Hidden among my firsts this fall lies a more sobering last. Not until two weeks ago, just as our season came to a close, did I acknowledge the role that Prep's épée (the sword we brandish) fencing team has played in my life between eighth grade and now.
Nov. 5 marked our last fencing tournaments—women’s, mixed, and juniors’—and the closing banquet, one of several that I’ve attended through the years, and definitely not the first where such vast quantities of barbecue, pasta salad and brownies have been inhaled in such a short period of time. But it was the first where all freshman, sophomore and junior faces turned to me, as a captain; the first where I’ve been the one moving onward and sending off my flock, as it were; the first where I’ve had no next year to look forward to.
Suddenly, I’m not the new middle schooler learning the hard way why girls wear chest guards (epic bras, as my soccer friends refer to them), but I’m the girl fitting a new round of youngsters with always-stylish knickers and jackets, adjusting arm positions and being watched by avid athletes looking up from the same notch that I started from.
As a senior fencer throughout the fall, I had accepted my corresponding responsibilities. I routinely worked through tiredness to lead practices, rally bouts and orchestrate the ever-popular stretching polygon—not a stretching circle, which is an impossible shape for us humans to create, as my discerning, well-versed, goofy team constantly reminded me. Together with my co-captain Coleman, I taught the newbies how to hold their épées, how to lunge fearlessly and how to take pride in being the best kind of nerdy swashbucklers.
But, as it always seems with the passing of things taken for granted in the moment, my own head wasn’t always held high to appreciate every nuance of a marvelous melting pot of a team that listened to us and watched us and laughed with us every day. All the preseason practices and frantic footwork drills and medals and tournaments and tag games and earning an E rating caught up to me.
So on Saturday night, after a day chock-full of sweat, five-touch pool bouts and fifteen-touch direct elimination bouts with all sizes and ages of other fencers, I faced a roomful of my own team eagerly awaiting the mountains of potluck food.
Now it hits me. There isn’t a next year for me to see how the rookies fare in bigger tournaments. I’m not going to return to the team to be greeted by Liam’s tales of LARPing (Live Action Role Playing) and hair dyeing, nor to hear Mc recite word-for-word scenes from Men in Black and Princess Bride. I won’t be graced by Rose’s loud and spicy drama, or by Andrew’s lunges and running fleches from a height of seven feet. Even tough indie bookworm Anna, whom I have never once seen cry, begins tearing up when the captains say their goodbyes.
It’s harder than I thought it would be to leave behind such a confident, kooky, swashbuckling nook where people who wouldn’t otherwise even wave at each other between classes face off on the fencing strip—and not hesitating to draw blood, purple bruises, and snap in half a few swords, all in a day’s fight! The family that looks up (consciously or not) to the elders of the pack, to the twelfth grade oldies, makes me crave just another year to savor our hysterical laughing fits, strip-rolling competitions, sword tip cleanings and polygonal stretching.
But I guess that’s the mask of senior year—everything familiar is replaced with the unexplored, whether I’m ready or not. At least I know the team will just be heartbroken not to hear me yell and nag at them everyday to “Get dressed! Set up strips! Roll out the machines! No one should be lazing around!” Time for someone else to address their concerns, watch them advance and boast their pirate side together.