All Nonfiction Bullying Books Academic Author Interviews Celebrity interviews College Articles College Essays Educator of the Year Heroes Interviews Memoir Personal Experience Sports Travel & CultureAll Opinions Bullying Current Events / Politics Discrimination Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking Entertainment / Celebrities Environment Love / Relationships Movies / Music / TV Pop Culture / Trends School / College Social Issues / Civics Spirituality / Religion Sports / Hobbies
- Summer Guide
- College Guide
- Author Interviews
- Celebrity interviews
- College Articles
- College Essays
- Educator of the Year
- Personal Experience
- Travel & Culture
- Current Events / Politics
- Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking
- Entertainment / Celebrities
- Love / Relationships
- Movies / Music / TV
- Pop Culture / Trends
- School / College
- Social Issues / Civics
- Spirituality / Religion
- Sports / Hobbies
- Community Service
- Letters to the Editor
- Pride & Prejudice
- What Matters
The take off is all right, my feet hit where they’re supposed to, I have the right trajectory. But I’m scared, I’m scared before I even get on the beam. I over rotate on purpose, landing on my knees. I swallow hard, I can’t do this.
Bao is standing at the end of my beam. He doesn’t look impressed. “Get back up, do it again.” He says. There’s a challenge in his eyes. Are you strong enough to get back up, move on? It says. How much do you want this?
The question swirls around in my mind. Of course I want this, I want to go to the olympics. But can I do it? Can I move on? I want to. I know I need to, but I also know that I can’t, not really, because moving on involves forgetting. I can’t forget about what happened to Lian.
I see it over and over again in my head. Bao was standing there at the beam writing on his clip board like he always does. Lian was on the beam, she’d done an arabian salto before. Tons of times. She didn’t need a spot, no mat.
I wasn’t even looking at her when she fell, I don’t think anyone was, really. She didn’t even scream right away, I think she had the wind knocked out of her, and it wouldn’t have hurt, because the doctors say she couldn’t feel anything below her neck. But she screamed after, from fear probably.
I was standing on my beam when she started screaming, and I whirled around. My foot slipped off the edge and windmilling my arms I tumbled backwards. I landed hard my legs twisted awkwardly underneath me. I didn’t even register the pain. I felt dizzy and sick. Bright lights swirled around me. My heart stopped beating for a second, I’m sure of it, time stopped moving. Because all I could see was Lian, my best friend, lying on the ground, her arms twisted out, her left leg bent underneath her. And all I could hear was her screaming and then mine.
“Well?” Says Bao. He’s still looking at me, expectantly. I’m sweating, but I feel cold, prickly.
No. “Okay.” I say. I don’t want to get back on the beam, but I can’t do anything else.
I can’t stick any dismounts, and when I go to get drinks of water, I let myself cry a bit. Turned away. Most people cry a little at water breaks. It’s the only time you can. It’s sad, I guess, all these girls, standing at the little table in the gym. All of them quiet, out of breath, silently letting tears slip out from under their lids. Then one by one, everyone turns away, their faces neutral again, and goes back to what they were doing. Today I stay longer than everyone else. I’m shaking, and I feel a bit sick, like maybe I should stop training. But nobody ever believes that, even if you are sick.
I don’t have anyone to talk to really, now that Lian’s gone. Tension is too high. We are all competitors, fighting against each other for a spot on the olympic team. Each of us have the same dream. “To represent China in the 2012 Olympics.” I used to repeat that to myself at night in the my room at the training center. I was homesick and scared. I’d say, why am I even here? That was my answer.
The only talk is about gymnastics. Some girls are verbose about their achievements. They flaunt them and make loud remarks about other girls. I myself prefer to keep quiet. Most days not too much good happens. I work- hard- I stick to myself. Most days I’m frustrated.
The gymnasts all like to talk about each other. Not in good ways. “So and so isn’t looking too good on bars.” “Did you here this person yelling at her coach?”
There’s always some piece of news. When Lian fell there was gossip for days. Everyone was sad. Lian was nice, and I think, or maybe I just like to hope, that even though she was a good gymnast no one was saying things about it being good she was gone. People aren’t that mean. When I sat alone at dinner people gave me pitying looks. Some girls offered me condolences. But what good did it do? It didn’t change what happened. And then, a couple weeks later, no one talked about it anymore.
I went to visit Lian after she fell. I couldn’t stay long, the nurse told me. I didn’t really want to. She was in a big brace, it went all up her back and around her head and neck. I started crying when I saw it.
She didn’t say anything and I knew I wasn’t helping. I can’t imagine what she felt. I stopped crying and sat down beside her.
“I’m sorry.” I said, because I was.
Lian started crying then. I didn’t want to hug her because I thought I’d just snap her back some more. So I just patter her hand, and said, it’ll be okay, even though I knew she couldn’t feel it, and I knew it wouldn’t.
I miss the bar. I’m almost used to the feeling now. The jolt of panic as my fingers tips hook it desperately and slip off, the second where all I can see is white florescent lights blinding me, where I’m arched and flying, and then instinct kicks in and I tuck my head and arms. The mat is soft, but it’s still a jolt.
I sit back and adjust my grips, brushing a stray hair out of my face and trying to breath evenly.
“You’re too early.” Says Bao, scribbling on his clip board. He’s not even looking at me, it makes me mad. He wasn’t looking Lian either.
I’m breathing heavily. All of a sudden I feel mad. I can’t do the regrasp. I don’t like falling, I’m afraid now. My jaw is clenched, I want to scream. Instead I sit and don’t move. Bao finally looks up. Good.
“Get a drink then do three more. Stuck.” He goes back to his clip board. I dog my nails into my palm and bite my lip, I want to throw something. I don’t want to do three more. But nobody ever asks me what I want. Ever. I’m feeling reckless, wrung out, stretched to the limit. Bao isn’t looking at me anymore.
“I quit.” I say. The words feel alien on my tongue. This gets Bao’s attention for real. He looks at me over the rims of his glasses.
“What did you say?” He asks me slowly. He’s going to let me re-think. I stand up.
“I said, I quit.” I spit the last to words out. Putting all the vehemence I can muster into them. For a second Bao looks angry, like he might hit me or yell. I want him too, then I can hit him back. But he doesn’t hit me, instead he says,
“Fine.” He goes back to his clip board. I could say I’m furious now, but even that doesn’t cover what I’m feeling. I turn and walk away. Across the gym towards the doors. I’m seeing in red. Everything is blurry.
On my way out the door I undo my grips. They’re the best kind. The most expensive, they are tailored especially for gymnasts at my club. I throw them in the garbage.
The air outside is damp. It smells like car exaughst and rain. I sit on the ground and breath. I’m not as angry anymore. I’m just scared. I look around me, at the cars going by splashing each other with muddy water. I don’t know where to go. I’m already getting cold out here, in my sweaty gym suit.
I tried to run away once when I was eight. I wanted to go home. I missed my mom and dad and sisters. I packed a bag and walked outside. I changed my mind, I didn’t know how to get home anyway.
I get up and turn towards the door. I don’t have any other options. When I walk back into the gym some girls stare at me, but their coaches snap them back to attention. I walk across the mats, the soles of my feet stick to them and make a clicking noise. Bao doesn’t look at me for a moment when I’m standing in front of him. When he finally looks up he merely says, “Five more.” I’m deflated and broken. I want to sit on the mats and start balling. I want to yell and scream, go back outside, back in time even, years back, when I still had an open future. Instead I stumble to the garbage can and fish my grips out. What other choice do I have?