“You want everything to be easy. Hell, you even want your sacrifices to be easy — you only make sacrifices when you want to, when it’s convenient for you, and only when you know going on how much time and effort will be involved. You don’t make open-ended commitments, put yourself in a position where you don’t know what the outcome will be. You start making those kind of sacrifices, then you’ll start to grow. Until then, you can go on deluding yourself that you’re getting somewhere, because all you’re doing is running on a treadmill — a safe place to exercise, rather than running out on a road where you don’t know where it ends.”
“And they need to get that to me today,” he said with a tone of frustrated indignation, the voice of a man ordering a pizza from a restaurant that would always mess up his order.
Granted, it’s absurd to be speculating about an election that’s over a year away. But who said absurdity can’t be fun? Saying that, I heard an interesting analysis on the radio from some poltical stats guru who claims to have predicted every presidential election correctly since 1984. He bases his predictions on an analysis of 13 facts, and says if any six of them hold true, then the political party currently owning the White House will lose the presidential election. One of his 13 factors was whether there was a viable third-party candidate, which he claims is always a disadvantage to the incumbent party.
My first reaction was to think that a viable Tea Party candidate would actually help Obama in his re-election bid, because that candidate would surely pull support away from the Republican. But then I thought — what if the Tea Party candidate wins enough states to prevent any candidate from gaining a plurality of electoral votes? That would throw the election into the House of Representatives, where Republicans currently hold a majority they will likely retain next year. So maybe a third-party candidacy wouldn’t be so good for Obama after all.
Jacobs dismissed any notion that the graduation of his team captain was a loss for the team. “Myles was a special athlete, someone who had success in individual as well as team sports, and of course we’ll miss him terribly. But I’m excited about the talent we have coming into this year.” He pointed to John “Double-J” Johnson, a top ten finisher in the sabre division, and Rex Ankiel, who came on strong in epee at last year’s state tournament. “They’re going to go as far as their desire takes them, and I’m going to enjoy watching their success,” said Jacobs.
This year could also see the emergence of Bark Bay’s first female fencer. Anne Hutchinson, daughter of state senate candidate William Hutchinson, enjoyed success as she began competing in tournaments at the end of last year’s season. “She was able to beat fencers who had been competing years longer than she,” Jacobs said. “If she puts in as much work as she did last year, she could be a force to be reckoned with at the state tournament in the spring.”
“All right then,” said Double-J. “This practice has been a complete waste of time.”
“I disagree,” said Annie. “We were here, and while we didn’t accomplish much, we all got to experience this failure together. Sometimes it’s the effort rather than the results that matter.”
Annie heard Gavin call to her from across the gym. They were alone now, as they often were on Tuesday evenings. Annie turned and saw Gavin walking towards her, walking for a time under a light, then becoming a dark moving form for a moment as she moved between lights.
“We have a meet Saturday in Willowbrook,” Gavin said in darkness before re-emerging into the light.
Years of working with Gavin had made Annie accustomed to her trait of never asking a question, at least not directly. Gavin would make statements, and assume her listener would understand the implied question. Indirect conversation was a habit among the people in Bark Bay, and Gavin was its most accomplished practitioner.
“I can’t make it,” Annie replied to Gavin’s questioning statement. “Fencing tournament in New Castle.”
“Fencing?” Gavin said, her sarcastic tone not able to conceal her disappointment. “You’re giving up gymnastics for fencing?”
“Oh, Gavin!” Annie said, running up to the elderly woman and enveloping her in a hug. “I’m never going to give you up, Gavin! This place is where I grew up, I could never leave. I’m not choosing one over the other, I’m choosing both.”
“But if this place means so much to you, why are you spending so much time with fencing? Used to be you were here every afternoon after school, this is where you parents would pick you up. Now I see you once, maybe twice a week. What’s so special about fencing?”
Annie sighed. “I love you, Gavin, and I love gymnastics. My parents have been sending me here since before I can remember.”
“Since you were five.”
“Right. This gym is where I learned the skills I’ve used as the foundation for all my other sports. And I’ve been in a lot of sports — volleyball, softball, swimming — ”
“But I’ve never seen you get into any of those sports like you have fencing. You never missed meets for any of those sports.”
“That’s because fencing’s different,” Annie said. “There’s a certainty about fencing, there’s nothing arbitrary — you either get a hit, or you don’t. It’s not like gymnastics, where it’s all up to the judges, or softball where you have umpires. And it’s not just the competition, it’s the culture. I’ve made friends on the fencing team, and with fencers from other schools, that I’ve never made before.”
“That’s silly. You’ve had all kinds of friends all your life! You’ve always been little Miss Popularity!”
“But fencing’s different. Me and my fencing friends, we’re part of a small community that’s competitive yet friendly.”
He felt trapped, programmed to behave morally with the knowledge that all his good will, all his charitable deeds, all his willingness to turn the other cheek was by definition dooming him to a life of frustrated ambition and second-place ribbons. And while he knew what he must do in order to achieve better success in life, namely to throw off the inhibitions that had been placed upon him during his schoolboy years, he knew he could not live that way, that any attempt to live that life would leave him feeling terrible about himself, would not allow him to sleep at night.
He enjoyed music, but was annoyed when other people would sing the words to a song he enjoyed. “It’s like I form a bond with music, a relationship. Songs remind me of experiences I’ve had, bring thoughts and feelings back to my memory. When someone sings, their singing gets in the way, gets in between the song and me, interrupts the bond, the conversation I’m having with my music. I want to have my moment with my music, and I don’t want anyone getting in my way.”