Of Iron and Bronze – 46

46.

Worlds came and went. Ricky and I attended some truly outstanding sessions, filled with the type of sporting drama you expect from the best of the best. There were upsets, like when an 85-kilo Armenian lifter—a favorite in the class—blew his elbow out on a 200-kilo clean and jerk. Or when a Russian superheavy, with a lead in the snatch, pulled a quad on his opening clean. But there were great triumphs as well: a series of World Records set and broken by Russian and Chinese women in the 75-kilo class; a monster 105 session that witnessed a three-way tie, with the victor determined by bodyweight; and a female superheavy snatching a weight that I could only dream of doing.

We watched the Americans, too, although most were in B or C sessions, far from the medal stage. Libby was among them, turning in a fine five for six performance and displaying the kind of platform confidence that she’d always shown, and that she’d show for years to come. And there was still great lifting to be seen by her and her teammates, even if it was a step away from the best in the world. Their struggle was still that of weightlifters everywhere, and it was always good to watch someone fight it out against the barbell and gravity and themselves.

I only spoke to Libby once more, and briefly. We encountered each other in passing at the Moscow Hotel, she with a group of teammates and I on my own, drifting among the crowds of lifters before the drive back to my pension. She stopped when she saw me, and for a few moments we chatted idly: about her lifting, about the other sessions, about Turkey. I told her about climbing to Termessos with Ricky.

“Remember when we planned to travel around here, after Worlds?” I said, out of either regret or a faint hope that she’d decide to do so all of a sudden.

But she only nodded. “I remember,” she said.

We spoke no more of those plans. When I asked what she would be doing on returning to the States, all she said was: “Training.”

When I returned I sat on the pension’s rooftop terrace, which I’d grown accustomed to doing every night. From there I could look out over the dark sea and the scattered lights of the city along the coast. I was often very tired but something about the time spent up there, alone with my thoughts and in silence, seemed necessary. That night, despite being half a world away, I was reminded of home. The play of the city’s lights across the water conjured up memories of summers spent down the shore with my family. Places like Point Pleasant and Wildwood and Cape May. I remembered rental houses outfitted with bamboo furniture and hotel rooms with marine-themed paintings on the walls. From some deep-seated region of my brain came memories almost powerful enough to be visions: the smell of the ocean, the fatigue of a day spent under the sun, the carnival-colored hodgepodge of the boardwalk, chipwiches at midday, the grease of cheap pizza at night, and the pleasure of washing it down with giant cups of soda and crushed ice. I remembered a summer crush, a girl I’d met at a snack stand, and for a moment I wondered where she was and what she was doing. These were times and places and people and things I hadn’t thought of in years, so buried had they become by other memories, other people, other things. Strange that I should find them rekindled in a place like this.

Before I returned to my room the thin blond woman who worked at the pension walked up from the stairwell and took a seat on one of the terrace’s couches. In the darkness, with only a little light coming up from the city and stairwell, she looked almost spectral. She held a pack of cigarettes in the hand that was covered in the wrist brace and from the pack she pulled a cigarette and lit it and blew out a thin stream of smoke. When she saw me watching her she held up the pack in a gesture of offering.

It was tempting but I shook my head. “No, but thank you.”

She set it down on the couch and then took another drag, releasing the smoke slowly into the night air. The orange cherry of the cigarette traced a steady arc up and down in the blue darkness as she smoked. In my reverie it brought to mind memories pleasant and unpleasant of other nights, long ago, watching friends or strangers smoke as I smoked with them.

I assumed, sitting there alone with her, that I’d learn some of her story. Or at least some sense of what she was doing so far from the country I knew we both called home. We were linked by at least that much, in addition to our common tongue. But ultimately she spoke very little of herself, telling me only that she was originally from Colorado, that she’d worked in politics for many years, and that she’d moved to Turkey not long ago. All this was relayed to me as though the transition from Colorado to Antalya were a thing of no great distinction.

In response to my questions she asked the requisite ones in return, although I had the impression that she did so more out of politeness than any great interest in my story. Despite the fact that she seemed ambivalent to my responses, I shared part of my reasons for coming to Turkey, along with my disappointment at not getting to travel around the country with Libby.

“Why not?”

I shrugged, although I’m not sure the gesture was visible in the darkness. “It didn’t end well,” I said at length.

The orange glow rose, then fell.

“Turkey’s still here,” she said, and then snubbed the cigarette out in an ashtray.

She stood, said goodnight, and disappeared back down the stairs. The entire encounter and conversation had been so surreal, so unlike any other I’d ever had, that I wondered—and indeed still do—whether I’d imagined the entire thing.

Was the world made of such people? Some part of me was curiously eager to find out; another part could not face the thought of it. How, I wondered, could I go home when I felt I was just scratching the surface of everywhere else?

 

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