I didn’t really notice the void gymnastics left in my life. It was the end of my era of childhood, and I had bigger issues to face than the loss of formal gymnastics training. The summer of my eleventh year was fast approaching and the playground was awash with mutterings of the next school year without recesses. How did one exist without those brief intermissions in a life crammed with math problems, spelling tests, and (worst of all) science labs?
I didn’t miss gymnastics that summer. I didn’t have a chance to. Right after the school year ended my family whisked me off on a month-long vacation. I didn’t have a chance to stretch my legs after a fourteen hour drive to New Mexico let alone to think of the balance beam or the bars. I focused instead on annoying my stepbrother sleeping next to me in the car.
Before long school started up. Seventh grade was harrowing. I got braces. I was awkward. I didn’t dance at the school dances but sat forlornly in the corner. Maybe if I had been tumbling I wouldn’t have felt as awkward. Perhaps I would have had a bit more self esteem, or at least a sense of purpose.
Occasionally the feeling of loss surfaced. The summer Olympics inevitably arrived, and with them came a barrage of television coverage. I only watched the women’s gymnastics and as I watched them I yearned. I sat in the splits and dove into forward rolls down the hallway. Thoughts arose and whispered dangerous what ifs…I sampled my first real taste of regret.
I knew that my dream of being a great gymnast could no longer be fulfilled. I never really forgot that dream, I simply gave up on it. I don’t know if I gave up on it because it got too difficult and seemed unattainable, or if it was the opposite. I met resistance and I fled. And I let that decision influence other difficulties. To me it was better not to try than to fail. Thinking that way seems a violation of our very existence. It takes away all of the sweet fragility of life’s triumphs.