On the drive home I noted the cars passing on the opposite side of the highway. Cars going Northbound on a Saturday around midnight. Many no doubt were on their way to the city, to begin or continue long evenings of revelry. I felt strangely disconnected from them, even though I had once been in one of those cars. Yet now I was heading Southbound, going home from a night spent watching lifting videos in my coach’s basement.
So many of those earlier nights were better left unremembered, I thought. Or indeed cannot be remembered. Yet still their memories haunted me on that drive home. Pre-gaming at a friend’s house, then out to downtown New Brunswick or Morristown, to Knight Club or Shark Bar or the Grasshopper or the Dark Horse, and when the lights went on in whatever bar we were at we’d all pile in our cars and barrel up the Turnpike or down 78 to Hoboken for a few more minutes of partying, too stupid or indifferent to know that we shouldn’t be driving. And if that didn’t quite cut it, if the cocaine was still going strong and we weren’t yet ready to end the night, then back in the cars and into the maw of the Holland Tunnel, across the river into New York, where we could find bars and clubs that would give us refuge until four in the morning. If those wee hours came and we still couldn’t face the thought of bed, where we’d have to lie awake and stare at the ceiling while the evening’s cocktail of drugs wore off, then over to Sound Factory or some after-hours place. There, in the darkness of the club and the pulsating lights and the throbbing techno rhythm we found refuge with other drug fiends, savoring the shared feeling of chemical connectedness and partying until the sun rose over the city and well into its passage across the sky.
And in the back of my mind during it all was the foolish notion that I was somehow better than those around me because I had ambitions to be an international-caliber weightlifter. As though my dreams alone were enough to make it happen. As though my one national medal, set into a great balance for judgment, could outweigh anything else I did with my life.
As I neared my exit I watched a car pass. Then another and another. I morbidly wondered who among those cars might not make it home that night or the next morning. I wondered how and why I’d always managed to make it home during those years. Luck, I thought. Although part of me quietly hoped it was more than just that, and that some order in the Universe had ordained my survival just so I might prove myself yet. I’d been gifted time and life and a sport which I still called home, with which I might do something worthwhile.
I turned to the clarity of numbers and equations, seeking refuge in all that they promised. Weights and lifts and bodyweights and placements. The beautiful symmetry of a well-crafted total, like Taner’s 172.5 and 202.5 in Athens. The beauty of a 300 total…
My 120 snatch of that morning didn’t feel too bad, once I’d finally made it. Only five kilos off my best. No reason why I couldn’t add another five to that number for 130, a weight made tangible in my mind’s eye by the way it was loaded in competition: two big red plates and a 2.5 per side. A 130 snatch with my lifetime best in the clean and jerk would be a 285 total. Only 15 kilos shy 300. Maybe thirty-five and sixty-five…
In the first moment of seeing these numbers the distance seemed extraordinary, more akin to crossing an ocean than fording a river, which is how I thought of adding five or even ten kilos. But I remembered all the numbers in between, thousands of them: steps along the way, reps, programs, days stacked upon days stacked upon more days. There was not limitless time but there was still time enough. And, of course, the possibility of some chemical help…
When I got back to the apartment Pete was still up, sprawled on the couch and watching Once Upon a Time in Mexico.
“How was work?”
“Not bad,” he said, yawning. “Restaurant was busy. You go to Puj’s?”
“How was that?”
“Not bad. Watched the tape he has from Athens. Sagir is just nuts.”
“You know Libby’s thinking about a World Team?”
“No shit? She’s damn quick. Strong as hell, too. Just a little rough around the edges, you know?”
“Puj mention this?”
“What else he have to say?”
“The usual.” For a moment I considered the evening and our conversation. I paused then added: “He asked about me getting back on shit.”
This revelation perked him up a bit, as he was also no stranger to drugs. “Yeah?”
I shrugged. “I told him I’d think about it.”
Pete looked at me. “What’s there to think about?”
But as I settled in to watch a few minutes of the movie before heading to bed I grabbed my phone and flipped it open. I scrolled through to Ricky’s number and sent him a text: