I was ten when I met Jade
inside the dull blue, somewhat decrepit building
of Liaoning’s provincial swim team training center.
There, weary old stairs sighed under the weight of sore legs
as they bore limp and lactic acid-filled bodies back to their dormitories.
There, iron-framed bunk beds lay clustered in dimly lit rooms.
Out the dusty hallway window that overlooked two pools
of silently thundering water, a red banner swayed above the flags.
Wrinkled by time, yet still as solemn as ever, it glowed
under brightly lit ceiling lights
—and cast a vivid glare on every droplet or streak
of water that clung to our bare and trembling bodies.
Trembling, as we waited for the slipper bottom to leave
its imprints, as our capillaries contorted to form the strokes of whip scars.
He was only a coach, and yet we were only disobedient children.
Through a foggy piece of plastic, black and blue tiles melted
into one another, like layers of new and old bruises, until all that was left
was the sight of skinny legs standing in the heat of a misty shower.
That day was like any other.
Chlorine hung thick in the stale air, sodden hair, and damp bed sheets;
it seeped from our pores and dissolved the blood that clogged them.
Jade stood still, bare feet on cold cement, as the razor blade
nipped her ear and strands of wet hair fell beside wrinkled and puffy toes.
That day was like any other. She tasted the bitterness of rubber
from the cheek that sustained his blow, landed so firmly
that even before the pain hit, she decided: That day was not to be like any other.
So when ringing faded from her ears and tears her eyes, Jade gave in
to the smell of water—
boiled in a kettle as a single sandal lay folded
between clenched teeth—pouring down on flesh.
Rellie Liu is an undergraduate junior studying Biology and English at Stanford University. She was born in China and raised in Vancouver, Canada.