“Listen up, guys,” Coach Johnson gathered them around. His somber timbre filling the bleak atmosphere, “Today is the day; I want each and every one of you to go out there and lay everything you’ve been practicing, and working on, all season on the line. Do or die, you hear me?”
That day was podium training for the meet of their lives, as the following day, they were to compete to garner an opportunity to qualify to Nationals; the last step towards making the National team and then, hopefully, a World Championship Team… And, perhaps after that, The Olympic team in three years time.
“Decs, you have the most riding on today’s training. You know why. If you want to make Nationals, and vie for a spot on that team, you have to give it your all. All those long hours and dedication come down to the next couple of days. Tommy...” he trailed off, but all Declan couldfocus on were his routines.
From the moment he’d woken up the following day, it seemed like an incredibly off day. He couldn’t think correctly, he’d almost forgotten his bag at home… Whatever was happening, he knew he had to get in the right place of mind.
He dare not fuck this up; he’d lost over 300 pounds, given up his social life, and pushed his mind, body, and soul to the limit just to be here. He’d made the decision to forego his NCAA eligibility and attempt to go pro.
Gable was no longer in his life, Skylar was dead, and now all he had left was his gymnastics career. If he didn’t perform at the best of his ability today, he might as well have stayed home.
They marched onto the podium one by one. As luck would have it, they’d been drawn into the second subdivision with the same team from Plano they’d come to second at a few weeks before.
Their first rotation was to be on the floor. Declan was more confident in his floor work now than ever before; his tumbling had drastically improved, since he lost the rest of the weight.
His triple twisting layout rotated all the way around, he was able to float his double lay out and arabian easily, even his rebounding twisting skills came with relative deft.
Declan, Jesse, Jason, Tommy and Trace saluted and went to practice their routines. It’d been about five weeks since Tommy rolled his ankle and Skylar had died. They had all been present when Skylar’s casket was lowered six feet under, and they’d all made a vow to honor his memory.
Tommy, ankle heavily wrapped, went first. He did a few timers and finally went for his mount, a full twisting double lay out. He landed, rebounded and walked off. As he did, it was evident his ankle was bothering him.
Jesse went for his own mount, a round off into two whips, into a half twisting layout followed by a two and a half. He landed and walked off.
Afterwards, Jason proceeded and performed his triple. He stuck his landing and walked off. Trace went for his double Arabian, but sat it down. He grunted and walked off visibly annoyed. Declan neared the corner.
As conflicted as he was; he went with reckless abandon into his tumbling pass, a double lay out. He landed slightly over rotated and stumbled backwards a few paces.
“Too much steam,” he thought to himself, and nodded towards Tommy to do his second pass.
After a decent rotation on floor, they moved onto high bar. It was then that the assistant coach that’d been hired to help out at the sister gym arrived. She was an exceptional women’s coach; she’d had a great NCAA career, but wasn’t the greatest at coaching men.
More often than not, she’d yell out advice that was so elementary, the rest of the guys seemed to ignore her, so she overcompensated by babbling even more inane musings.
Jessica was the type of person who would go the extra mile just to be heard, and in the sport of gymnastics, that could be detrimental to the coach/athlete dynamic.
With a decent high bar rotation under their belts, the team moved to vault. Declan knew he had this rotation down. After all, the majority of his training had been delegated to vault.
He’d trained long hours on this event to earn his stripes, and it all came down to this. After these few, he’d only have to perform two vaults tomorrow, and two vaults the day after. All four of which, he hoped, would land him a coveted spot to nationals.
The guys all threw timers for their first attempts and then, after their second go around, they began attempting their individual vaults. Tommy, Jason, Trace and Jesse had all landed their vaults fairly well.
He psyched himself up to perform his vault, while he chalked up one last time before saluting. As he stared the vault down, he thought back to all the vaults he’d landed in order to get here.
His mind jumped to the last hug he’d received from Skylar, and how proud he’d been of Declan’s achievements. As he looked toward his coach, he saw he was engrossed in vivid conversation with Jessica. He dare not pay her any further attention lest he be distracted by her, and returned his focus to the vaulting table before him.
He visualized, went through the motions, and started his run. His body sped through the runway, lunged powerfully through the round off, blocked off the horse and went for it.
“DON’T LOCK YOUR KNEES!” He heard a shrill voice pierce through the gymnasium.
It broke his concentration, mid air. An elementary piece of advice was all it took to clear the haze. He could feel the ground nearing, beneath him. He didn’t have the required speed or momentum to make the last rotation, he had to bail.
Before he could commit to twisting his body to balk, he felt his feet touch the mat.
A pain unlike one he’d ever experienced before pulsated through his entire being. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t react fast enough. He was face down, on the mat. Defenseless. Tears of pain racing down his face. His knee sent continuous jolts of pain throughout his body. He felt as if he’d been shot.
“Declan, speak to me, are you okay?!” A familiar voice beckoned.
Declan moved his head and saw it was his coach and as he looked around he saw Jessica’s face.
“GET HER THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME,” he cried in excruciating fashion, “GET HER AWAY FROM ME!”
Everything went blank after that. He’d succumbed to the pain, anything else was blocked out of his memory.
Two hours later, he woke up in a hospital.
"You are too big to do that skill, Declan," Coach Johnson’s voice rang in his ears.
His eyes struggled to open against the light pouring in through the off-white blinds. He was lost in a groggy haze; it took him a couple minutes to regain full consciousness.
He attempted to prop himself on his elbows, but was unable to due to the wires connected to him. His nostrils filled with the faint smell of anesthetics.
After analyzing his surroundings, he realized where he was. His knee throbbed within the confines of the bandages, as he made an attempt to move it. It all came rushing back to him.
“How’re you feeling?” His coach knocked as he entered the room a few minutes later.
“Like death, warmed up.” Declan muttered.
“Well, you blew out your knee. I wouldn’t imagine anything less.” Coach Johnson informed him.
“I... I... I... What?!” his heart sank down to his toes.
Declan’s teammates filed in, before he could say another word. They all looked sad to see him like this, even Tommy looked visibly affected.
“Fag, I’m so sorry.” Jason expressed.
“Dude, it was so gnarly,” Jesse added.
“You almost landed the Schewfelt,” Jessica added behind them.
Declan looked towards her and instantly furrowed his brow.
“What the FUCK are you doing here?!” Declan cried
“I’m here to see if you’re okay.” She began, “You locked...”
“YOU YELLED AT ME, WHILE I WAS MID-AIR, TO NOT LOCK MY KNEES!!!! WHAT KIND OF COACH ARE YOU?!” Declan cut her off.
Her eyes began to swell up, but Declan didn’t care. His road to Nationals had been sabotaged. His dreams. His training. Everything… Gone. He felt rage, disappointment, and embarrassment all envelop him.
“Get. Her. Away. From. Me.” He growled.
“Declan, you need to calm down, she was just doing her...” His coach began.
“No, YOU should’ve done YOUR job. You should’ve told her to keep her fucking mouth shut. You promised me you’d be the only one training me. You promised me we’d make nationals. You promised me this wouldn’t happen.” Declan exclaimed tears pouring from his eyes.
The emotional state he was in was extremely volatile. He’d lost it all. Gable, Skylar, his parents’ trust, and now gymnastics. He had nothing to live for anymore.
“Everyone get out,” he pleaded, but they remained still, “GET OUT!!!” He bellowed.
Tommy approached Declan, while the rest filed out. He seemed the most empathetic of them all.
“Hey, Declan,” he began. It was rare for Tommy to call him by his name, so naturally Declan rose up in attention.
“What do you want?” he asked.
“Look, I don’t mean to start any drama or raise anything like that, but… Skylar, truly, loved you. I know I may have not been the most empathetic of people... It’s just that... As much of a homophobe as I once was, I learned that its not my place to judge you.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Declan asked confused.
“He told me to give you this,” he handed him a note, “It’s as if he knew he was going to die. They found it on his phone, and gave to me to give to you. I read it, and... I’m so sorry. I know you probably think his death impacted you worse than any of us, but he was my best friend, before you came along.” His eyes swelled up.
“Thanks, Tommy. If it’s okay... Can I be alone right now? I just don’t want to deal with anyone. No offense.” Declan said stoically.
“Yeah, man. Take care. Get well soon; we need you.” Tommy smiled and walked out.
An hour passed and Declan still couldn’t bring himself to read the damn note. He stared at the envelope in which it was encased. It was as though he didn’t feel worthy enough to read the contents of the letter.
The hours dragged on and as he awoke from a nap, he finally faced his fear; Declan grabbed the envelope, and pulled out the letter and unfolded the paper.
I have no idea why I’m writing this to you. I’m drunk as hell, but something within me told me I should.
Look, don’t let this go to your head, but damn, kid... You’re what legends are made out of. You lost all that weight so fast. You’re incredibly intelligent. You’re nice to everyone. You have the heart of a saint, and you’re all I’ve ever wanted in a person. However, you’re not and will never be mine.
Before I met you, I just thought messing around with guys was out of desperation, but the moment I kissed you I knew what love meant. After that kiss, I never took my eyes off you.
I don’t see what you see in Gable. He uses you, walks all over you like a doormat, lies to you... I don’t get it. I can’t change that, though. You know I know how loving someone who doesn’t love you back goes.
You inspire me to be a better person. That I can do whatever I want to do, and though I will never be half the person you’ve become, I hope I can come close to that.
I love you, Declan, and I just want you to be happy.
The letter concluded. Declan’s face was drenched from the tears that kept pouring down his face. He never understood how Skylar truly felt until now, and he hated himself for not being able to save his life. He’d failed the only person that had ever truly loved him.
The nurses and doctors phased in and out, but all Declan could do was sit there, wallowing in his immiseration. It was his fault and no one else’s.
He was the one that got distracted midair, the one that fucked things up between he and Gable, the one that wasn’t fast enough to save Skylar’s life, the one that lied to his parents... He was the one to blame… He was the one that had made himself throw up time and again to lose weight, in order to regain some sort of control on his life, and scapegoating anyone else would be inanely immature.
Losing Gable so soon after losing Skylar hurt Declan worse than blowing his knee out. Ten times over.
At first, he was just numb. Life seemed to go by in a blur; going back to the ‘real world’, dealing with these crutches, family, his eating disorder… Everything, just went by in triple time.
It wasn’t until one cold, rainy, Saturday a few weeks after, that it finally hit him.
He sat there looking out the window, at the rain falling, dancing, on the windowsill, listening to music attempting to get himself out of the funk he’d woken up in.
The song ended and the first few guitar chords of ‘Everything is You’ by Eli Young Band began to pour out into the room.
His heart quivered, as the song’s lyrics rang in his ears, ‘Memories keep sneakin’ up on me wherever I go.′
Tears began to free-fall from his eyes like never ending rivers of desolation. The numbness was gone. The rolodex of emotion he’d kept locked up for the past couple of weeks impaled him with brute force.
He kept berating himself for having failed to get Skylar to the hospital in time to get the help he needed, for failing to qualify for Nationals, for failing to making things work with Gable, and now for failing to stay strong.
He felt like he’d failed at life. A premature assertion, since he had a lot yet to live, but at that very instant it was how he felt.
Even prayer felt stupid; time and again he blamed and cursed at God for him having landed lock legged and blowing his knee out during podium training, for not doing more for Gable or Skylar, for not giving him the strength everyone says God gives you. For failing him.
The lunch he’d eaten earlier caused his stomach to lurch. He quickly ran out of his bedroom and into the bathroom. No one was home, so he wouldn’t have to hide his disease; not that he cared.
“Throw up… Just throw up… Throw it all up...”
His stomach kept coaxing to vomit everything away. It was like his subconscious trying to tell him that the only way he could be at peace again was if he purged himself of everything.
Bulimia had consumed him, and to think it all started with just losing a couple pounds, in order to compete at a higher level, was disheartening. He had no one to talk to, no one to tell him that what he was doing was wrong... It was as if no one cared.
He’d lost Gable, he’d lost the connection he had with his family, and it seemed like he’d lost his best friends. He was lonely, and food was his only escape, but at the same time, it was his worst enemy.
He positioned himself, and stuck his index and middle fingers as far as his hand allowed down his throat. Without hesitation, he began to throw up every single morsel he’d eaten, even from the morning.
He made no attempt at masking the sounds anymore, nor was he paying attention to any outside sound. As he finished vomiting, he resumed his sobbing. His bulimia seemed to be the only coping mechanism that worked now.
Two years of lies.
Gable had lead him on, lied to him, used him out of nearly ten thousand dollars. He’d lost his parents’ trust, endangered his body… And all for what? To make Gable happy?
He should’ve known it the moment Gable began to be distant; disconnected. It was true, Gable had led everyone to believe Declan was stalking him, and trying to garner his love by buying him and paying for things. It’d worked. Even people in his high school believed Gable’s lies.
As he sat there, dejected, miserable, he’d failed to hear his family arrive. He closed the door behind him, after he cleaned the bathroom. Beyond the doorway, he saw his mother waiting for him in the living room.
“Tenemos que hablar,” she declared, coldly.
“We need to talk,”
“De que?” he asked attempting to mask the sorrow and pain, evident in his voice.
“Tu padre, y yo, te hemos dejado hacer lo que digas y mandes, pero, despues de tu accidente, hemos decidido que necesitas ayuda profesional.” She looked at him, eyes full of disappointment, “Sabemos que sufres de bulimia, Declan. Solo queremos ayudar.”
“Your dad and I have let you do and go as you please, but after your injury, we’ve decided you need help.”
“We know you’re bulimic, Declan. We just want to help.”
Declan broke down and cried in the hallway. She went on to inform him that the day he’d blown out his knee, the doctors at the hospital had informed them he his organs were showing the beginnings of failure, and that, if he didn’t stop binging and purging, he’d die.
He tried to process it as best as he could, but what happened next was something he’d never understand.
She then hugged him, and informed him the people from the rehabilitation center would be there shortly to take him to a center in Arizona, where he’d spend the rest of the summer, in treatment. He mournfully picked himself up, and retreated to his room to begin packing. It had finally all gone to hell.
“And… Well… Here we are.” Declan finished.
The group clapped as he finally ended what had come to be known as “The Chalk Bucket Saga”. For the last six months they’d listened, and had always welcomed his grievances and darkest memories. They’d been there to support him, and, in return, each other.
In return, He’d learned to listen just as intently to each of their personal recovery journeys, as they had his.
“Thank you, Declan,” Dr. Anderson commenced, “Thank you for having been so candid these past few months. You’ve let us all into your experiences and struggles, and… I’d like to announce to the whole group that… This will be Declan’s last day here, as he will be leaving us tomorrow.”
They all erupted into applause. Declan had no clue he was to be released that soon. He thought he had, at least, a few weeks left here, before he was released. However, He still smiled and accepted everyone’s accolades and hugs. It was surreal to think he would be returning to his old life so soon. It scared him beyond all belief.
There’d be no transition, no half way house… No way to see if he was actually ready. He would have to just hope these past six months had been enough to prepare him for the outside world.