Declan sat back as the people around him recounted their struggles; some more open than others. Many sat with their arms crossed, hunched over… Their eyes sunken in, darkened by a long winter, much like his own. Tale after tale of angst and human depredation filled the atmosphere.
“Alright, Karen, you’ve brought up some great points. However, let’s hear from the others. Maybe they might have a different perspective? Actually, this gives me time to introduce our newest member.”
Declan grimaced; it was as if the bandages expanded and contracted with each subsequent wave of pain that coursed through his emaciated body.
”Everyone, may I introduce you to, Declan Gardner… He used to be a gymnast.” The group leader signaled towards him. His subconscious enveloped and transported him back to the competition.
Every blurred face in the crowd, the other competitors beside him atop the podium, the faint chalk fog lingering in the air flooded his mind…
The words pierced him, like a blade cutting and twisting into his stomach.
“He used to be,” his mind repeated time and again, “Used to be.”
He would’ve been a lock for the team had he not blown out his knee. He looked down at the injured joint trying to convince himself to stand up.
The therapist nodded in acknowledgement of his turn, as he rose from his seat. It was time to open up about all he’d been through. Everything he’d experienced these past two years were soon to be subject to scrutiny. His knee hindered him from standing up in one smooth motion; even the most simple of maneuvers seemed like unsurmountable hinderances now.
Never did he imagine that he would injure himself to this extent. He threw his body with reckless abandonment time and again, yet injury had never factored into his equation.
The longer he stood there, the more he realized just how the past two years had steamrolled over him leaving behind nothing, but an empty vessel of the person he once was.
“Hi,” his throat coated in a dry film, “I’m Declan...”
“And?” The therapist urged.
“And... Well...” He sighed, his hands sweaty.
“Go on, don’t be ashamed,” he reassured.
“My name is Declan, and... I’m bulimic.” The moment the words escaped him, his heart burst at the seams.
Memories of the past couple of years flashed before him, and suddenly everything felt so present; from the first time he spent time with Gable, to the last time he ever spoke to Skylar. Every single memory yearned to be emancipated, but his apprehension urged him to keep quiet. After all that had transpired, he’d learned to keep his mouth closed. No one seemed worthy of his trust anymore, and that was a wall he refused to let down.
“Anything else you’d like to add?” The therapist encouraged.
Declan shook his head and sat down, dejectedly. It was completely pointless for him to remove bricks from the wall he’d built up. He knew it’d be far too painful to embark on that emotional journey.
The patients around him continued to share their personal grievances, some insufferable, some mildly relatable, but he continued to dismiss the importance of discussing his personal issues.
Internally, he cursed at how he had allowed the assistant coach get under his skin during that practice session. The memory of his landing kept flashing in his mind with incredible vividness. He’d blocked off the vaulting table clearly. He floated the first somersault; he dared not start twisting in preflight. His legs pasted together, toes fiercely pointed. They hooked into the air and began the first of two and half revolutions the skill demanded. It was text book; a vault any Olympian would be jealous of.
“Don’t lock your knees!” her shrill voice still echoed throughout his entire being.
He winced at the memory of the pain; all his hard work had been for naught. Every single practice, rip, fall, ice bath, achievement, etc. meant nothing now. Not only that, but his inability to control his life, had led him to sacrifice his health for a dream. A dream that mutated into a nightmare he no longer could wake up from.
Anything before then didn’t matter, now. He’d transformed himself in months due to his drive and determination. He’d been determined to change his life in order to save his gym, return to the sport he loved and, ultimately, garner the love and affection of a sadistic individual.
He attempted to rejoin the group therapy session a few times, but was unable to concentrate on what, exactly, the therapy leader was rambling about.
More importantly, what he so longed to know was... Why. Why did Gable lie to him? Why did he let himself be used to that extent? Why had he not listened to his parents, Skylar even, and stopped purging? The truth was that none of that mattered anymore, and he couldn’t bring himself to face it.
People would try to talk to him, but he would rarely respond. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to socialize; he just couldn’t bring himself to allow someone else in. He’d trusted so freely… It turned out to be his ultimate downfall.
Perhaps it could be tallied to Gable having been his first actual love. Doesn’t it always seem to start off that way? They’d known each other since they were three, and had been on numerous sports teams; everything from soccer to gymnastics… He was the object of every girl’s fantasy, as if he were straight out of the pages of an Abercrombie catalog. He would always be an Adonis, and that’s the way life intended it to be.
Conversely, Declan had lost himself to his eating disorder and training to the extent that he looked frail and gaunt. His skin looked almost as if it were decaying with each passing second. One look at his face would be a clear indicator of the immense struggle he’d faced; deep circles under his eyes, sunken cheeks... He was the epitome of rock bottom.
He mourned the memory of his relationship with the ruthless jock. The more he analyzed the past two years, the more he realized how much he’d failed to notice the red flags. The distance between him and Gable didn’t just manifest itself out of nowhere; both had lied to one another. At first, they were just small lies; why they were late, prior commitments, avoiding texts, but soon they turned into blatant fallacies; Gable opting to spend time with girls his friends would set him up with, in order to keep up appearances, Declan purging every bit of food that crossed his lips… True, they both loved each other, but Gable was from a small town. He was far too proud to admit his truth to anyone, even if they already knew.
He should’ve never gone to that first game; he hung his head. He should’ve just stuck to himself instead of talking to the girls there. He shouldn’t have told that girl anything. He should’ve never befriended any of the jock’s many friends. It was he who had doomed their relationship; it wasn’t just Gable.
In a sense, it was almost exclusively Declan’s fault. He pushed even when he knew that Gable wasn’t completely comfortable with being so open about their relationship. Time and again, Gable had asked him for patience and understanding, but, having never been in an actual relationship, Declan was unwavering. It was as if he felt Gable owed him for all he’d done for his family.
Then there was Skylar… On some level he knew he should’ve chosen his teammate; he should’ve let him in. It was because of him that Skylar was now dead. He’d loved Declan steadfastly and unconditionally, but he’d been too far entangled in Gable’s web of lies to notice the fervor of Skylar’s unrequited love for him. It pained him that he hadn’t been there in time to save his life. It killed him to know that he could’ve saved him, had he not have been off fighting again with the bastard he’d wasted all his money, energy and the past two years on.
It had been quite the ride, those two years. He’d made a lot of choices, both good and bad; the latter, again, ultimately leaving him with nothing but these next few months in rehab. He feared that no one would ever understand his struggle, so much so that it filled his mind with insecurities and darkness. It’s said therapy is instrumental toward spiritual, emotional, physical, and mental recovery… He’d just have to see if it all worked out, in the end.
Declan stared into the chalk bucket. He grabbed a handful and let it seep through his fingers. The same chalk that lingered in the atmosphere danced with his tongue; the bitter, hallow, taste souring his face. The dry powder left a film on his callused fingertips so many healed rips had left behind. They were nothing but war wounds from the countless hours of practice.
His wrists, ankles, and knees were taped heavily, but not too heavily, though. Just enough to prevent serious injury. He readjusted his wrist guards and approached the spring floor.
His chest expanded as he breathed one last deep breath before he began his strenuous routine. He’d gone through it a million and one times before; it was all muscle memory, from here on out.
He saluted. His head prickled with the sensation of hundreds of eyes staring daggers at him. His feet walked onto the mat, involuntarily, and posed. A loud beep emitted from nearby, and, suddenly, music began to fill the dark arena.
“Music?” He furrowed his brow. He couldn’t stop his body from responding to the diegetic symphony.
“What is happening?! Someone?!” He panicked, but his body remained in control. His words remained prisoner within him.
He launched down the spring floor with reckless abandon. His hands pushed onto the floor, his legs rebounded, whipped his body, then propelled into the air, twisting one and a half times.
Not fulfilled, as his feet landed staggered, his body continued into a second acrobatic series. After a series of flips, he ricochetted with his legs pulled into his chest, his right shoulder carved into the air, flipping his tucked body into a half twisting somersault, connected into another; a double ‘Arabian’, as it was known in the ‘Code of Points’. His feet used the momentum to rebound out of the landing into a full-twisting, laid-out, front somersault.
“Impossible.” His exclaim, again, trapped in the confines of his mind. However, his body had ulterior motives, and continued on with the unfamiliar routine.
The choreography escaped from his body with inexplicable fluidly. This wasn’t him; he didn’t possess the tumbling or artistic prowess to perform these skills. Whatever was happening refused to desist. His body leapt around the floor, connecting dance element into dance element, and so on. He set in for what, he assumed, would be a simple spin, but became two full pirouettes, with his leg vertically held; well controlled and performed right round. He neared the corner, and launched right back into another series of intricate acrobatic elements.
Round-off, back handspring, whip into a quadruple twisting laid-out somersault completed, again, all the way around. In order to catch itself, he attempted to step forward, but it was for naught; he’d stuck that as well. This was certainly not reality. He was definitely in a dream; a very lucid one, at that.
Again, he launched into another tumbling sequence; this time he connected the round-off into a series of immensely powerful back handsprings. His body sent airborne after the third back handspring. It flipped once… Twice… And then, a third. He landed softly. Stuck. He couldn’t see the expression on his face, but he knew the confusion and surprise he felt internally was unparalleled to it.
His body continued to interpret the trumpet’s accents, alongside the choir of woodwinds, and strings; the music’s orchestration lending itself romantically to the movements of his body. It was clear now: the music was the impetus responsible for this performance, not him.
He looked up, in between breaths, and saw Skylar standing on the opposite side of the floor. Just like at all their previous meets, he was there cheering him on. It was exhilarating to see his smile again. The familiar warmth in his metallic blue eyes, his angelic smile… Damn that smile… His dirty blonde hair. To his right, another figure manifested; Gable. His carefully sculpted physique called for him. His, pain filled, emerald globes that once haunted his being, the same wavy brown hair he’d ran his fingers through time and again… All so alluring.
Before he could think much more into it, his body launched itself again with deceiving strength. As his body completed the second somersault of the, laid out, double Arabian, he felt his feet pierce into the spring floor. However, this time, his body doubled over in pain. Shoulders hunched, he couldn’t breathe, nor speak. Pain surged throughout his body, as if it had been struck by lightening.
He awoke in a cold sweat; that dream had seemed too real. His body felt weak, tired… As if he’d truly just performed that behemoth routine. The pain emanating from his knee puzzled him.
It had been two weeks, since he’d entered the center. He looked towards the clock, “8:44" it read. The clock advanced a minute and the alarm filled the room with its merry discordance.
Declan hit the snooze button and obliged to abdicate his slumber. He climbed out of his bed, and stretched. His muscles tightened and twitched as he reached the pinnacle of his contortions.
He thought back to the last time he’d been inside the gym that once brought him such happiness. By now, he’d be almost two hours late. They’d be warming up, preparing to commence the rigorous workouts they’d subjected themselves to countless times before.
He hobbled into the bathroom and stared at his face. His skin was still somewhat pasty, but had regained some of the caramel tone it originally was. He had gained a few more pounds than he’d like, since he’d been admitted into rehab. He would have to make sure to lose that weight as soon as he got out, if he wanted to compete again.
“Good morning, Declan,” the nurse’s tender voice rang throughout the small room, “Rise and shine, my dear. God has blessed you with a brand new day! Be thankful, and praise His light, for he praises yours. I brought you the dressings for your knee! Don’t forget to change them!”
"Another day,” he thought, ”Another day of fooling everyone into believing I’m better. I’ll take it as research. Actors research their roles, right? I’m sure the experience will come in handy, some day.”
“Hurry up now, Declan. You know Dr. Anderson doesn’t like to be kept waiting.” The nurse rushed.
“I’ll be there in ten…” Declan retorted from the bathroom. It was a lie; he didn’t want to go to another mundane counseling session. What did this doctor know about his life? He wouldn’t understand the pressure he’d been under; he’d just tack him off as another weak individual without the mental strength to deal with the adversities he’d faced, if their previous sessions were anything to go off of.
As he spat after brushing his teeth, he examined his body. His sculpted arms looked entirely too vascular to be healthy, his face was sunken in, his collarbone protruded, his stomach virtually flat, save for the loose skin that draped the bottom portion of his abdomen. There was a completely different person staring back at him than the one he saw a mere two years ago. His dedication, and, eventual disease, lead him to this Jekyll and Hyde-like transformation.
“Just be nice,” he thought to himself, as he stood outside Dr. Anderson’s consultation room, “The more you cooperate, the faster you’ll get out of this hell hole.”
“Ah, Declan, you’ve finally decided to grace me with your presence,” a voice emitted from behind him.
“Oh, Dr. Anderson, sorry I’m late,” he lied.
“Don’t bother, you’ve always seemed like the type to be fashionably late. At least, according to your file.” He chuckled.
Declan had no idea why he annoyed him, but he knew he had to appease him. It was difficult, but he followed through and finished another session with him. Once back in the confines of his room, he lowered himself onto the side of his bed, sat aside his crutches, and began going through the rolodex of memories again.
He remembered all the times he stood in the rain waiting on Gable, all the countless hours he spent training, the constant rumbling of his peers ridiculing his weight… Suddenly, he felt nothing. The anger, the resentment, the emotional pain somehow escaped him.
Perhaps, It was then that he realized that his recovery wasn’t going to happen suddenly. He couldn’t just pull recovery out of thin air; it was going to be a life long process, just like Dr. Anderson never failed to remind him. The patience he’d taken with everything else before was the same he’d have to apply towards his treatment.
After this cognizance, it was evident he was more eager, than ever, to turn his life around. His therapy sessions would become more about understanding his role in what had happened, rather than blaming everyone else for his choices. The days would begin to pass by quicker, and he would notice an innate change… Or, so he hoped.
He hoped it wouldn’t be too long before he was released and allowed to go back to his life. However, there was a lingering fear that, once he was released, he wouldn’t be returning to the life he’d left, in fact… He feared he might return to nothing.