After the first rotation, second session, day two, my stomach starts closing in. People talk to me and I tighten my breath. My fingers tremble.
Too much carbonated water? Too much reliance on the power of a Clif Bar breakfast? Is it the limp lettuce on the sandwich I bought last night and brought with me today? Or too much gymnastics?
I walk outside into the gray afternoon. It's barely after noon. I have my watch but I keep forgetting the time, keep thinking that the gray has hissed into black already. Every time someone in the gym opens a door and I catch a glimpse of light on the trees, I am surprised.
I turn down the sidewalk and walk briskly though nobody is around. I call my mom to tell her that we have our first state champion from the morning session: the winner on floor, a hardworking girl who deserves the title. I keep walking. I try to take comfort in the air next to the road. Farther down is a picnic table in a thicket of trees, but I don't stop there.
Instead, the best decision seems to be sitting on the curb. I put my head in my hands and think of what my fictitious coach would say to Nick Galveston. Empty your mind. In the black I see leotards of all colors and grips rubbing chalk. Those colors are exhausting. So are the music and the hip-shimmying floor routines, the wobbles on beam, the slow and shaky bar routines.
You need a real fire to burn this long.
At the end of the meet, we ask her, "Do you want to beat your teammates? Do you wish them well, but want to do better?"
She doesn't hesitate: "Yes."