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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/
When I was a child, a friend of mine drowned in a freak accident. One day she was there, and the next day she was gone.

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/
When you’re underwater, it’s serenely peaceful.

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 know I’m not going to win this race.

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/
When your body is going through trained motions, muscle memory, your mind is free to wander.

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/
I swim faster than I ever have before.

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 risk a glance, and realize I’m in second place, but rapidly gaining on my competition.

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.

Second place.

I lost. 7/
As I climb out of the pool, my foot slips and my little toe catches a sharp edge on the ladder.

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.

Yay. 8/
One of my teammates leans across. “Dude, your foot. Your toe’s bleeding.”

I nod.

“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/
Later I’m waiting to be picked up.

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/
My parents are proud and congratulate me on my finish when they get me.

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/
I know I’m scared, but the mask hides that. If there were tears, the mask would hide them too.

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/
Just like my friend, the little girl who drowned all those years ago, I know that faces are going to linger.

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 are no ribbons here. There are no congratulations.

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.
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