The solid, time-aged and well worn shaft of wood hurtled into my chest with a resounding dull clunk. Moments before, my grip had shifted slightly and my solid fingers had refused to bend. Seconds before that, parts of my body had been shivering uncontrollably despite moving at a quick pace as we passed the shadow of a tower whose roof scratched the sky. Minutes before that, my eyes had frantically sought the sun which was lost in a forest of steel beams, concrete branches and glass leaves. Before that, Seven’s oar had caught and a cold slurry of dirty brown water had soaked my legs and arms.
Beyond that – it was all a meaningless unassembled jumble of puzzle pieces. There had been a midnight bus ride from St. Louis to Chicago; there had been an endless progression of routine drills at set times and there had been days of sun, days of rain, days of cloud, and weeks of time. The edge pieces were formed a fine line of guilt. They were the even or odd days that I skipped class and the firm corners of warnings from Professors that I might be put on academic probation. The rest of the pieces were misshaped and barely appeared to fit in my head. Eating lunch at dinner; consuming breakfast at noon; and cramming a fourth meal in between dinner and breakfast at random, undetermined time.
I wasn’t going to attempt to even form the mental mess into a coherent picture. I didn’t need to, because if I was having some sort of hypothermic, pain induced epiphany about my life, I already knew the answer. I was decidedly miserable. The source of my misery was crew. Even though it had allowed me to revert to my primal state at times, break thousand dollar pieces of property and lose competitions in new and strange ways, it was crushing my spirit. I hadn’t slept for who knew how long; I was behind in all my classes, and I was losing friends like I had the plague. The craziest part was that I didn’t even like rowing. The solution was obvious: I resolved to quit crew immediately and recover what was left of my life.
Instead of celebrating at the momentous decision, my body instead recoiled as the pain from the pummeling finally traversed my frozen neurons and registered in my brain. My chest heaved and sucked frigid burning air as I coughed and hacked out the remaining vestiges of team spirit. Eventually, my arms and blue hands captured the rogue oar. I looked out over the ice and trash sprinkled Chicago River. I had quit. I didn’t have to move anymore, especially since breathing was an athletic exercise at the moment. However, after a moment’s deliberation, I began to take huge, perfect strokes that swept through the water. Despite my new hatred and apathy for what the team had done to my life, I rowed perfectly because I did not want to swim to the finish line.