It’s amazing what a single photo can say about your life.
Most girls have photos from high school. Mementos from their first real high school party, memories of their first boyfriends, and framed group shots from their junior and senior proms. Bonfires and football games, pep rallies and sweet sixteens, their memories are littered with the quintessential high school stories. But don’t ask me, I wouldn’t know anything about that.
The night of my junior prom, I had purple ribbons in my hair, glitter on my face, and was yelling from the stands of a gymnastics meet. My sweet sixteen came just a little under a week before I landed myself in the hospital with a broken arm. My favorite kind of pep rally was a green and white pasta party two days after New Years. If you asked me to hear my high school stories, I would point out the torn purple teddy bear sitting on the top shelf in my bedroom, head sagging from the ten years of ribbons hung around it, and if you wanted to see my photo albums, they would be filled with purple and gold, chalky hands and Cinderella stories. Smiling faces with family written on more than just the descriptions beneath the snapshots. Because my high school story, my history? That was gymnastics. Plain and simple.
It’s so easy sometimes to forget where you came from. To get so caught up in where you’re going, that you forget who you are. In the weeks after I quit competing, after I decided that the visits home were just that, visits, and not practices anymore, I felt surprisingly free. It was almost like there was room in my life to breathe again, like I had space to move. So I packed up and I went to Australia. I learned how to live the rest of my life, and I found out exactly what I wanted to do with it. I fell in love with my future. And when I came back to Boston, I hit the ground running. I threw myself head first into work and into my classes. I ignored the emails from the gymnastics club, and instead, looked at semester programs in London and LA. And it took me a few weeks, of running head-on towards my future, before I stopped to realize there was something wrong.
That freeing feeling? It wasn’t really freeing. I realized it felt more like something had been untied- like a thread that was holding me together had been unwound. I was sitting in the stands one Saturday, watching my baby sister compete in her last league meet, on the team she joined her freshman year for me, and I missed everything about it. I hated being old. I hated growing up, and going to Australia, and spending 8 months out of the gym and getting incredibly out of shape. I was sitting at a gymnastics meet with a pile of WORK in my lap, for God’s sake, and some part of me would have killed to be out on the floor. It never leaves you, you know. The missing. And the wishing. You could be 55, and the sight of a pair of grips would still kill you. That’s what this sport is. It grabs on, and it doesn’t let go.
Because, after all these years, I’ve realized I just miss the control. When you’re in high school, the first boyfriends? They, inevitably, break your heart. The high school parties always end with angry parents, and the junior proms, well, they usually end with somebody in tears. At sixteen, you’re still figuring out how to keep moving forward without getting swallowed up by everything going on around you. You have no control over anything. But when I was sixteen, I had control over everything. I stepped out onto the floor, or hopped up onto a beam, and every single thing that happened in the next minute and 30 seconds was entirely under my control. Every fall was the direct result of something I had done wrong, something that I could go back and change, that I could go back and perfect. Every problem gymnastics threw at me, even if it left me in tears, I was capable of fixing. I’m 20 years old, and I still have nowhere NEAR that amount of control anywhere in my life.
So a few weeks ago, I threw on a leotard and jumped back in. I spent quite a few days kicking my own ass, then falling on it, and then kicking it again, and then a few more days of calling myself a complete idiot for even thinking I could haul myself over a vault. There were more than my share of creaks and pains, and I broke down once or twice, but after eight months of convincing myself that I had done the right thing by throwing in the towel, I was standing back on that four inch beam, in front of a judge I had seen a million times, no less, and finally feeling like I was in control again. Like that last little piece of me was finally home.
I’m telling you, It’s really amazing what a single photo can say about your life.