Last Monday, due to Y being closed, I went to the Capital City Fencing club for the second time. This time, instead of a warmup footwork workout from hell, it was announced we will be playing the “glove game.” In this game we are partnered up and lie on opposite sides of the gym. At the “go” we leap up and race for the glove at the middle line, then race back to our line without being caught. The loser of the pair has to do 15 burpys (some sort of combined pushup-jumping jack and squat) and it starts all over again. I look around in panic. Not only am I the oldest person here by at least 10 years but this is the exact sort of game our sadistic PE teacher would play when she wanted to see how many of us would throw up within 45 minutes. I made many life/dignity affirming vows at the end of high school that I would never do such things again. Was this a nightmare? I started checking to make sure I wasn't naked for confirmation when Jeb, the coach, came up and asked if I wanted a lesson. YES!
The lesson was on how to hit the shoulder of an attacker while retreating. It requires precision in retreating, point control and keeping the arm protected. Doing three new things simultaneously with at least two limbs isn’t my strength. “A well trained fencer can do whatever I tell them” Jeb told me. “I’m not that well trained.” I informed him. An intense 45 minutes where over the strain and the concentration I am singing: “This will make me better”
I spent the next hour fencing four different guys non-stop as they rotated on to try the new Epeeist. One sixteen year old boy simply refused to back up, ever. In the 20 minutes we fenced he never once took a single step back. After 15 minutes I decided that if he wasn’t going to back up neither would I (“Anything you can do I can do better, I can do anything better than you” Annie Get Your Gun is such a stupid role model). So we stood there like heavyweights slamming each other with epee blades. It wasn’t pretty. I think we invented something called “street epee.”
I fenced Meiko, the world cup fencer, next. “Do you back up?” I asked him. “What?” As it turned out, he did, but only after launching an attack. After five warm up points we did a bout and I suddenly had “magic point” which is when your blade tip not only goes where you want it, but manages to do so even when you are throwing out a hail-mary panic defense. I won the bout but Meiko is the better fencer. He took chances and I was lucky; next time he won’t take those chances.
In the last 15 point bout I was so tired I almost cried when I made the final arm hit. I had finished without collapsing. At home I counted 19 bruises on just one thigh.
Over the weekend I had experienced some heart pain and arrhythmia which my partner Linda told my father, my father told my doctor and on Wednesday morning my doctor’s office called to tell me I had an echo-cardiogram at the hospital on Friday. With waiting lists three months long, this means that my doctor must have some heavy pull at the hospital.
On Friday I was a bit freaked, particularly when I asked the woman doing the echo-cardiogram if it was an interesting job and she said, “yes, if every heart was perfect then it would be boring but I only see people who have problems with their hearts, like yours.” What? Hello! She didn’t expand. I get the results next week.
From the hospital I went home, picked up my stuff for fencing and headed to the Y. With my training over the long weekend I was going to blow everyone away. Think again. William was smoking me, Gerald was smoking me, Everyone was smoking me. But worse things happen. Then Amanda hit my neck, the exact same place that Bruce hit it seven days before. OW! When Gerald also hit my neck something snapped inside me. I was so going to get Gerald, and prepared myself to run the length of the strip and launch myself horizontally in order to get the touch. Like most kooky plans, it failed spectacularly and Gerald got the point.
That evening I had been chasing Amanda, doing all out 15 pointers to force myself into fencing her tired (that's me tired, she never seems to get tired). I tried bribing the judge after a 15 point match to get a successive 10 point match. I was, in plain words, kinda scary. It was clear that I ate, slept and worked for beating Amanda. And after getting hit on the neck a second time, I was angry.
I don’t know how other fencers deal with getting smacked repeatedly. At camp two boys almost dislocated my shoulder because I wouldn’t say “uncle.” During the mile run at school track meets other parents would try to get me stopped because they thought I was going to pass out. I ran my first marathon in six hours. I don’t even remember two hours of it. I’ve never come in first, or second, or third in any event from elementary school till today. But I won’t quit, I won’t let up.
Somehow, that triggered on Friday and all I wanted to do was fence harder and faster and longer until I vomited blood. “Fence until I drop, I will not leave the strip” was what was going through my mind. I was scary/angry bitch incarnate. I fenced Amanda and made all the anger cold, so that all I could think about were the touches. I thought nothing, I felt nothing but that instant and that point. My blade was light and precise and I had the best bout against her ever (course that might have been that she was freaked out, I couldn’t say).
In retrospect, I should have walked away. I probably should have walked away 10 minutes before that, gotten a drink of water, taken some fresh air and come back when I didn’t feel like I need to prove to God and the universe that they would have to beat me a lot harder in order to make me stop.
Instead, a few barbed comments about my “attitude” later and I crumpled like a kindergartener, ripping off my kit, kicking my helmet with a statement about “men” and stomping off. I’d like to say I left with dignity, but we both know that wouldn’t be true. At least I refrained from threats, name-calling or vows to “tell the teacher.”
Later, I asked Linda what she would have done. “Oh, I would have quit epee long ago.” She told me, “I don’t have the capacity or patience you do with being beaten up.”
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