Are you watching the Olympics? asks the cashier at Target.
I smile politely and say, “I’ve seen some of it…”
We never know what will trigger us—or when, or where. These moments are not predictable like Michael Phelps on the podium in Rio…or Ryan Lochte barely squeaking by in his ESL class…
It’s only after it’s over, when we have a minute or two to re-examine or re-live what it must have felt like to be us—that we see clearly.
One such moment for me is from the summer of 2008— an Olympic Summer in many respects…and also year of the actual Olympics in Beijing. As a kid, I loved the Olympics so much that I’d tape them (get on it, Millennials) on the VCR. By the end of the 16 days I’d have quite an impressive stack—the only “taping rule” my mom gave being if we ran out of empty tapes, I’d have to tape over some events. Tape OVER? These Olympic weeks were a constant stream of Sophie’s choices.
My loyalty to all things Olympics began with the torch, and even though I was 99% sure I’d never become an Olympian myself, approximately 45% of a different part of me held out hope that someday, for some reason, I’d be handed the honor and responsibility of carrying that Olympic torch in some French village or through a seaside town off the coast of Anytown, Earth.
I think you’re getting it: I loved the Olympics…especially the inspirational moments of the opening ceremony, when it seemed all was possible in the world; when it appeared that we could come together for a few weeks in the spirit of competition as the wide world narrowed.
We never know what will trigger us—and what will change. But we often can identify why.
Are you watching the Olympics?
I can’t. I cannot.
New York City, 2008
I sat there on the boxy, uncomfortable grouping of chairs doing a poor impression of a couch outside of the 12th floor. It was the place for people who weren’t ready to leave, but not in a position to stay–Lobby Limbo. As had become routine for us during the previous 7 months, Dan was at the end of his latest round/cycle of chemo and, as was also typical, there was a glitch in the plan to, as Dan would say, “get the heck out of there”. It was taking ages for him to be discharged.
I had developed a previously unimaginable level of patience that year—waiting for 5 hours in a waiting room instead of the 30 minutes promised; spending entire days at doctor appointments; holding his hand while he slept; staring endlessly out of the picture window which, depending upon the room, looked out toward one of the bridges connecting Manhattan to the world.
That day, however, I was not able to muster such patience.
It was the Olympic Opening Ceremonies…something I’d looked forward to for weeks—especially since, if all went as planned, we’d be able to watch it in our own apartment on the “real” TV on our “real” couch—the two grown-up items in our possession. Since it was soooo long ago, I’ll remind you that the 2008 Olympics was held in Beijing—the one in that crazy birds’ nest-looking-thing with the computerized probes on perfect-moving Asian bodies. For me, it was all too reminiscent of the needle-probes in my husband’s arms and chest–the sites where he received blood transfusions while I sat and waited to go home so we could pretend to lead the normal life of a couple watching the Olympic Opening Ceremonies on our grown-up TV and couch.
The glitch today was the amount. Dan usually required blood transfusions due to the intensity of his treatment, but his body was struggling more than usual after this round: 8 units required.
I remember the face of his Oncologist, Dr. C, as he exited the 12th floor door and pressed the down elevator button. I think he managed to say something normal about me watching the Olympics and that he hoped we’d go home soon. More than his words, though, I remember the knowing look in his eyes as he struggled to meet my gaze. I certainly had nothing to offer him as I sat and wallowed.
I wanted to go home.
Even though Dan was the one who was sick—, in this moment I was in the midst of some suffering of my own in the classical sense–unable to reconcile reality with what I wanted, which was to go home to the red couch and the 27-inch flat screen. I wanted to plop down on the floor like I always did, sitting strategically in front of Dan and his long arms so he would have little option but to massage the shoulders directly in front of him. I wanted us to watch together as the teams filed in…The Parade of Nations! Greece first! Afghanistan…Albania!; to escape reality for an hour or so; to fantasize about carrying the torch someday—in tandem!
Dr. C wished me a good weekend and went into the 12th floor elevator. I also remember a nurse telling me about plans for her upcoming 28th birthday—doing her youthful best to distract me.
I knew they meant well, but I did not want distractions or even support in that moment. My support—the only one wanted, was on the other side of that 12th floor door, the 8th unit of blood dripping in slow motion. In that moment, all of me begged silently to be left alone. If I was going to watch the Opening Ceremony without him, I damn well was going to do so in wallitude.
The Opening ceremonies were long—long enough for us to have made it to our apartment as the final letters of the alphabet of countries was announced, including
But Dan was tired. Although we sat in our respective positions–me on the floor, Dan upright on the couch, nothing was “normal”, and the torch moved further away..its flame closer and closer to becoming extinguished.
I didn’t want to, but I knew…
I have a lot of dreams still—some old; some new; some I have yet to imagine…but I no longer wish to carry the torch or even to watch the Olympics like I used to.
I can’t. I cannot.