There are no seasons in tucson.
I think that day I got high. Again. And walked on deck zonked out of my mind and the concrete screamed white at me and all we did was sit-ups. And the sky wide-open swirled above me-one two three four oof five six oof seven eight ugh nine ten ungh eleven ungh twelve ... sit-ups.
"Coach, hey, Marley, I need some french fries."
"I own you, Case. Get in the water."
And I get up real close to him and I'm taller than him and I look down at him and my arms are big near him and I tell him that he doesn't have a job without me. And before it even starts, I get kicked out of practice again. I am the only one that semester with straight As and on the dean's list, American relay record holder. I'm learning to be an architect - like Dad - so that I can be far away. It's the only excuse people seem to stand for so I get to check out even when I'm in public. I am frequently stuck in my studio for "reasons" no one asks me about and I love it. I don't leave except for practice and white bread sandwiches with mayonnaise and cheese. On the other days I eat, I eat only candy bars, because I'm fat and try to throw them up afterward and it burns my throat with bile.
I meet Jake in freshman architecture studio and his tight button-up polyester, wide-collared shirts look like they're Saturday Night Fever looking for shoes and his muscles will bust out popping each button down his chest and he's broken and the most talented out of all of us and he loves me and his deep sad eyes and face I don't touch become my best friend who I sometimes make out with late at night in the back of the studio when we're drunk and he holds my neck against the walls like Duval in Stockholm used to when we heard Nirvana for the first time and it makes sense - I forget here. Isca, who I loved on my recruiting trip - his one green and one blue eye - drops out of school and falls in love with a small girl who sucks his dick, he says - I didn't and I pretend I don't care. I don't see him anymore and when I'm alone I cry once over him leaving. I miss my friend.
At practice, everyone else just jumps right into the pool, and I can't shrill the metal water on my skin ripping deep into flesh, so I pace the pool deck back and forth, putting it off as long as I can before Coach Marley says something and I'm the last one in.
Walking back from practice, our lonely feet echo on the same basketball stadium court we cross diagonally in the morning to get to the pool outside. Back and forth every day, twice or three times a day, through this ravine that lies between mountains of empty stadium seats. And it's 5:00 a.m. on most mornings and coming through this dark canyon, up a sloped ramp leading to outside and the morning light, and the ice shines a sliver glass like Christmas on deck and the coaches wrapped up in coats and hats bark at us, and our parkas are warm on our bodies; the only thing under them: a bathing suit.
I show up to practice late again the next day from studio, everyone doing dry land stretching. I sit down and fall in next to Panya, who only reads bridal magazines and looks at me the way weird soup-drinking Georgine used to look at me. Puck her and I ignore it. That shit. Who cares? I don't understand any of their bullshit and they know it - makeup, fucking bridal magazines: Who reads that shit? - and I look away and I stopped trying to be friendly a few months into the year so we walk around each other mostly silent. I'm used to it. What the fuck am I supposed to do? Between sit ups and the sky, I think of Panya's fucking roommate, Jessica, who still watches Disney movies and all the boys think she's hot because of some fucked-up virginal innocence and cuteness she still embodies - one, two - it's fabricated and delusional and therefore so disgusting - three, four - I remain the girl the guys drink with (the girls on the team hate me for it) and I'm not sure if the boys think I'm pretty so I forget about it - I care and I don't even know why so I swallow the swallow and my throat closes up and gets stuck there - oaf, five, six -before practice I heard all the girls throwing up their food like an orchestra in the bathrooms, and the coaches look the other way - This place is fucked up - seven, eight - and the sun is the most beautiful gold and I don't understand why it matters that I'm the fastest and Marley won't talk to me about the light anymore - I know he understands it but when I ask him all he tells me is to get in the water. So I stop asking and he doesn't push me in or wrestle with me the way he does the other girls - he stays away and doesn't touch me and I know this means he loves them more and the sky heartbreaks me open and I dive in to get away from it again into the quiet here - nine, ten.
"Virgin Girl" Jessica and Panya and I break the American NCAA relay record for the 4 x 100 freestyle relay that season; the fourth swimmer is named after a truck or a car: Toyota. The United States is still in the Gulf after its first invasion of Kuwait and Iraq; Djibouti and France are at war; and the civil war in Algeria is still bombing airports in Paris and Algiers for Rahat; and so I stand with my back to the American flag at the beginning of each meet while the national anthem plays, and raise my hand with a peace sign on the podium when we win and a gold medal that means nothing to me is placed around my neck. Marley sees this and through his own mop of hair and beard waves his hand toward me, mouthing, "No, no, you're number one!" and shows me with his index finger pointing upward, waving at me and smiling wide, so I look at it and at mine and close my two fingers and make it one. We're number one.
We're number one.
At practices I keep ducking my head and tucking my mind into the light in the fall and the concrete is warm still and the tarp above us makes shade from the sun. All fifty of us, curved backs around coach, little islands of blue from our t-shirts, and Coach Marley says, "We're drug testing," and everyone flicker glances at me from under their hats and sun glasses, and Brian, who always seems to care about me so in a shrug I think maybe he's a friend, turns around, pretending like he's stretching to see if I'm okay, and when coach reads my name the muscles on everyone's neck shove a little up their spines and I look at the space at my feet in front of me sitting down.
I know I'm testing positive - I smoked last night. My feet are making a hard line shadow on the ground. Do I care? Not really. Just that weekend we'd also had a twenty-four hour smoke-out. A couple of the guys are having the same problem I'm having at the moment, which is pretty fucking usual ... What is it that we can drink? Ginseng or elephant juice or some shit like that? Goldenseal and orange juice - isn't that supposed to cleanse your system? We swim sprints that night and Brian and I try to hit 4:20 derivatives: joints are on the line.
After practice, Brian and a couple of the other guys and I go to the drugstore. We buy gallons of orange juice, goldenseal - and ginseng, just to be safe. We don't know what the fuck we're doing but we bring it all back to my and Bella's house, mix it all into empty gallon milk jugs we'd put aside to make bongs (full gallons of pot in the lungs at once-swimmer's lungs - massive highs full push down and get bombed as fuck). The shit we make tastes gross.The guys drink it all. I sip it, spit it the fuck out, and go have a cigarette instead. I'm not drinking that shit.
The next day, I walk in. They won't even let me pee by myself - so I can't just fill my cup up with toilet water. I'm totally testing positive, I think as the pee comes out of me and feels like a rod coming out of me and echoes thick drops into the cup while this dude watches me. Why can't they let a woman watch me fucking pee? I feel weird and annoyed but not really - I am just fucking tired of this shit. Whatever. I stand up, I can't help but try to hide my cunt - but who gives a fuck? - and I wipe, flush the toilet, and hand him the cup, point to it, and say, "That is totally testing positive." I walk away up the black stadium corridors not to Marley but the head coach's office to do damage control.
I make an appointment with his secretary and walk around and around the stadium halls that float above the basketball court we walk through every morning - always dark, it seems, and never lit - and I sit on the benches high above it, outside the gold cave where the coaches' offices' light is yellow and I get called in like an echo across canyons because the entire stadium is empty - holding the residual echoes of its fullness from the basketball game last night and I walk into the neon light and sit on the couch and begin: tears. Do I even feel anything? I can't tell anymore.
I cry and he puts his hand on my shoulder sitting next to me and I hate it - he has kids and I bet he doesn't want them to turn out like me and he's religious and I just fucked a girl for the first time a few nights ago. She was Shane's girlfriend and she brought me to his house and I didn't even take her panties off because I was so shocked and she could see the nervous but I tried to ignore it - a reclining Venus de Milo in black lace I had never seen before and a bra I couldn't take off lying spread on a bed that was not mine, in a wood paneled room deep in the dark where t-shirts hung dead on doorknobs and a screen porch door I was afraid Shane was going to open and come through. I reached over and leaned in, propped up on one elbow next to her, and spread my arm across and I had never felt anything so soft before in my life and knew I was going to Hell and her lips were the softest and I don't understand why I love them and can't hear anything when I kiss her.
We drove back to the party and, walking in, I heard some dickhead freshman named Scott call one of the track guys a fucking nigger. Everyone's, like, Yo, dude, you can't say that shit without actually doing anything about it but shuffling around, and all the track dudes are, like, What the fuck? and Scott wobbles and falls on the ground on his own because he's so drunk and forgetting about Brandy at the door, all this shit is so wrong, and I'm drunk and walk over to Scott when he falls to the ground, straddle him from above and without thinking, and grab his collar and deck him one two three times in the fucking face and throw his skull back down where it came from. I stand up. I kick him once in the gut with my foot, telling him that he's a fucking idiot, get the fuck out of here asshole, and no one says anything. Everyone is staring. I turn around where I came from and leave the party without saying anything else. Outside in the night I can't feel my face and my jeans are dirty. I won't wash them. I hate this shit. I write a letter I don't send to Mom and Dad asking for their forgiveness for I have sinned and my roommate, Bella, giggles the next day that I made out with a girl and everyone knows. What she and the others do not know is about Hell.
The next day in practice, Scott shows up with a black eye busted face and doesn't say anything and Shaw high-fives me on the side. Fucking idiots. Pushing off the wall, I look into the lane line next to me and Shane, Brandy's boyfriend, underwater, too, pulls down his bathing suit and take out his dick and it flops around like that when I look at it. I shake my head - this shit is so fucking dumb - and I come up for water and my arm feels the air on it as it rises out to the sky for my first stroke.
That evening Bella tells me she can't bring me to the grocery store after promising that she would. I pick up her twin bed and frame and throw it against the wall. It makes a loud noise and goes bang. Neither one of us knows what to do, so I put it back in its place without saying anything.
No one on the team gets their test results that semester. None of us asks why.
This is an excerpt of the forthcoming book, Godspeed by Casey Legler, to be published by Atria Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Copyright © 2018 by Casey Legler. Printed by permission.