Memories at Birth - Matthew Wagner

                Memories at Birth
                Matthew Wagner
You remember it, don’t you? Surely, you haven’t forgotten that place. You thought it was small, too small to house what you felt, right? That facility held so much for you, and I wager it still does, if not more now. At least, I’d place the wager once you tell me you remember what you found there.
                You’d spent so long lamenting, so long regretting your foolish action: the one strike that pulled you out of competition for six painfully long weeks. How fitting that it was winter. The air froze right alongside your soul as you mindlessly trekked from that bedroom of yours to those classes you nearly gave up on. Day after day, week after week, you’d march, the skin on the back of your hand flaking, peeling as it was denied sunlight and air from under the cast, with the only comforting thought being that each second passed was a second closer to the removal of your plaster prison. ‘These steel rods,’ you wondered, ‘will they stay there? How large will the scars I bear be?’ Surely not as large as those left on your mind.
                But that day at Yale would change things, wouldn’t it? That would be the day you rose again, like the phoenix from its own ash. You were freed from your prison, and learning to walk again with eyes unclouded. Your teammates gave you the confidence you needed to stand, and with it, you declared before them that you’d never repeat your sin, that you would never put yourself before them. I wonder if you saw it whenever you looked in the mirror, that confidence that blazed in your eyes. I know I did. I saw it every time you swore on the blood that poured from your finger when the skin around it, having softened from the weeks it was sheltered, was blistered and torn by the rugged fibers of your hammer glove. You’d wipe it on the back, as if writing a seal or a testament to go along with your oath, wrap up your finger, and press onward.
                The day finally came, and you were in such aspirations. Practice had treated you well, and your restless sleeps had ended, replaced with dreams of a return to success and the abandonment of your foolishness. Those eyes couldn’t have been clearer. I remember watching you lace up your shoes for the first time at a meet in what felt like an eternity for you, sharing confidences with your teammates, your precious friends. You were ready, and they could see it. And so, you threw.
                But you didn’t throw well.
                Your warm-ups had felt fine, and though it had still been chilly, you told yourself you were comfortable. The weight of the hammer moved differently now. Better. You could feel each wind and each orbit reaching their maximum radius, doing more of the work for you. Your hand tingled from time to time, but your adrenaline told you it was fine. So what was it?
                Maybe it was the fact that you hadn’t felt a real throwing surface for over 2 months.
                Maybe it was the fact that you hadn’t had the mindset of a competitor for just as long.
                Maybe it was the sun catching your eye when it started to peer out from behind the clouds during warm-ups.
                Maybe it was the sight of your high school rival’s mother, set up in her collapsible chair with the tripod out, ready to catch her son’s movements. Was she catching yours? It didn’t matter. That damned camera made you wonder…
                Maybe it was your coach’s voice echoing in your mind after all of these thoughts, calling “You’re thinking too much!”
                Or maybe you just weren’t as ready as you thought you’d be.
                It didn’t matter, because when you were done and had accumulated your three miserable distances, you became hate. That blazing confidence was substituted with such a murky, hazy darkness that it astonishes me that you were still able to see. Words became nothing to you, and the shoes on your feet reminded you that you had used them to fail so utterly. But can you remember what your teammates had said to you? You had to have heard them; they were standing right in front of you. They told you to give it time, and that you’d be back in business before your Conference meet.
But maybe all that hatred pulsating through your every capillary deafened you for the moment. As far as you were concerned, that circle you’d stood in was a concrete connection to the massive blunder you’d committed in punching the wall, and the steel cylinders holding the fence were another reminder that you were still in prison. Everything your teammates had spoken of was irrelevant, because you knew that they wouldn’t have had to say it if you hadn’t been such a fool. There was such a violent storm brewing inside of you that I was nearly lost in it. How vivid the clouds were that had gathered behind your eyes, and the bolts that shook your heart as they crashed within your ribs. You felt something of it, I’m sure, but you probably couldn’t say what. Were you even there enough mentally to know to call it hate? Or rage? Or anything? Whatever the case, something told you to move. Perhaps it was your body, or perhaps it was me. Something told you that you couldn’t be near people right then, especially your teammates, those people who had done nothing but try to pull you up from your worst moments. You didn’t want to burden them. You didn’t want to poison them.
You moved.
You rose to your feet, but not as one who was ready to face the world. You clambered, your arms and legs working themselves that they could raise your torso, gain some sense of balance, and remove everything you were from that miserable airspace. You rose, and you walked, around the cage, past the greens near the Port-a-Potties, away from the track, and towards nothing. Perhaps you had some semblance of self in that slew of moments, because you stopped yourself from leaving the facility, and rested yourself against a tree.
The tree! Now you must remember that tree, especially if I’m right and it was you who picked it to be your place of rest. And how fitting, being that its branches loomed across a fence and draped over a handful of headstones on the other side in the cemetery. What did you feel, I wonder, as that cold, rigid bark pressed into your bare back, and the stones meshed with the gravel embedded themselves into your palms? Did you speak to anyone on the other side of that fence? A bird or two here, and a squirrel there may have distracted you for the best, but you were seeking something while you sat. Was it a comfort, a brace provided by that ancient oak? Or were you looking for something to siphon that deep well of anger from your heart?
Two hours you spent, searching, resting, reflecting. If those souls could’ve seen you, I wonder what they would have said, or what they’d have seen. Would they have known what it was you were longing for, the answer to a question you didn’t know how to ask? I myself didn’t know if I could help you, because I knew what you held in that moment wasn’t a question. It was a yearning, a raw want embedded into your hands by the stones you clenched and threw, and by the scrapes on your shoulder blades when, after two hours, you got up, no longer an uncontrollable storm, but a focused gale. You hadn’t found your answer, but you had found the will to search.
It was this will that brought you to cross paths with your teammate, another who, like you, had wracked himself with anguish at the aspect of competing poorly. You stood before each other at the foot of the gate to the baseball field, a separate complex built into the same grounds as the facility you had just conditioned yourself to loathe. It was grand, built in the same fashions as the Roman Coliseum, a fitting site for the reunion of two lost souls. Wouldn’t you agree?
And, as powers of equal magnitudes will do when they clash, you and your teammate began to nullify one another. Can you remember what you spoke of? As I recall, you each poured yourselves out on the floor before the gates, like sprays of blood wrought from beneath a gladiator’s hardened breastplate. But neither of you needed to strike. No, you had each done that to yourself plenty of times on your own. Now would be the time that your paths of blood would pool together, and your agonized hearts would blend, stronger united than they were apart.
Sure, the words you two had spoken weren’t bolstering in their own respects, but as they harmonized from different bells, they resonated deeply within the both of you. The look on your face was one I’d seen only few times before then. It was as if you thought you’d been dreaming, but with each passing second, each passing sentence, you were coming to realize that the world around you and the words within you were real. You and he connected, your strife building a bridge. Your conversation transcended that moment, and seemed to search all dimensions of your lives, ranging from your futures to your futilities. In sharing these secrets, you found something you hadn’t expected to, the magnet to guide your compass as you searched for the answer to your yearning, something that may have been there all along, but it hadn’t been as vivid as it was in the past. It revealed itself as you and your teammate, having poured forth all the doubts, worries, and fears your hearts housed, submerged your dented goblets into the well of your blood, and toasted with it before the gates, invoking again the drive to recover and reclaim. Do you remember it now, what you rediscovered in that place that day?
You found trust.


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