Now You Know What Real Struggle Is
I have seen worse sights than this.”
~ Homer, The Odyssey
Now You Know What Real Struggle Is
“Be strong, saith my heart; I am a soldier;
I have seen worse sights than this.”
~ Homer, The Odyssey
I shifted the pillow underneath me searching for a more comfortable position. I was deep in that trace like state that one can acquire when you are reading. It's that wonderful feeling where everything else seems to fade away: time, thought, and worries as you nestle down into a book. I was currently reading The Odyssey, a book that has been tested by time and proven itself well worth the trouble of sitting down and stopping your life to read, and though I didn't realize it on that particular Tuesday night I was being supplied with life lessons and building blocks that will be with me for the rest of my life. It might not have been easy all the time, but sitting down to read The Odyssey was going to be very beneficial.
"Okay boys, go to your emails and download The Odyssey." The Odyssey. A book that has most likely ensued terror in the minds of teens from the beginning of time. Well maybe not the beginning, but I most definitely had my reservations when Fitz said that we were going to start reading this epic poem. I knew that I wasn't going to to be able to get through this challenge by myself, luckily I had help, mainly Sir Ian Mckellen. I found that I was able to focus so much better when I had the help of listening to the audio. The depth in which I was able to understand and comprehend the book was vastly improved when I was took the time to listen. Time. This was the main challenge that I faced when trying to read. My days are not very hard compared to others in the world, but I would still find myself complaining about how I was going to have to go read. It's funny, thinking back now I probably wasted more time complaining about how I didn't have enough time than actually reading. That is most definitely one lesson that The Odyssey imprinted on me, do something now not later, because your challenge is still going to be there if you procrastinate, the only thing that will have changed is the amount of time you have to complete it. Most of the time my challenge was overcoming my own little voice in my head that said, You can do that later, or Just read in the car tomorrow morning. Let me tell you from personal experience trying to read fourth five pages of The Odyssey in a bouncing car at seven fifteen on a Monday morning is a form of torture that you should never put yourself through. And the truth was I was reading in the car that morning because of me no one else. It was my fault that I hadn't sucked it up and gotten myself up to take on what I was supposed to be doing. It really is up to you to shape the way your life is lived. Another challenge that I faced when reading the book was keeping my interest. Especially during the chapters when it was just Telemachus I found it really hard to keep my focus. After some particularly bad chapters for me, where I was lazy and didn't read as thoroughly, I realized, me not doing my work didn't effect anyone else at the table when we were discussing the chapter, I was only hurting myself I did have some more help beside Ian Mckellen once my journey of taking on this book started. My classmates and I would discuss the reading the day after, and I always felt as though they had helped me better understand what had happened in the chapter. I felt as though all of the reading and lessons led up to one day. We centered ourselves, clearing our minds on the wrestling mat, well as though that is what we were supposed to be doing. Reading those last few chapters I felt as though I was rounding the last bend in a race I hadn't even realized I had been running. It felt so good to know that I had faced the challenge in front of me and conquered it. I was left with more wisdom, though I still don't have very much, than when I started out with.
I learned that attacking a problem when you first see it is much better than letting it grow too big. From the actual text in the book I learned that family will form bonds that you will find no where else. Also reading The Odyssey really puts a perspective on the life your living, how can you complain about the amount of homework you have after reading about fighting a giant cyclops! And finally sometimes it's better to take on the something that may seem undesirable because you might find out that there is hidden treasure under the rotting chest.
Nadia drove north speeding along the roads with the ease of someone who had been driving for far more years than they should have been. The golden waves of Nadia's hair snapped around her face in the wind as she rolled the window down sticking her hand out and letting the air currents rush over the smooth skin. A pair of tawny gold ray bands hid her sapphire eyes. She pulled of onto a side road that would lead them into the foothills of the mountains, and sped along. The two of them sat in comfortable silence. Michael looked over at her thought about how this moment was perfect. The warm sun and the mountain breeze set the mood as the two young lovers wound their way into the twisting roads that led into the woods. Nadia pulled the car to a stop. She hopped out grabbing the basket and took off into the woods laughing as Michael stared on dumbstruck. "Grab the blanket you dummy she heard her yell as she diapered into the dappled shadows". Michael snatched the blanket from the backseat and ran after her. It didn't take him long to catch up, he might not be training as vigorously as before, but he was still in suburb shape. At the thought of Ana and the others his mind darkened, but the clouds were soon dispersed as he ran off through the birch trees after the bouncing ponytail. Michael skidded to a stop and gaped at the sight around him. A perfect glen was laid out before him. A water fall gurgled and spluttered over a jumble of rocks some thirty feet above him, before tumbling out into the open air to crash into the crystal lagoon. The pool closest to the water fall was the biggest, but lead into another small perfectly blue pool and then another until they leveled out into the twisting mountain stream and bent out of sight. The mountain lake was surrounded by lush sweeping willows, that gripped the sloping rich earth that surrounded the left and right sides of the water. In front of Michael the birch and oak saplings ended and lead into the smooth pebbles that met the waters edge. Across the lake was the waterfall and high cliffs with flat faces every couple of feet that looked like the perfect places to hop to if one was so inclined to scale to the top of the cliff. Michael looked on as he saw Nadia already scrambling up the very bottom of the rocks in front of him. He watched as she lithely swung from plateau to plateau moving with the grace of some ancient hunter. When she was fifteen feet above the big expanse of water she turned her back toward the flowing pools and then she leapt into the air. Michael heart rose as he watched her twist appearing to fly like some sort of swan. Her arms extended and she it the water swooping into the water in one smooth motion. She spiraled under the pristine surface before surfacing right before on of the small drop offs into the next little lagoon. She tumbled of the edge laughing. She passed over three more small drops before reaching the water the Michael was standing beside.
Michael wanted to go back to training but Nadia fixated him. It seemed as though when he was with her all reason faded away. He had never felt more alone and distraught as when he had crashed into the car and drove out of the hills at the bottom of the alps, and yet he had never felt more excepted than when he was with Nadia. She lived in a small city outside of Paris where her family owned a factory that sold one of the most well known and expensive vineyards in all of France. Her life sounded life paradise. A childhood of only the best private schools, and a summer spent visiting expensive resorts around the world as her father bought and sold his many companies. But the way Nadia described her life made it sound more like a claustrophobic mess. Her father was immensely greedy, no matter how much money he had he always wanted more. Nadia talked with no love about him. He would all have abandoned their family if it had been his choice, but by the time he had become the shallow wraith of himself the press had already found out about the seven kids and the supermodel mother. Nadia hole being emanated with love when she talked out her seven siblings, though she once hinted at the fact that their could be many others considering how many young secretaries her father ensnared in his poisonous web. Her mother was an airhead, her only purpose giving birth to children and pretending to give birth to children. Nadia had no real devotion to the family business of as she put it, "consuming other people's lives to feed one not worth living" instead she loved to bake. This was a problem in her family and they had all but thrown her out. Her two older brothers had already been enslaved in the family business, so her father thought of her as nothing more than another expendable child. Nadia had fled to Zurnö stealing some of her families great wealth, not enough to live on, but enough to get her started. She acted as though money was poison, something that will eat you up from the inside out. Nadia had found a small bakery with a strict german women who was a master baker though didn't like to be contradicted. Nadia had worked day in and day out slowly raising through the ranks until she was now the co owner of the bakery. She was one of the few people who was allowed to come up with her own recipes and change the existing ones or at least try to. Nadia was sure to tell Michael all about why the macaroon he had been eating was disgraceful along with all other sorts of foods when she had invited him to her small apartment for dinner. She had said they would bake dinner together, which ended up being him running around the kitchen while she yelled commands such as "Grab the whisk, no that bowl, EGGS!!!" Michael had spent the entire evening stealing foods while she slapped his hands saying "Wait, we eat later!" That night the wait had been well worth the it. Nadia really was a talented cook. Today Nadia was coming from the bakery and then she was taking him somewhere she said he'd like. He stopped and got out waiting leaning against the front of the car in front of the bakery. Nadia came running out clutching a wicker basket in her arms. She hopped into the drivers seat putting the basket in the back. Delicious smells wafted out of the basket and he leaned forward instinctively. She shooed him away then briskly stepped on the pedal and the car went speeding off.
Michael couldn't help eating. After so long on Ana's strict diet the amazing food of Zurnö seemed all the more delicious to him. The waiter quickly brought over his order four macaroons brightly colored, like little flowers blooming in spring. He took a bite and then got up to get a drink of water. He didn't see the girl coming forward and so was completely unprepared when he crashed into her. She slipped falling forwards, Michael instinctively lunged out catching her but causing himself to trip on the uneven old floorboards. The tumbled to the ground a mess of limbs. "Sorry" Michael blurted out. "Stupid American" a distinct French accented voice came from behind a wall of hair that had fallen over the girls face. She pushed the golden waves over her head and Michael was met with a pair of startlingly blue eyes "Oh, so the American is fat and ugly" the girl said as Michael stared at her face. To accompany the blue eyes she had a straight nose, fine delicate eyebrows, and a smattering of freckles that reminded Michael of cinnamon that has been blown out of the bottle and onto a counter top. The girl pushed herself up to her feet. And looked down at her clothes. "Shit I really liked this outfit. You're going to have to by me another one" she said her face becoming red and her voice rising to an angry pitch, then she smiled, an action that seemed to cause light to pour around the room, and slapped his arm and chirped "Lighten up American". Michael stuttered spellbound by the French girl in front of him. "Are you mute too, wow I heard Americans were like stupid pigs, but I expected that the pigs made less noise, well you learn something new everyday." Michael grasped for something to say anything, his eyes alight on one of the macaroons he had been eater which now lay by his feet. "Pretty good" he mumbled pointing to the pastry. The girl looked down and laughed clearly aware of the effect she was having on the poor boy in front of her. "No not really. Their to flaky, not enough moisture to bind them together. Mine are much better." "You make these?" Michael blurted out instinctively" "well as I said mine are much better than the ones Maria makes, but yes I do create the foods you seem to enjoy shoving in your face so much." Michael blushed, this girl seemed to have a way of stripping him down still he was left with nothing more that a helpless heap of mumbled words. She laughed and then looked up at him. Why are you here in Switzerland?" Michael started in to his story quickly ordering a cup of tea to replace the one that he had spattered all over the cardigan of the girl. He wasn't sure how long they sat in the small cafe talking while the rain spattered down on the shingles running over the rippling glass window, but in the end he had one thing that he had never expected to get, a small napkin with ten numbers written on it and one name written on it.
Michael headed out to the bakery the next morning. The night in the in had been the first in so many weeks without a nightmare. He ordered a variety of different French delicacies. Zurnö really was a special town because of all the different cultures that mixed together. The French had once owned this land before it became part of southern Switzerland. They owned most of the cafes and boutiques. Michael sat at the tall window stools occasionally picking up his espresso from the counter to take a sip or two. People walked in and out of the small cafe communicating in an abundance of languages. Michael just sat. Michael sat and observed. He felt so calm like a deep running mountain stream. Still and flat on the outside, but with much depth. He gazed out on the world, not forcing anything on it, but reflecting that which it gave him. Michael didn't know how long he sat on the tall stool looking out the window at the bustling people. Around three Michael got up and started to walk back to the inn. He knew he had acted irrationally and should return, but it felt so nice to be free of the oppressive pressure that he had felt. He wandered down the winding street clouds had clouded over the previously spotless sky and the air was heavy with the smell of rain. Michael picked up his pace not wanting to get wet. He was walking across a small plaza with beautiful poppies surrounding a fountain filled with all sorts of coins when the first drops hit the warm cobblestone. They sky opened up and the large raindrops came falling down from the heavens. Michael ran down the streets already his shirt was damp with the crystal clear droplets. Little rivers crisscrosses and crashed together around the corners of the cobblestones. Michael sprinted toward a small brightly lit bakery that people were flocking into. He bustled through the door shaking his head and sending water flinging through the air. The bakery was crowed due to the people who had been fleeing through the rain. He sat down at a small corner in the back and ordered a variety macaroon. Michael couldn't help eating. After so long on Ana's strict diet the amazing food of Zurnö seemed all the more delicious to him. The waiter quickly brought over his order four macaroons brightly colored, like little flowers blooming in spring. He took a bite and then got up to get a drink of water.
Zurnö was a rustic village with a design and feel of a French town. The streets were paved in a cobblestone pattern and the shops and bistros all seemed to be stacked and slightly slanted. The whole town was alive with the sounds, smells, and feeling of different cultures colliding on one canvas. French, German, Italian, Romansh, and Dutch floated through the air along with the smells of baking breads and croissants. Michael moved toward the center of the town making his way down the slightly sloped road. The cobble stone was warned by the rays of the high noon sun. Michael breathed in a deep breath. The clear country air seemed to cleanse him cleaning out the darkness that he hadn't realized had claimed his soul. Michael looked down the street, trying to find the inn that he knew would be located at the center of the plaza. He found it and walked in through the swinging door. "Begrüßen , wie kann ich Ihnen helfen " said a portly women. "Oh French" Michael shook his head and said "English" "Alrighty deary how can I help you. Need a room". "Yes please." "Right this way. You can pay when you leave hun." She led him up the a winding spiral staircase. Michael walked into the room. The door closed behind him and Michael looked around the room. There was a small bed next to a bureau on the far side and a bathroom with a shower to the right. Michael set his small bundle of clothes that was in the back of his car down on the bed and sighed. It felt good to be away from the pressure of the running world. Michael felt clear headed and ready to enjoy himself. Being happy was something he hadn't thought about it a long time, but maybe it was time to pick up that thought again.
The car bumped along the road jostling Michael as he streaked across the rolling countryside. The wheel hit a rut and the hole car tilted precariously to the side. Michael needed to calm down, he knew that it wouldn't do anyone any good if he ended up dead on the side of the road. He pulled his foot off the pedal and the car slowed to a stop. He breathed hard. If was like some horrible serpent had taken over his body. A black beast that stood coiled in his blood waiting for a chance to take over Michael and lash out. Michael gasped for air. What was happening to him. He opened his and wept letting the great sobs convulse through his body. A tear fell onto his arm and he looked down. Michael screamed flailing backward over the seat. For a second he had been convinced that there had been black scales writhing across his arms. He trembled and slowly leveled his gaze back to his body. No scales. He took a deep shuddering breath. Michael knew he should go back to Ana's house and apologize, but the farther he got from the track and the demons it had created in him the better he felt. It was as if the snake that coiled inside him rested while not around anything to strike, that anything being Robert. Michael steadied his hands readjusted the mirror and buckled his seat belt. The car grumbled back to life. Michael would head to Zurnö a small village close to French boarder. Michael took another breath. All he needed to do know was breath. He could already feel his head clearing. It was the first time in so long that he had looked up from his blinding anger that had dominated his life. A break was good, yes a break was definitely good.
The nightmares continued as the training got harder. Michael because obsessive spending each waking hour of each waking day think of Robert. The scratches continued to add up on Michael's chiseled body, but he couldn't stop from getting them. All he could do was wake up in the morning and notice the new blood stains that coated the sheets. He no longer went to the pool, but would slip away after practice back to his dark lair that was his room. He no longer interacted with the others. Except when competing. Michael lived in a clouded state worse than the one when Thomas had died. That had been a stupor brought on by grief, what Michael was experiencing now was a madness brought on by his own self absorbed delusions. He hadn't realized it but he had started to mutter to himself awful things about stabbings and blood. There was reason why no one talked to him anymore. The scratches, glazed eyes, and waxy skin were all signs of someone who wasn't mentally stable. Of course in Michaels dilapidated state of mind he thought of their distance as some evil plan concocted by Robert now that they were competing on what could be an Olympic level. The thing was Robert had never felt any sort of animosity toward Michael, it had all just been fabrications brought on by a mind who had seen too much suffering and pressure which resulted in a break. Michael had snapped, like a rubber band that through the years had been pulled and pulled slowly fraying until the small cuts and gashes had ripped open and all the daemons had poured out. Ana looked on now at the young man who she had brought to Switzerland so full of the joy of youth, who had been turned into a stalking predator unstable and ready to erupt at the slightest touch. "Again" she cried out. She needed them to break this time, if so then they would qualify for the first heat at the Olympic trials. She could see the rabid look in Michaels eyes as she ground him against trying to make them push each other to their limits. She took this look of pure animal ferocity and used it as she had since day one, to get them to run faster. "Attack it Michael don't let Robert beat you! Don't let him catch you! Attack it, Attack It ATTACK IT!! "I CANT!" Michael bellowed. He stopped wheeling around and turned "I can't anymore!" his anguished cry echoed around the now empty space. "I Can't. I need to leave!" Michael continued a frenzied edge creeping into his voice. "I need to get out of hear" Michael turned and ran toward the gate. "Michael" Robert cried after him starting to purse the leaping boy. "No." Ana said calmly. "You stay here. He might not have what it takes to be on the top but you do." "But I don't want this!" Robert cried out tears streaking his face. "But it's what you have and you will take it" Ana's harsh tone cut through Roberts pleads. "We're done for today. Clear the track". And so two dark gazelle like twins walked away, one crying boy, and one mad boy ran.
By the time Michael arrived at the track the sun was well up and shinning bright. The day was hot and Michael knew that he would have to sit through hours of the an baking him. When Michael stepped onto the red surface all eyes turned to him. How did they know? Robert must have told them about last night. Robert was making him seem weak. He was spreading rumors about Michael. Michael knew it, he knew it. Michael had anticipated the practice well, it was miserable. The heat clung to his sweat covered body, crisping his skin until it was a nice red color. The freckles that spattered his nose and cheeks seemed to multiply, and to make things worse he had to put up with Robert all day. Being near Robert Adlerborrow made his skin seethe with a grinding twisting feeling, as though worms were borrowing their way through his skin. He wished to release the feeling in one pure wave. Like the pain he had felt last night. He wished to cleanse himself of the plague in his life that was Robert Adlerborrow, with one wave of pain, to wipe him out it a massive display of dominance. Yet Michael couldn't. And so he stayed, and waited, and simmered growing ever more unstable. At the end of practice Ana called them together to announce the news she had promised earlier in the morning. "You all have been training very hard these last months and have made so much progress. There is still much more that you all need to learn, and I do not wish to give you an inflated self worth, but I would like to say that you are some of the most talented young people I have ever met. I am confident that you all can go great places. It is because of this faith that I have it you that I would like to take you to the Olympics in half a year." The entire mountainside seemed to fall silent. None of them had ever thought about the Olympics. In truth the lifestyle that Ana had set up for them was so grueling and complete that they hadn't really thought about anything past right now. "You are not ready, but I believe that you could be. We will have to increase your training hours and it won't be easy. Robert Michael, you will need to work off each other. Having each other is a invaluable resource. You will need to temper each other constantly making each other better. You will need to be a team, but understand do not become to close because only one of you can be a winner."