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The buzzer sounded, the session began. You can't see my tears if I'm underwater.
Naomi kicked off the wall, her body in a tight streamline as she approached the surface. The beginning of a race was her favorite part. It always gave her an advantage over everyone else. Her love of streamlining came from her own defense mechanism.
It was a trick Naomi had discovered, finding that everything washed away with water. She held all her pain for the pool, where she would wash it away without anyone knowing. Tears, anger, frustration, and agony were all saved for the pool. She stayed underwater as long as she could without taking a breath. No one would ever find out.
But why did they give her the butterfly? It was so messy and disoriented, not smooth like freestyle or underwater swimming. She hoped that a session of torture would clear the other pain for at least a few minutes, but she knew better. She couldn't execute the form correctly which only added to her humiliation.
Her head broke the surface just before she crossed under the flags. It was followed by a messy dolphin kick. She had gone from first to last in 15 seconds.
Questions clouded her head and
her focus. Why was she flailing, struggling and flopping in the water like an oxygen-deprived fish? Why was she here? Why was she doing this? All around her, water crashed, as did her emotions.
The waterworks turned on once again, and her goggles began to fog. Her chest was heaving, inflamed with both the physical strain and the sobbing. Weeping was easy, but it was hard to sob underwater. She almost choked. All the other swimmers were already starting back. How pathetic. The memories began ebbing back, in wake of the familiar feelings.
Why are you so useless? You can't do anything right.
Thinks she's all that.
What does he see in you?
Her body lurched forward as she splashed toward the wall like a drunken whale. She gasped for air, gripped the cold tile edge, and kicked off. Her arms slammed the water and absorbed the impact as her legs wobbled. The other swimmers effortlessly flowed in a line, and she was left alone. No one was beside her.
I'm alone again. Why doesn't anyone care about me?
Why don't you care about me as much as I do? Do you really love me?
More tears collected in her goggles, fogging her vision and irritating her eyes. Usually during practice, she would empty out the tears before anyone noticed. Idiot. Now it was too late. She had cried three times during the day already, and been caught once.
You try to keep things to yourself, but you fail. Everyone knows that, and they're laughing at you. You can't hide your emotions. You don't know how. Everything you know about yourself is a lie.
It was now impossible to see where she was going. The tears stung her eyes and her body needed oxygen after choking and coughing. She had two choices, but Naomi no longer cared. She would break the ultimate taboo.
“Last lap, Naomi, come on!” someone roared.
Naomi gripped the wall with one hand and her goggles in the other. She jerked the goggles from her eyes, letting her tear come out. She was standing, choking, gasping, and crying.
The cheering spectators in front of her broke off in shock. “What are you doing?” someone screamed. “Don't stop!”
Naomi fumbled with her goggles for another fatal second before they were snug, then continued. It was definitely too late. The refs couldn't have missed that. As she saw the wall coming closer, she willed herself to stop crying. Sometimes her tears would stop before practice ended, but sometimes not even then. With all that water, no one could tell. She finished last, a surprising 12 seconds slower than her previous time.
The referee broke the news as she struggled out of the pool. Disqualified? Fair enough. She ripped the goggles off as she saw the Monster looming toward her, as if things couldn't get any worse. Naomi hastily wiped her eyes, hoping her blotchy face wouldn't give her away. She prepared for the worst.
Coach Morreti went off like a bomb. “Naomi! When stuff like that happens, you keep swimming! You don't stop!” The sound of the crowd around them died. Every head turned.
“Listen to me!” she roared. “Whatever happens … you don't give up!”
Shameful tears slipped down her face like a freestyler streamlining down a pool. Naomi kept her head down – it was better that way; the Monster liked it when she could look down on others. She hoped she wouldn't notice.
“And for heaven's sake, keep your arms together!” Morreti finished her rant. Naomi lifted her head to see if she was really gone. Some of her teammates were smirking; others were aghast. She received sympathetic looks from the rival swimmers and referees.
She tried to walk away quickly, but Sterling tagged her.
“Why did you stop?”
“There was water in my eyes,” Naomi responded automatically.
“So? Don't stop. Or Mrs. Morreti will get on your case again.”
Naomi said nothing.
“I don't get it. You're the best freestyler on the team. Why can't you do butterfly?”
“I don't know,” whispered Naomi. “I guess I just can't keep my arms together.”
She shuffled away before she could say anything else.
Aaron was waiting for her when she returned to the high school.
“How did you do?” he asked casually. It was the wrong thing to ask. When he received no reply, he glanced up from his cell phone. “Naomi? Stop crying! Oh my god.”
Naomi sniffled and then put her face in her hands. “I got DQ'd,” she blubbered. She wasn't actually crying about her disqualification; it was her own fault. There was something much worse killing her below the surface.
“God!” he muttered. Naomi looked up. “I mean, seriously,” he continued. “It's just a stupid race. Why do you care so much?”
It was such a simple question. Naomi thought about it.
“I don't know. Maybe I don't.”
“Then why do you swim?” he demanded. “You complain all the time about mean people on the team and how the coach is a jerk. Why don't you quit?”
Naomi said nothing.
He frowned, his patience about done. “I wish you would stop crying. What in the world is going on with you?”
Naomi opened her mouth.
You're just a parasite.
Don't you know everyone hates you? The team only wants you so they can look good.
Stop complaining – no one cares.
“Nothing,” she said.
He sighed loudly. “You always do this to me. I don't think I can handle it any more. What do you want me to do? 'Cause I don't know anymore.”
“Are you going to break up with me?”
He let out a breath. “I don't know. I'm tired of having to listen to you cry all the time. Go talk it out with one of your friends. I waited all this time and I want to go home.” He slung his track bag over his shoulder and left.
Naomi stood still as several teammates moved around her, talking and interacting in their groups. Some jostled her and cursed as she stood in the middle of the sidewalk. Others just walked around her.
The pool was still open. No one saw her slip in.
At 7:23 p.m. almost all the cars were gone. It would only take a few minutes, but she couldn't wait any longer. She left her cell phone on the deck.
Naomi took out her goggles and wrapped them around her wrists, behind her back, until they were tight and she couldn't wriggle out of them.
You've got a good streamline, but as soon as you break into your stroke, you go crazy. You need to have control over your form. And your streamline is far too long. If you let yourself stay underwater for too long, you'll only regret it.
She stepped onto the block. It seemed like such an ordinary thing to do. The water seemed so inviting. She could see the bottom of the deep end. Before she tucked her head and rolled into it, she remember Coach Moretti's advice. That was taken care of.
Even without the arch of her arms, she dipped into a perfect dive, hardly disrupting the water that swallowed her. This time, she had made sure her arms were together.