I’m on the swim team in my school. A swim meet is taking place.
Relays, 4x100m, and I’ve got the last leg.
Time seems to slow down. I’m coiled, ready to spring forward. Watching my teammate swim towards me.
Hand outstretched, he touches the edge.
I dive. 1/
I couldn’t talk about it. Not to anyone. To this day.
As I dive into the water and kick, I hold my breath.
I hold my breath for as long as I can. 2/
I know the crowd is cheering above me. I know my teammates are screaming encouragement.
But I can’t hear them.
Rays of sunlight filter down, and I keep kicking, still holding my breath.
Slowly I surface, lungs burning. 3/
I’m a good swimmer, and my body is lean and strong from an endless summer of swim practices, but I’m not good enough.
I was given the crucial last leg as a reward by our coach for showing up to every single practice.
That’s all. 4/
I swim as hard and fast as I can.
And I think about my friend.
I think about the last breath she took, and I think about each gasping breath I’m taking now.
Why her and not me? 5/
Maybe something is helping me. Maybe I’m swimming for someone.
I know I’m sweating, but you can’t see it in the water.
I know I’m in tears, but the water hides them too.
I’m pulling ahead. 6/
I try to summon the energy for one last burst.
But I can’t.
My hand touches the wall, the finish, and I immediately look up at my teammates and coach.
I lost. 7/
I don’t feel the cut at first. My body is numb, then warm, then sore.
I’m still breathing hard, as we get awarded our ribbons.
Turns out I broke my own personal lap record.
“You want a bandaid?” He asks.
I shake my head.
“Let it bleed.” My jaw is set determinedly.
It’s the only thing I can feel, and the throbbing pain is comfortingly real. 9/
My dad gets home late. My mom works and can’t get there until later.
I’m sitting on a bench, my gym bag beside me, my second place ribbon in my hand.
I do what I always do in moments of defeat, and replay it in my head.
I did my best. 10/
I love them for the gesture, and I’m grateful.
But I also know that I don’t want to swim anymore. Something has changed.
It’s the last time I’ll ever compete on the swim team.
I quit at year’s end. 11/
Why are memories of swim team flooding back to me now?
Rays of sunlight filter into the hospital room, and once the door is closed, I can’t hear the world outside.
The PPE is stiflingly hot, and aggressively tight-fitting.
Like slowly slipping underwater. 12/
A fellow doctor gave me signout before this, touching the wall and finishing his leg of the relay, so I could dive into the race.
Except we aren’t racing against anyone else. 13/
Memories will resurrect themselves when least expected.
Wounds that will remain long after everything else has faded.
Will we heal?
Or just let it bleed. 14/
There is no quitting.
There is nothing but the swim.
A perpetual relay, we all swim together.
I thought I quit the swim team all those years ago, but the realization washes over me now.
We never stop swimming.