The actual crash — the impact and not the spectacular explosion of sight and sound that follows — is nearly imperceptible. The Volvo soars, the cabin rotates, and my body wants to travel, even as the car, meeting pavement, does not. (Is it inertia or momentum at work? I write books on exercise, yet physics was never my forte.) My seatbelt locks, airbags deploy, ribs flatten with pain. Something jams into my leg.
Hours or seconds later, a deputy pulls me out.
“Sarah,” I mumble about my wife.
“Don’t look,” he warns.
Next, I’m in a helicopter. The whup-whup-whup syncs with the blood pounding in my ears. We’re lifting. The highway’s a black banderole decorated with twinkling ambulances. Someone’s loaded into one. Despite wreckage and smoke trails, the scene is dreamy.
No one hurries.
“Looks good, Geoff,” my agent, Clyde Willets, says.
The prosthetic gleams where my right leg should be.
“I’m a cyborg.” Bad joke? Not really — too much of me is titanium and composite. “Guess with this thing, no more Ironman Triathlons.”
Clyde looks at the physical therapist, who radiates positivity.
“Many athletes have artificial limbs,” Pete says. “The leg’s merely an adjustment.”
“It makes me a genuine ironman then,” I say, thinking of Sarah. “Some trade.”
Clyde’s determined to encourage me.
“You’ll walk soon.”
“Sure,” I mutter, imagining more a modified cross-country ski.
“It’s a miracle you survived the accident. Another miracle’s that leg. Don’t be bitter.”
“A miracle would be my loving wife alive and me with all my original equipment.”
He’s uncertain now.
“A jog around the hospital,” I say.
The day Sarah died, I could’ve driven.
“Kitty Hawk,” I answered when she asked how to spend the afternoon.
It was late August, the Atlantic already crisp for my mile swim. Our lazy Carolina summer was ending.
Looking dubious, Sarah nonetheless agreed. What would happen if one day she didn’t, I wondered, if to my plain-spoken want, she said unequivocally, “No.”
“I’m lucky you’re my wife.”
She slipped behind the wheel, her sun-bronzed face and chestnut hair never more beautiful.
“That you are.”
One day, I finally walk. Another, struggle to run. Others, to swim, ride a bike.
One day, I can do all, including look in mirrors.
The day of my first post-prosthetic 5K, I swear sinews in both legs stretch, muscles fire like exhilarating miracles. I’m reborn.
Clyde drops off Miracles for the Ironman galleys to get my approval.
“You’re grinning,” he says.
“Design gives words personality. Most people think only about the writing.”
Sarah, a graphic artist, taught me that. She’d done all my other books.
He seeks opportunity in my mood.
“It’s been three years, Geoff. Isn’t it time?”
I sound more cutting than necessary.
Too late. Clyde’s wounded. Even his mustache droops.
“Haven’t you grieved enough?”
Agents all protect their investment, but Clyde? Well, Clyde’s a true friend.
Three years. Unbelievable.
“You don’t quit,” I say.
“You didn’t. Now look at you, ironman.”
I shake my head and sigh.
“She have a name?”
Liz is as lovely as Sarah was, but like a photo to a negative. Her blond hair cascades stylishly, and her blue eyes shine in a soft, well-proportioned face. When we meet for dinner, I’m captivated — and guilty for it. I choose a restaurant Sarah and I never visited, yet the scene glows with familiarity.
We chat about our love of exercise, my job as fitness guru, hers as journalist. She tells me she adores all my books.
“Must be awkward to date,” Liz says while we’re leaving.
“Worried about making a good impression?”
I could banter about reading my mind, but instead say quietly, “The leg trouble you?”
“Not one bit.” She smiles and adds, “I do wonder if you take it off in bed, though.”
Happiness washes over me like frothy surf at the Outer Banks.
We marry. I write, Liz edits — she’s fantastic. We make love in the evening, jog in the morning with Atalanta, our Weimaraner.
I’m as happy as with Sarah, if not happier.
But one half-marathon after many, she’s not there cheering me at the finishing line anymore.
Inevitably, it happens.
Like journalists, I also ferret out information. I know better than to snoop — what good ever comes of it? — but that same unrelenting drive for athletic excellence compels me to.
A carelessly undeleted text.
I’m as disappointed as anything else. The best reporters know to burn their notes.
The night before the crash, catalyzed by festering dissatisfaction and 2009 Caldera Cuvee, Sarah finally told me, among other things, I was incapable of real love.
“You love your car, work, and fame. Your lifestyle. Things you control. Yourself.”
“Not like I want. You’re self-absorbed, Geoff. It scares me, sometimes.”
“Do you love me?”
She regarded me like an eye-catching typeface that simply doesn’t work.
“Maybe. Then, again, maybe my heart’s not in it anymore, either.”
“Why so quiet, ironman?”
Liz is driving — as Sarah was — wind in hair, her beauty clawing into me.
I want to ask where it all went wrong this time, if I will ever deserve love, loyalty, and understanding. Without these, marriage is only theater. Who’s Drew? A colleague? How long has the affair been going on? Does she love him?
Most of all, why?
With Sarah, I was confessed to.
Who had been Mark, an old flame.
Why was me.
Liz isn’t Sarah. She’s enough the journalist to stay secretive, drunk or sober.
“Speed up,” I say. “Can’t miss your flight.”
Perhaps it’s in my voice. She looks at me — sadly, I think — but depresses the accelerator as told.
However, I feel nothing. I am an ironman, after all.
I turn and wait for a curve. When it comes, I reach once more for the wheel.
Stephen Kyo Kaczmarek is a writer and educator in Lewis Center, Ohio.