“And you just knew right away it was him?” Dr. Anderson asked in confusion.
“It was just an eerie feeling… Like, déjà vu. His voice pierced through my ears like the thud of a heavy book being dropped in an empty library.” He shrugged.
“Interesting choice of words.”
“I don’t know how else to describe it… My skin crawled before he finished his first sentence.”
It had truly been eerie, as if he had expected the call.
“Well, elaborate, what did he want?” Dr. Anderson attempted to delve deeper.
“At first it was just… I don’t know… The normal rapport you’d have with someone you hadn’t talked with in a long while, but, you know, had had an immense impact in your life.” Declan began.
“Hi, am I speaking with Declan Gardner?” the familiar voice rang through the telephone.
“Is this Coach Johnson?” Declan asked coyly. He knew it was him. His voice was unmistakable; the authoritative timbre, the opportunistic tone… It was unmistakable.
“Why, yes, I’m glad you still remember your old coach!” he joked; his southern drawl in full effect. How could Declan have forgotten him? He was the same man who had pushed him so hard that he burned out.
Declan quit gymnastics, a few months after he turned twelve, due to the amount of pressure Coach Johnson had placed on his shoulders. Gymnastics had been a passion of his since he’d been three, but Coach Johnson turned it into a sadistic, rudimentary, existence that he grew weary of. His parents had been advised to fast track him, but Declan grew disillusioned with the sport once it became a responsibility instead of an extracurricular activity.
“What can I do for you… Coach?” Declan inquired; he tried his best to sound as direct as possible. He didn’t feel the need to talk to the man, at this point in his life. He had an inherent hatred for him, but wondered what it was he was calling him for… It wasn’t as though he was in any sort of physical condition to go back to the sport.
“Well, son… It’s come to this; we are without a vaulter,” The coach commenced, “Look, I’m not going to lie to you, I was never a big fan of yours, especially after that fiasco you caused in Grapevine. However, I’m not insolent enough to call you a bad gymnast. You were a good one; difficult to train, but good.”
Declan stopped listening. Memories of his previous encounters with gymnastics played a disconcerting medley, in his head. His tantrums, his inability to listen… Coach Johnson was everything but wrong.
“Pardon my french, but this whole situation is shitty, at best, Declan.” He continued, “If we don’t have a vaulter next season, we won’t have a complete club team, we’ll struggle to place at competitions, which will lead to loss of funding, then we won’t have the resources to pay the payroll, and… At that rate, we could face closing.”
He didn’t want to show pity for the man on the phone, after all, he’d been the one who discouraged him from continuing his gymnastics career. The more he thought, the more Declan realized that it was himself that he should’ve been mad at. He was beside himself with embarrassment.
“Well, thanks, but… I know I was difficult to train, and it’s really taken me this long to realize that. I’m sorry, I really am,” Declan repented, “As for coming back, well… Coach, I hate to tell you, but I’m guessing you don’t know… I’m in no shape to be doing gymnastics; I’m a lot bigger than I once was.” He regretfully admitted.
“Oh, I know. I’ve heard and seen pictures, Declan. I know this is going to be a bitch and a half, but I need ya, buddy. This gym needs you. Hell, I’ll train you myself, we’ll pay for your gas to come train… Just don’t worry, okay? And I can talk to your mother about it, if that’s a problem. Please?”
Gone was the confidence that exuded from the coach’s voice. He was begging. Begging. Declan was taken aback, a grown man was actually begging for him to come back to him… Although it wasn’t in the way he imagined it would happen, it was still a welcome gesture.
As they said their goodbyes, Declan weighed his options. He had always been the type to oblige, when it came to helping others, but he wasn’t sure if he could put himself through gymnastics again. Besides, he wasn’t in any sort of shape.
He walked over to a nearby mirror and surveyed his face; his judgments were merciless. His bloated face disgusted him. His disheveled appearance saddened him. Further inspection of his body included the morbid obesity he was dealing with. He couldn’t fathom how he allowed himself to gain all of this weight.
He stood there for what seemed hours. Finally, he snapped out of his trance and focused on something else… Food. He walked to the fridge, grabbed a soft drink, and a few items. If anything, he’d be able to suppress his emotions with food. The complex he had with food scared him, but he neglected it time and again.
He recalled his youth, when he could eat whatever he chose, and not worry about gaining weight, due to all the physical activities he was involved in. That lead to memories of he and Gable being on the same sports teams… They always made the perfect duo; he’d have his back, and vice versa. However, those days were gone, and he’d have to accept that, no matter how hard he wished he could relive them.
His coach’s proposal lingered, in the back of his mind. He could get back in shape, sure it’d be hell, but it was possible. Anything was possible.
A few hours passed until his parents came home. His mom had been out running errands and the anxiety of presenting Coach Johnson’s proposal began to grow within Declan. He knew this was a step towards reclaiming his identity, and making a better life for himself. His coach and gym needed him.
“Puedes ir por la quincena? Compre Kentucky para cenar.” His mom smiled, as she walked into their quaint home.
“Can you go get the groceries from the car? I bought KFC for dinner.”
“Okay, pero tengo que hablar contigo, y papi, cuando llegue.” He informed her.
“Okay, but I have to talk to you and Dad, when he gets here.”
“De qué, hijito?” She shrugged it off, they usually don’t really have anything serious to talk about, but his tone seemed to indicate otherwise.
“What about, son?”
“Algo que me ofrecieron.” He said in a timid tone. He wasn’t the most outgoing of people, so it was going to be hard for him to convince his parents.
“Just something I got offered to do.”
“Conseguiste trabajo?” She smirked.
“You found a job?”
“No, no es eso. Pero mejor nos esperamos a que llegue papi.” That way he’d have some more time to gather his wits and form a convincing argument.
“No, nothing like that. We can just wait, until dad gets home.”
His parents weren’t the easiest of people to convince, especially when it came to a change this drastic; he knew he’d have to present the facts and really stress the importance his training would mean to him and the gym itself. Not to mention the health benefits losing weight could bring him, in his mind it was a no brainer, however, he’d have to wait for his dad’s verdict.
That hour waned on for an eternity. The sounds of tires on the asphalt perked his ears to full attention.
“Crap, crap, crap.” His mind cursed, he prepared himself to face the music, and come forth about Coach Johnson’s proposal to return to training. He knew his dad wasn’t big on gymnastics or anything that emasculated men in any way shape or form, lets be real… Declan already wasn’t the straightest acting person on the planet.
As dinner came to an end, the ambient became hesitant, and it was clear there was some sort of elephant in the room. His parents looked at him intently, as if waiting for him to talk, but he couldn’t bring himself to do so. His brother, clearly not in the mood to sit around and talk, dismissed himself from the table, leaving the three of them sitting there. In silence.
“Entonces… Declan… De que querías hablar con nosotros?” His mom asked.
“So… Declan… What did you want to talk to us about?”
His dad leaned forward, genuinely interested. It was now or never; if he didn’t present his argument in a rational, responsible, and comprehensive manner, he wouldn’t be allowed to go back to training.
As he began his petition, his dad leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. Declan talked for what seemed like hours. It was like giving the most important presentation of his life, and what surprised him the most was that his parents actually seemed interested in what he had to say.
“Y… Bueno… Eso es todo…” He concluded.
“And… Well, that’s all…”
They sat there staring at him, until they looked at each other and turned to him.
“Necesitamos tiempo para hablar de esto, y hablaremos con el entrenador… Sterling, verdad?” his mom inquired.
“We need time to talk about this, and we’ll talk to the coach… Sterling, right?”
“Correcto. El Entrenador Johnson.” He nodded.
“Correct. Coach Johnson.”
He thanked them for being so attentive and patient, hugged them both and headed off to bed for the night. As he lay in his bed, he contemplated the events of the past few days… Gable coming back into his life, the possibility of getting back into gymnastics, and perhaps even being able to achieve his dreams of losing all this damn weight.
His anxiety was through the roof for the next few days. He couldn’t bring himself to pay attention in class, or even to the world around him. He even neglected Gable. It wasn’t until the following Monday that his parents finally gave him an answer.
“Declan, puedes venir a la sala?” His mom bellowed from the living room. She rarely spent time in there, so this had to be something important.
“Declan, can you please come to the living room?”
He walked into the room, and saw both of his parents sitting on the love seat. He took his place upon the arm of the couch and looked towards them. They seemed hesitant, but after a few moments of silence, his dad broke the silence.
“Mira, nosotros estamos de acuerdo que esto es un compromiso enorme, y que hay riesgos inmensos cuando alguien hace ese tipo de esfuerzo físico… Entendemos tu querer y pasión por perder peso. Después de haber hablado con Sterling, hemos decidido dejarte entrenar,” his dad paused. Declan lit up as bright as the stars in the West Texas sky.
“Look, while we both agree that this is a huge undertaking, and that there’s a great deal of danger in doing that kind of physical activity… We understand your need and determination to lose weight. That being said, after talking to Sterling, we’ve decided to let you train,”
He began to scream in delight, then his dad spoke again, “PERO, pero… Tienes que mantener buenos grados. El primer setenta que saques, y dejas de entrenar. De acuerdo?” he warned.
“BUT, you MUST keep your grades up. The first C you get, and you’re done. Got it?”
Every fiber in his body was numb. He’d done it, he had convinced them to let him train. It was an exhilarating feeling far beyond any he’d ever experienced. Sure, he wouldn’t have a life, but he was optimistic that this is what God intended for him to do. He hugged both of them, and, in celebration, his parents took him and his brother out to eat at a local Mexican food restaurant.
His night concluded on his bed; beaming. He couldn’t believe what he’d achieved, and knew he couldn’t and wouldn’t let anyone down. He had to persevere. It was his destiny, and he knew it.
Declan’s excitement was through the roof, that morning. It was his first day of flag football, and, at three years old, it meant the world.
“Quieres que me quede para tu primer día, mi vida?” His mom asked.
“Do you want me to stay for your first day, my love?”
“No! ’Toy bien. Vete a la casita, mami!” he responded. He was ready. He wanted this. He was going to be great, and he knew it.
“No! I’m alright. Go home, mommy!”
Declan had never been around so many kids, especially those that spoke English primarily. English was definitely his second language, but he understood that, in order to strengthen his lexicon, he had to fully immerse himself in the language.
His charismatic disposition and selflessness garnered the attention of another child. He’d definitely seen him and been with him on other teams, but he’d always been too shy to befriend him. The boy was brunette, a bit taller than Declan, white, and had radiant emerald green eyes.
“I’m Declan.” He directed at the child.
“Hi, Declan,” He waved enthusiastically, “I’m Gable.”
They began to talk to each other and instantly bonded. They both shared a passion for Power Rangers, and they both enjoyed sports. Their bond grew with every laugh, and every practice.
“So, are you doing gymnastics again this year?” Gable asked him in between bites of a their mid-work out snack.
“My mom is making me, so yeah.” Declan shrugged.
“I’m going to the one downtown.” Gable said nonchalantly.
“Oh, no way?! So am I!” He exclaimed.
As both Declan and Gable began to age, the amount of teams they were on escalated. Everything from gymnastics to baseball; they were always, inexplicably, on the same teams.
Soon, though, they began to favor the sports they were more partial towards. Gable continued to do as many as possible, but Declan stuck, primarily, to football and gymnastics. He’d transformed into a seasoned competitor, even garnering a few podium appearances here and there.
The more he competed at higher levels, the more it began to take a toll on his young and impressionable psyche. His coach demanded far too much of him. Weigh ins, strict diets, harder work outs… His parents, having come from Mexico in order to provide him, and his brother, with better opportunities and in search of the ‘American Dream’, did everything to encourage and further his competitive career.
However, he grew weary of the sport. His flame flickered, and his love for gymnastics waned. The only person who brought him serenity was Gable. They’d hang out, and he always seemed to have a way of knowing exactly what to say to reinvigorate his passion. Even on the hardest days, the days where he hated his coach and would lash out, he remembered Gable’s words of encouragement.
Then, suddenly, he was nowhere to be found. His best friend inexplicably disappeared. No one seemed to know where he’d gone, until one day he overheard a couple kids talking about him. His parents had fallen on rough times, and he was forced to move back to his home town of Bethlam.
A week after that, he was slated to compete in Grapevine, Texas at an invitational competition. On the way there, Declan knew it was an off day. He was snapping at his teammates, his music wasn’t helping, and everything Coach Johnson said made his skin crawl to the point of rage.
During their warm up, he kept attempting to land a full-twisting double somersault, but kept balking mid-air. On his fourth attempt, he landed on his knees and let out a frustrated grunt. The same frustration carried over into the competition.
His first couple rotations were hit routines, but after his disastrous performance on Rings, he failed to regain his composure. As he waited to go on vault, his mind got the best of him. The people around him switched from spectators to naysayers. All he could hear was the negativity within him.
He concentrated on the vaulting table, and launched towards it, before checking the judges’ table. Once he landed his vault, he saluted and walked off. Much to his chagrin, due to the judges having not cleared him, his vault was negated.
Coach Johnson walked over and attempted to talk to him, but it caused Declan to blow up at him. The entire gymnasium fell quiet as the pre-teen yelled expletives at his coach. Before he could realize what he was doing, he was walking out of the gym and into his parents car.
“When did you get fat?” The same guy from before, Toby, blurted.
Declan rolled his eyes. It was as if he did it, solely, to get under his skin. He gritted his teeth and looked towards Dr. Anderson whom, without missing a beat, after connecting eyes with Declan, reprimanded Toby.
“Well, what else am I supposed to ask? He said he used to be fat, and I want to know when he got fat. If that’s so wrong to ask, then why are we even here?” His arms flew up.
“Declan, would you care to continue?” Dr. Anderson asked after throwing Toby a stern look.
“No.” He said and crutched out of the room. He didn’t want to be here. He didn’t want to be around these people. They had problems. They had disorders. He was perfectly fine, with the exception of his knee, but even that was healing better.
He didn’t understand why he even had to be here. He didn’t throw up all the time. Every single memory of throwing up meal after countless meal flashed before his eyes.
It was liberating, he recalled. He would eat, and eat, and eat, in order to cope with the way Gable would treat him, with how much he missed his home and school life… His training… It was his self medication… Cleansing. Cleansing himself of that fat kid everyone from his teachers to his peers ridiculed and ostracized. Of all the bullshit. Everything.
He arrived to his room, placed his crutches against his desk, and plopped on the bed. The more he thought back to the myriad of times he’d binged and purged, his stomach sank it was reminiscent of the same sinking feeling that hit him the moment he realized he’d blown out his knee. It was an innately ominous feeling.
He knew the truth. It’d hit him, but he refused to accept it. He didn’t belong here. He belonged back at that gym. Hell, he could be working on his high bar routine. He could even be climbing rope, and he’d be a lot happier than being here.