Balázs’s (19) entry

“In the evenings, I always chew on what it would have been like if I could say no.”

“This letter informs you that you have not been selected for the position.” My world has collapsed. This was my last chance to keep Daddy’s memory alive. The reason was simple. Too simple. I couldn’t be a firefighter because my lungs were weak. My lungs, who had been swimming competitively until the age of 14 and took home the prizes one by one.
            It was Rose’s fault. The girl who sat next to me in Hungarian and chemistry classes. The girl who’d always been eccentric. The girl who always spoke softly, but everyone listened. Who was always three steps ahead of you. The girl who did nothing wrong but did nothing right, either.
            I don’t know what day it was, only how it ended. Rose made me very angry in the Hungarian class. She didn’t know who I was, I didn’t know who she was, but I was very curious to see why she felt so superior. I was supposed to go to practice that afternoon, but for the first time in years, I didn’t cross the zebra, but I headed straight for the place behind the school, which everyone knew was Rose’s territory. The first thing I noticed was the bitter smell in the air. The second Rose and her company. There were five of them, and there were bottles and bags lying on the floor next to them. Apart from Rose, I knew three of them, they went to our school, but the fifth guy standing around with a beer bottle in his hand was unknown to me. Later, we built a close relationship – on the pillars of vodka and drugs. He showed me a life where there were no rules. The life you either climb out of or you’re taken away on a stretcher. I should never have said yes to him, but saying yes is always easier than saying no.
            After that, things accelerated, although in most cases everything seemed to happen much slowly. I vowed to stop every day, but then I was there with them again in the afternoon. It was as constant as the marijuana smoke in my throat. The more addicted I became, the less I could pay attention at school, so my academic achievements started to deteriorate drastically. And what was even worse was that the distance I was able to swim was decreasing. I went to fewer and fewer training sessions, and after May 15th I didn’t attend at all. There was a competition that day, but when the starting whistle blew, all I could do was fall in the water. I never went to the swimming pool again.
            Then came the slap that finally woke me up from the sickening taste of smoke and alcohol. It was the end of the tenth year and Rose and I were on our way to our usual place when the principal grabbed me in the hallway and asked me to let him talk to me in his office. Since my grades had been deteriorating, I would have to take a make-up exam that summer. I had very little time and the days were going by so quickly. At that time, I wished everything would slow down again. But in order to pass the exams, I had to realize that I was addicted to the feeling that the drugs had given me. It was very difficult at first, but with the help of my parents, I got through the exams. Gradually, my well-being improved, and later I graduated with my class. But something never got back to normal. I never swam again, not only because of my humiliation, but also because I felt I just couldn’t.
            Looking back on my teenage years, I needed this period to become a better person mentally, because now I can already appreciate more things, but I’m never going to get back what I used to be physically. I will never be Piri Kovács, a swimming champion. At nights, I’m still often wondering what would have happened if I’d been able to say no. If someone had told me how to do it, this whole thing would not have happened. I’ve always blamed Rose for everything, but I now I realize: it was all my fault.

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