My professor always told me to begin a story as close to the action as possible, which goes against my natural tendency towards elaborate exposition. So I will compromise.
Once upon a time, I was dying.
But don’t worry, I haven’t tipped my hand by giving away the ending just yet.
Today, the water in the pool was liquid and flowed over me like time. I enjoy putting my head under where the sounds of the world fail and the only thing that matters is my beating heart and the stolen breaths as I break the surface. One arm in front of the other I pull the weight of my body forward and lose myself to the depths in front of me.
Afterwards, my body aches in a way that is not a complaint to the motion I have just put it through, rather it is an inner excitement to feel itself alive. Halfway through my swim I found myself reviewing how I had gotten there in the first place. Why exactly was I training for a triathlon?
I owe it all to a red haired alcoholic.
Sometime in the mid-nineties I was working at an Italian restaurant in the French Quarter and acting miserable over the sad fact that my economic success was bound to fanny pack toting tourists who completely lacked an appreciation for the world they were trampling over. I worked with a waitress who loved to drink margaritas before her shift and green chartreuse after. During service we were usually high on coke.
Summer in New Orleans is thick. One of those late August afternoons where the very light itself moves like syrup, she and I stood against the wall in our station and I blurted out:
“I want to change my name to Gianfranco and run a triathlon.”
Usually a statement like that would result in the two of us passing snarky comments back and forth, but this time she grabbed my arm and said:
“You can do that Robert. Put your mind to it and you can do anything.”
The seriousness of her tone killed further conversation dead and the uncomfortable silence was broken when the hostess sat our first table of the evening in our station.
Years later she called me out of the blue. It was on my most recent path towards the door of the reaper, high as a kite on meth. I had been doing it for so many days it was a struggle for me to walk three measly blocks to the corner store to get something to eat, when I finally could stomach food.
We chatted for a moment and then she asked me, “Did you ever run that triathlon?”
That was the last time we spoke.
I don’t know why the moment we shared was so important and intense, or what was going on in her head that day, but I do know, for that moment, she believed in me completely.
I put one arm in front of the other in the pool, and pull the living weight of my body forward. The depths no longer scare me.