloquently
as I (somehow!) pull myself up onto the slick concrete and—promptly—
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
as though a minor miracle is taking place every time I put one foot in front of the
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—
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
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.
okay, just like swimming
and suddenly I’m moving,
buildings and people and cars and bikes
moving slowly by
our protective mass is a thing long past,
as distant a memory as infancy.
it’s me and the road,
(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