sacrifice and reward

I cried sometimes it hurt so bad for so long, and with only seconds to catch my breath before I had to go on. Daily, my mind and body were crushed, lungs on fire, muscles churning and burning until I felt I could sink like a stone if I let myself. As many as seven, eight and nine miles I’d swim in a day, lagging behind the others whose psyches and wills were at that time stronger than mine. At just eighteen, I became worn out, torn up, undone, and I asked myself, what for?

It’s days like today, stone cold and gray, that I walk under a stand of pines and note the unmistakable reek of chlorine seeping from vents in the brick wall of the college pool. It smells warm and heavy and I imagine, if it were visible, I’d see it resting like a blanket of mist at my knees. The scent spurs memories of a million laps, of aching limbs, stinging eyes, a hungry body and a broken soul. But the sacrifice was not without reward.

I have little doubt that those years of double workouts, of killing myself as many as four hours a day, have helped me better face the challenge of raising a chronically ill child. It’s hard to say what else could’ve done as good a job teaching me diligence, resilience, dedication, ambition, mindfulness, the grace of triumph, the art of loss and, perhaps most of all, that I am strong—physically and mentally—beyond what much of society still tells women they are capable of being.

While I was pregnant with Calvin I swam a mile most days. Perhaps it’s what nearly killed him. Then again, maybe it’s the very thing that kept my boy alive when he was on the verge of drowning inside me, his little brain missing parts, so not well equipped to survive.

Now, instead of thirsting to finish first or swim a lifetime best, I coach my little boy. I still get up every day before six, often when it’s dark outside, to give him his morning medicine on time. In his wake I do tiresome laps around the house, swimming through the monotony that is caring for my son, and lift his fifty-five pounds until my muscles ache and my tendons burn. Though at times I want to, I don’t give up, just keep on plodding and pressing and looking for ways to beat this thing, conquer his seizures, win the prize of a healthier child.

As if swimming, I’m still holding my breath, perhaps saving it for the distance my boy and I still have to go. So I pace myself instead of sprinting and, like in open water, I bury my head and try in vain to think of anything but the pain. I taste the brine wondering if, maybe, it's what buoys me. When I meet rough waters, I work harder to better slice through the mire. And if I’m met with a breaker, I dive head on into it, where below its surface I can pause instead of being carried away, then I come up, catch my bearings and go on.

Photo by Michael Kolster

1 comment:

  1. Christy, I appreciate your thoughts relating those countless hours in the pool to your life with Calvin. I think swimming prepared me in ways for certain things too, which I am thankful for. But, I wonder as well about all that chlorine exposure and about the hypoxic breathing sets and accompanying headaches... Sheesh. xo pam t