My head rested on the cold window of the school bus. Headphones sat in my ears as they blasted the new Cage the Elephant album. My breath exhaled onto the window and I fiddled with my zipper as I gazed. Girls voices screeched all around me. In the seat next to mine sat my best friend, Maddie. She twisted the silver wave ring on her finger. I glanced down at my matching one and smirked.
Coach Leah yelled, “Listen up for the lineup!”
The girls quieted, and I removed my headphones as coach yelled out our races. She was still finishing up as we arrived at our opponents’ high school. We shuffled off the bus in a single file line and headed toward the pool.
We walked into the warm pool area and the vapor of chlorine embedded itself in my nostrils. The bleachers were full of family and friends. My team strutted past the other and we approached our bench.
The warm-up whistle blew and we all split into three lanes. I dove into the frigid water and examined the blue tiles that formed a line on the bottom of the pool. The rhythm of my stroke was therapeutic. Every fourth arm stroke I turned my head for a breath. My Muscular-Dystrophy and all of the doubts from my doctors only encouraged me to swim faster.
The whistle blew for the first race to commence.
I cheered my teammates on, screamed their names and yelled for them to go faster. After a quick one-minute race, the girls climbed out of the pool, panting and gasping for air. Their faces were beet red and they struggled to make their way back to the benches.
The whistle blew once again. I glanced down at my wave ring and turned it a few times. My chest rose and softly deflated. I looked over to Maddie whose hand was already held out for me to hold. She boosted me up on to the block and took a step back.
My toes curled on the concrete as they clung for resistance. My hands turned to fists as they realized there was nothing to hold on to. Beads of sweat formed inside my coiled fingers. My face was burning up. The concrete on the block scraped the bottom of my feet, as I grasped on with all the strength I had. My body swayed like a piece of paper in the wind.
The official yelled, “Swimmers take your mark!”
I bent down to take my place. My left leg swung behind the rest of me and my fingers latched onto the block. The ball of my foot managed to get a little grip, but it was not enough. My right foot trickled forward, out of my control. My toes curled over the edge, trying to cling on. The weight of my unsteady body plummeted me into a shallow dive.
I did not want to come back up. I drifted underwater for what felt like centuries, thoughts flooded my mind.
Are they going to laugh? Are they going to make fun of me? Was I disqualified?
I emerged from the surface and climbed out of the water with my head down. My hands rose and fell onto my hips. I glanced up and scanned my surroundings. It was silent. All eyes were on me. I peered over to my coach. Her face was blank, almost in disbelief.
Maddie’s hand grabbed my shoulder, bringing me back to reality. She took my hand and said, “You have to get back up there. You weren’t disqualified.”
All of the girls were still up on their blocks, waiting to race. The whistle blew and I tried again.
Every fourth arm stroke I choked back tears as I struggled to breathe. My arms slapped the water and my legs struggled to propel. I pushed the touch pad with every last ounce of strength I had. I pulled myself out of the pool and rushed to the locker room.
I walked past girls changing, gossiping and arranging plans for later that night. Lockers slammed shut and laughter echoed in the confined area.
I found myself in the back of the room, in a dank corner. My back slammed into the wall, and I melted into the floor. The minute my bottom hit the ground, my head fell into my knees, and I sobbed. My vision blurred as tears built up in my eyes. Despite this, I could see the ring on my finger through the hole of my thigh gap. I picked my head up, stretched out my legs, and wiped my tears away. I turned my ring to face it the correct way.
Maddie sat down beside me. She wrapped her arm around me, and my head rested on her shoulder. She did not speak, nor did I. We have an unspoken bond when it comes to my disorder.