***Includes a spoiler about the uneven bars individual final***
As soon as the Summer Olympics start, I start having gymnastics dreams. Usually they're frustrating, like the one I had last night when I'd decided I needed to back but I was arguing with Kendell over how much it would cost. Sometimes, however, they are simple and pure, uncluttered by the realities of my life right now or even my life back then. In the best dreams I am just tumbling, or sprinting without fear toward the vault, or sticking, with effortless ease, my back handspring layout on the beam.
Spinning giant after giant on the uneven bars.
Bars was my favorite event. It was the only event that I could completely trust my coach. Even though Jack was mean, I could see through it; I knew he was mean with a purpose. Even better, I knew he cared about me and wanted me to succeed even though I wasn't the youngest nor the richest girl on the team. I trusted him and learned from him and I swear: even though my hands were always ripped to shreds and bloody, and even though I got frustrated and I messed up and I gave myself bruises from hitting things wrong—I loved every single second of my bars rotation.
I thought about that tonight as I watched the individual finals of the uneven bars. "Let's just watch the American," Kendell kept saying, but I wouldn't let him click past anyone. Even though MSN had spoiled yet another event for me, I wanted to watch. I wanted to thrill at every release move and clench my fist at every landing; I wanted to live vicariously every giant.
There are dreams that take you back. Watching the sport does just a little bit, too. Of course, I was never as good as Olympic gymnasts. If I had stuck it out and not quit at 16, I probably could have earned a college scholarship somewhere mediocre. I never would've been great. But watching the Olympians brings it back so clearly. The way it felt to chalk up before your bars, the anticipation of waiting for your turn to go. Saluting the judge and then those moments of flying, spinning, twirling: defying gravity with pointed toes.
Then I went into my closet and I cried. Not because America didn't win. Not because of Beth Tweddle winning her bronze (I was so happy for her). But because I miss it. I'm old and I wasn't very good but I miss the flying. I miss being filled with confidence that I could do something amazing. I miss strapping on my grips, chalking up, and starting to spin.