"Are you happy?" she asked. It was the first time in a long time that someone had even thought to ask about my happiness. 'Yes' wasn't the right answer, and saying no wouldn't be entirely truthful, either. The reality was that I hadn't given my own happiness a moment of thought in years. A seemingly simple question had revealed that I'd been living a life where happiness was nothing more than an abstraction. She was still standing there after all my deep thought, waiting for me to say something. All I could do was smile--wryly, I hoped--and shrug.
"What did the doctor say?" he asked. The doctor had asked me about my diet--vegetarian? Vegan? No, and no. There were the beginnings of osteoporosis, she'd said, and a vitamin deficiency. So strange for one so young, with the balanced diet I claimed to eat. She'd asked about my drinking habits, and I'd told some socially acceptable lie--a glass of wine with dinner and a couple of cocktails on the weekends, something like that--and she'd just nodded, slowly, her head tilted slightly in an expression of pity. She'd prescribed a vitamin supplement and given me a sheet of phone numbers to call "in case I felt like I needed to."
I told him, "She gave me a clean bill of health," which I regretted immediately. But I could never take it back, and it felt easier not to want to. That's when I knew: I'd let myself down the way everybody else had let me down, and it was no use to try to make amends now.
As we loosened up on the starting blocks, the guy in the lane next to me said, "good luck," in this tone of voice that might have been sarcastic. I didn't reply, but at the gun, I shot out into the water and started channeling my response into an exhausting kick and fast, strong strokes. Muscles burning, heart pounding in my mouth, cheers of fans muffled to a wavering whimper: this was it. I owned the flip turn and practically shot myself into the middle of the pool with my legs. I focused on my rival to distract myself from the thought that this could very well be my last chance. I didn't see him, so he was either way out in front of me or way behind. I reached the end of the pool and surfaced, gasping to ease my oxygen debt. I'd beaten the guy next to me, but the scoreboard told no lies: my lapse in concentration made me miss my Olympic dream by three tenths of a second. "Better luck next time," he said, his tone sincere. I knew there couldn't be a next time for me, but I tried to say, "you too," like I meant it.