By the Sword: 3

In Uncategorized on November 9, 2010 at 1:31 pm

Photograph of Die Altstadt (Old Town), Hattingen, Germany.

These garments covered me in New Hampshire, in New York, at M.I.T., and all through Vermont. Most sensationally, I wore them in Louisville Kentucky, where I fenced my first Junior Olympics. How many men had I stared down through that grille? One Bostonian I knocked to the floor with a chest-bump. Twice I snapped a foil in half on another man’s sternum, just as weapons had been broken on mine.

Ky followed me to the curb. She watched me dump the bag into a row of broken hutches and plump Hefty bags.

“You okay?”

“Yeah,” I said.

As I stared at that bag, the one I’d dragged onto team vans and into strange farmhouses and through scores of gymnasia, I kept reminding myself why I’d stopped. There was a threshold I failed to cross. I was a very skilled fencer – disciplined, supernaturally balanced, fast as a viper. But the Junior Olympics weren’t the Olympics, and when I saw the truly great fencers, I knew I’d never rival them. Among A-rated foil-fencers, ranked as the best in the nation, I was defenseless. The judge yelled, “Fence!”, and within seconds I could feel a burn in the small of my back. My opponent hardly seemed to move; he was only a streak of white, a glint of stainless steel, and his blade arced over my shoulder, bent into a U, and jabbed me from behind. The movement defied physics, comprehension. The reality of the fencing strip was exaggerated, so that men hardly needed to move in order to score. Among them, I was defeated before I began.

But I shook the thought away. Not everything must end.

I unzipped the bag and drew my foils and epées. I threw them over my shoulder, letting them bounce as I ambled back to our front door. A swordsman can leave his vestments, but not the tools of his glory. I slid them beneath the staircase, knowing the blades themselves would continue to journey with me, wherever I lived, no matter whether I flashed them again.


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