In the face of Libby’s potentially earth-shattering discovery I did the only thing that came naturally: I lied. I fabricated an origin story for the little glass ampule that was Wagnerian in its scope and drama, and in which I was but an unwitting and wholly innocent participant. My account traced the drug’s manufacture somewhere in Russia through its appearance in a variety of seedy New Jersey gyms until it finally, through no fault or effort of my own, found its way into my bedroom. Clearly, I was powerless in this story.
In response to Libby’s shouts and accusations I made modifications and emendations to my tale on the fly, hoping that somehow the entire web would hold together. But when she pulled from my garbage can a discarded syringe wrapper—I’d grown obscenely careless in those last few weeks—I knew the game was up. Briefly, I considered blaming the entire thing on Pete: it was his Sustanon, his syringe, his drug regimen… But either guilt or fatigue prevented me from doing so, and I ultimately conceded that yes, the ampule was mine. Though I swore that I’d stopped months ago. (Technically true. At least for the Sustanon.)
As could be expected, Libby was furious. In part because of what this represented to her.
“You’re a cheater?!” she asked, in genuine disbelief.
To which I wanted to respond, Of course I am! How could you not be, if you wanted to be the best you could be?
But I didn’t say that. I don’t even fully recall what I said, only that it was something that sounded far better in my head than what actually came out. I tried a variety of explanations and philosophical arguments on the nature of sports and competitiveness. I veered off into a discourse that attempted to define a level playing field, along with a discussion of bioethics and the current state of medical technology, hoping to appeal to the scientist in her. In my defensive strategy I tried conjuring up something of an ancient rhetorician, combined rather haphazardly with how I imagined attorneys presented their cases based mostly on movies and TV.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” she asked when I’d finished my closing arguments.
In a panic I considered other options. I remember this very clearly: her face, worked up into something between anger and disbelief; the apartment, which felt preternaturally sharp and in focus; the world outside, which seemed dim and indistinct by comparison. I knew it was raining, and I could very faintly hear the pattering of the summer storm against the windows and the pavement and the cars parked outside. And cutting through all of this was the growing tightness around my heart and lungs as I struggled for something to say.
Fortunately she stopped me before I had the nerve to continue.
“Put aside the fact that you’re cheating,” she said, still livid but calmer than before.
That seemed a rather big thing to put aside, given her views, but in my foolishness I thought I saw a ray of hope.
“You lied to me,” she went on. “You lied to me for months. And not about something tiny. About something huge, something we’d talked about. Something you knew bothered me. What am I supposed to do with that?”
The tightness in my chest eased slightly, only to be replaced by a knot around my abdomen. What indeed? Clearly my hope was unfounded, as I wasn’t even aware of the scope of the offense, let alone its repercussions. Thank the gods I couldn’t see whatever dumbstruck expression my face had contorted itself into. When I recovered I tried, again, to salvage something from this wreckage by appealing to her ego.
“You’re a natural at this sport,” I said. “You and your brother aren’t like most of us. For me, watching you improve and turn into a fucking superstar… that’s what I want. But I’m not you, or your brother.”
“You think I don’t work hard for what I do?” she asked.
“No, I know you work hard. But your hard work gets different results. In your first three months you snatched more than Joe snatched in his first two years.”
“I don’t see your point.”
“I want that,” I said, suddenly annoyed and defensive. Who was she to question my motives? To go in my room? To look through my shit? “I don’t have your talent, but I can work. I work just as hard as you do. This is just to make my work matter more.”
She looked at me, eyes impossibly narrowed. “That’s bullshit,” she said at length. “And it’s still no excuse for lying to me.”
In a single, athletic movement she grabbed her things and stepped toward the door. Even in her anger she moved beautifully and gracefully and powerfully.
“Libby,” I called out, in a pathetic last attempt to save whatever remained between us.
But she ignored me. If she paused in her departure from the apartment it was so brief and inconsequential that it was undetectable. With the same decisiveness and single-mindedness of purpose that she showed in her lifts she was gone.
Very far away, as if in a dream, I heard the outer door of the apartment building slam shut, heard her car door open, then close, heard the engine start and then grow fainter and fainter. When the sound of her was gone I sat on the couch—alone now with the ampule, which was no doubt unaware of the fantastical life story I’d just crafted for it—and was swallowed by doubt and grief.
A few moments later I responded to all that had happened the only way I knew how.
Can I come by and get another training in? I texted to Ricky.