Mary Lou Retton at 46
In Mary Lou Retton’s garage are five unopened cases of Wheaties with her face on them—her fists raised in triumph—and a folder of signed pictures of her smiling between Bela Karolyi and Ronald Reagan. Every evening, after she picks her son up from hockey practice and before she starts dinner, she pours a glass of wine and finds a spot to do a round-off back handspring. Sometimes she will still perform one at a Christmas party, if she’s asked persuasively, if there’s enough room, if she’s wearing the right dress.
One Sunday, when she’s 46, she catches a bad cold and is down for a week. Her husband brings her chicken soup and season four of Downton Abbey. She posts pictures of herself on Instagram, of her slippered feet, of her head propped up on bed pillows, her short hair disheveled. “So sick,” says the caption, and all her friends reply with emoji hearts and “Get well, Mary Lou! We need you!”
When she is feeling better, she changes into her yoga pants and goes out alone to the soft spot in the backyard. She stretches, jumps in place. She knows what is coming before it happens. She throws her weight backwards and crumples in on herself with a dry- sounding crack. She glances toward the house to make sure her husband hasn’t seen.
I could try again, she thinks, but already she feels the strength gone from her arms, the flexibility from her spine. It is finished. She rolls over and lies on the grass. The sky is pale and crowded with pink clouds. She hears the ice cream truck coming up the street, feels an ant crawl across the back of her hand, feels the sudden terrifying weight of her own body.