Ash Martins and Amy Souza

Amy Souza
Inspiration piece

To the Buoy, and Beyond
By Ash Martins
Response

If I swim to the buoy, I’ll have someplace to hold onto, if I want. But, I don’t want. I don’t wanna hold onto anything anymore. When I see that thin strip of light in the horizon, I think of darkness. I think, this life isn’t enough.

I don my racing suit and put on my goggles and swim cap, in hopes they won’t notice anything unusual. I creep out the side door near the kitchen and make my way down to the shoreline. I toss my towel on a chair. My heart is pounding as I launch into the sea, angry as hell that ‘this life isn’t enough.’

I hear a distant voice call after me from the shore, no doubt trying to warn me of the storm blowing in rapidly. Gee, ya don’t say. The shops down the lane have been boarding up their storefronts all morning. But I’m already at least 50 yards deep and I’m neither slowing down nor turning back.

I let go of everything I’m carrying in what is, I think, going to be my final swim ever. I pour myself inside out here in these waters, becoming one with the ominously onyx body of water. A communion of sorts. My last rites. I do so because there’s nowhere else to go and nothing else to hold onto besides that stupid buoy in this stupid storm and in this stupid life. My chest burns not only from swimming so hard but also because my heart is bouncing off the walls in my chest.

When I reach the buoy, I do decide to grab hold. I don’t fully know why yet. I could just let the leg cramps and chest pains overcome me. The currents are wicked right now and I struggled a little to make it this far. I know I can’t make it all the way out to that sailboat. I wonder at that moment why the hell the sailboat is even out. Maybe they’re just as unmoored as I am.

The cramps in my legs are a little too intense, my chest is a little too tight, the water a little too frigid, the waves a little bit too white-capped, and suddenly I’m panicking because I could actually die this time. Fucking survival instincts! I think. I roll my eyes to myself as a cling to the buoy. Damn it, Jesse, not again!

I suck in as much air as my lungs can hold and let out an animalistic scream of defeat. I can’t even drown myself right. I look up and see a seagull that’s perched on the buoy with me, gawking at me like I’m the crazy one here. I mean, I am, but isn’t he supposed to be ashore during a storm like this?! I laugh at the absurdity of me and this gull on this buoy; he can just up and fly away if he wants to, but he’s here, with me…

I suddenly remember the breathing exercises Coach taught me three years ago and start doing them. One breath in for four counts, hold for four counts, exhale for six counts. Repeat. And again. The primal screaming and the controlled breathing are helping with the racing thoughts and cramping body for the moment, at least. I look at the seagull again, he stares into my eyes and then takes flight. Crazy bird.

I envision the placid waters of a competition pool right before we dive into it, and I kick off of the buoy for shore like it’s my starting block. That’s always been my favorite moment, the relative calm before the storm of a race. There’s a palpable tension before we swim that is somehow simultaneously lessened and doubled from the moment we hit the water until the winner touches the wall. And then it’s a melee of emotions for everyone, depending on their performance. I love and live for that chaos, and realizing this soothes me as I swim.

It’s not that I’m chickening out, I console myself, it’s just that I know I can still make it to nationals if I don’t drown my stupid self this summer. Because if I can’t drown my stupid self right, then I’ll be a freakin’ vegetable, and that would be even worse. And if — no, when — I make it through nationals, that means I have a shot at Stanford, and maybe, I tense up at this next thought and feel a flutter of excitement swirling deep in my belly, the Olympics. And, swimming for gold means that maybe all of their sacrifices were actually worth it.

“Maybe that means I’m worth it…” I say to myself as I glide up to the shore, my lungs, legs, and arms burning. I’m a little bit surprised that I’m already back. I’m even more surprised that I’m still alive.

“WHAT?” Coach shouts over the whipping winds as he wraps me in a towel and starts ushering me towards our team’s villa.

“Never mind,” I exhale deeply. I’m winded, sore, and a little unnerved, but I also feel very alive right now. Everything around me feels electric, and it’s not just because of the storm raging around us.

“Good thing you made it back when you did, they just broadcasted more red flag warnings! What the hell were you doing out there, anyway?”

“Yeah…” I trail off without even trying to explain right now. I suspect Coach won’t want to know I just tried to off myself for the fourth time.

As we reach the covered porch, I glance behind my shoulder at the buoy one last time where I decided my fate — a dead person, a vegetable, or — and my body tenses again and that flutter spins around in my guts — the Olympic dream. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing or where I’m going in this life, and I don’t know if I’ll ever medal at the Olympics. But I do know I have got to refill my fucking meds.

 

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