The badge of pride as a ******* in high school
was dunking your inflamed limbs
into an ice bucket for 20 minutes,
in Mr. Dewey’s office —
the school trainer AND
every girl's crush.
I always wanted someone to pour
ice water over my sores,
and ****** always being healthy enough
as Jess told the teacher loudly enough
that she hurt her ankle at track AGAIN
needed to see Dewman.
Guess they were best friends now.
When I fractured my back, I didn’t even get a doctor's note.
Because I wasn’t on a school team.
I was a gymnast for an outside club, not high school varsity.
My high school had disbanded the gymnastics team in the 70’s.
Said it was too much of a liability.
The last team picture hung in the award cases on the first floor.
I wished I could be one among those vintage leotards,
framed in gold — the warriors of high school.
Most of my classmates didn’t know I even did a sport.
They just thought I was a bookworm who was flat-chested.
Only the girls poked my abs in the locker room,
asking how I got them.
So I iced my wounds at home.
I didn’t even know my back was broken
and for a month I drank ibuprofen.
Sharp pains biting more frequently,
I finally went to the doctor.
The nurse asked me if I wanted to look
while she injected me with an isotope that
poisoned my dreams of finishing the season.
Green neon lit my bones, shedding the diagnosis —
no gymnastics for six weeks.
At school, I dressed to fit my backbrace:
baggy t-shirts and sweatpants.
My straightener rusted.
Messy buns took precedence.
I tried to go to practice, but my coaches told me to leave.
But I had no where to be!
And I had no friends at school.
My only friends I watched get awards,
not registered, but wearing my warmups.
I swore how I could beat the competition from the stands.
I should have never done that 1 1/2 twist front flip series.
Poor bones landing on hard carpet repeatedly,
I ignored the jolts as static electricity.
Now everyone was working on new skills
and I could barely do a cartwheel.
That summer we had lots of pool parties —
but I couldn’t dive in.
So I sat on the ledge,
feet dipped in, while everyone played chicken.
— — —
After six weeks of recovery,
I start jogging.
I did a roundalf,
then a backhandspring.
That night I was so sore —
my memory of skills strong, but
my muscle memory poor.
Each stride into a tumbling pass felt like running in a pool.
Some days I felt like sprinting down the tumble-track
Other days I wanted to bounce on my back,
stare at the ceiling, and feel each node of impact.
Recovery day was my coach laying down a mat.
Today was the day I’d repeat the skill that broke my back.
I took a deep breathe and three long steps
into the first part of the tumbling pass:
back layout one-and
a-half twist, front flip
stuck into a step.
My coaches cheered and
my friends clapped.
I was back.
I was back.