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Love Letters to Usain Bolt’s Body

Hello, legs. Hello, chest. Hello, neck. You are amazing.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration
Getty Images/Ringer illustration

This is a collection of love letters, each one written to a different part of Usain Bolt’s body.

Dear Usain Bolt’s Right Leg,

You are so powerful and so robust; so magnificent and so unquestionable. I think about you often. More than I think about my own right leg, I am certain. I thought about my right leg once. I will never forget it. As a memory, that moment is unforgettable, the same as you are unforgettable, Usain Bolt’s Right Leg, though for entirely different reasons.

Usually it’s hidden under clothes — my leg, I mean — but the one time I looked at it, it was bare and vulnerable. The bathroom at my parents’ house is built in such a way that when you pull the curtain back to step out of the shower you end up confronted by the reflection of your naked self in a large mirror. That’s when I looked at it — my leg, I mean. It looked afraid, insofar as a leg can look afraid. It looked sickly and uninspired, and I was so sad. I considered it; how it came to exist. I asked, “How did you become a leg?”

Mine is barely even a leg, if I’m being honest. You are a leg, Usain Bolt’s Right Leg; proud and firm and nuclear. You are a lion’s roar; the trunk of an oak tree, but stronger; the engine of a tank, but more substantial. Mine is a whimper; a noodle with a kneecap on it; a shoelace with a knot tied in the middle; an unfunny joke played by God.

“Watch this,” He probably told the angels circling His head in heaven, as He pulled a piece of human clay off of a large mound and then began rubbing it between His hands like how kids do when they make Play-Doh snakes. “Watch what I do with this guy’s leg,” He probably continued, and He just kept rubbing his hands back and forth and back and forth and back and forth, the clay stretching thinner and thinner. “This is gonna be so funny.” And He rubbed that human clay between his hands until all of its strength and all of its potential had vanished forever. Then He dangled the string-as-a-leg between his thumb and forefinger. And He laughed. “Look how stupid it is. Pretty funny, right?”

I hope you know that you are wonderful, Usain Bolt’s Right Leg, and that I think about you often. That is the point of this letter.

Congratulations on your eighth Olympic gold medal last night.

With Love,

Shea

Dear Usain Bolt’s Left Leg,

Do you remember the scene in A Christmas Story when the dad received a large prize in the mail and when he opened it he saw that it was a lamp that was a woman’s leg? Could that ever be us? Do you think?

Congratulations on your eighth Olympic gold medal last night.

With Love,

Shea

Dear Usain Bolt’s Neck,

Please listen: There is a regality in your strength that is distinct and tactile; it’s certainly consuming. How do you do it? How do you do that? How do you make an area otherwise forgettable so interesting and necessary?

I dreamt of you once. We were in the same room, or maybe it was the same city, or maybe the same state, and we were doing a small thing, or maybe it was nothing, or maybe it was everything. I can’t say with certainty because the edges of the dream were blurry. I’m not sure if it was that way because dreams are just naturally cloudy. Who can say? Not me. Not you either. Because you can’t speak. Because you are a neck. Not a mouth. I wish that neck’s had mouths on them. It seems more efficient — quicker to get the food to the belly that way, if you think about it. Though I guess it would make swimming harder. And turtlenecks far more dangerous. I don’t know. This letter has gone sideways. It is nonlinear. Because thinking about you is nonlinear, same as dreaming about you is.

I’m certain I will dream of you again. Because that is how passion works. It is intense and it is overwhelming. It’s impetuous, but very warm; I like it. So I’m certain I will dream of you again. When I do, I will try and remember the edges of the dream. I suspect it will be impossible. But I will try.

Congratulations on your eighth Olympic gold medal last night.

With Love,

Shea

Dear Usain Bolt’s Chest,

You tell a spectacular story.

Congratulations on your eighth Olympic gold medal last night.

With Love,

Shea

Dear Usain Bolt’s Right Arm,

I was at the beach. It was midday. This was seven, eight, nine weeks ago. I was there alone; sitting in the sand, just sort of staring out into the ocean. There was a little girl, maybe 6 years old, playing by the water’s edge with her father, who was maybe 30 years old. I watched them for a moment. The father was so gentle with her. Not just in that way that fathers are gentle with their children, either. This was different. Elevated. Like he’d been gone for a while, and was back and finally able to spend time with her.

Maybe he was in the military, I thought, and then I imagined the entire scenario. I was picturing him in Afghanistan or Iraq or some other place I will never visit because I am a coward. I was picturing him there working, helping, doing things soldiers do. Do they have Skype in Afghanistan or Iraq or other places I will never visit because I am a coward? Because I was picturing him talking to his daughter via Skype. Months and months of talking via Skype. Maybe years. An entire e-relationship. First lost tooth. First day of school. Fell off her bicycle. Wouldn’t eat her dinner. The father and the daughter, sharing those things through an ethernet cord, and now sharing ocean waves in real life as I sneak-watched.

Was he going to be gone again soon? Was he home on leave, maybe? Is this the way it always was? Two weeks together at a time. How long could it go on like that? What would that look like for a lifetime? First date. Finding a dress for the prom. Acceptance into a university. Skype, Skype, Skype. Got engaged, got married, got pregnant. All experienced through a computer screen, or whatever has replaced computer screens in a decade. He’d come home for those two weeks at a time and it’d be their thing — they’d go to the beach and touch their feet to the water and talk and try to fast-forward a moment together. Would it start to feel strange as she aged into adulthood? Would there be resentment eventually? Would the daughter ever ask him, “Why can’t you just stay home and be with me and mom?” Would he ever say, “I don’t know,” and then shut down, even though he knew the answer was because he was afraid of being a father? Would he ever even realize that being afraid of being a father is typically a good sign that you’ll be a good father?

They played together the entire time I was there. I left when the sun started to go down, and they were still there. They ate right there in the sand. It was sandwiches. I remember because she dropped hers, and he laughed and then gave her his.

I can’t wait to see you again, Usain Bolt’s Right Arm.

Congratulations on your eighth Olympic gold medal last night.

With Love,

Shea

Dear Usain Bolt’s Left Arm,

I haven’t much to say to you yet. I suspect you know why. And if you don’t know, then I haven’t much to say to you for even longer. But I want to be clear that I love you, of course. That will never change.

With Love,

Shea

Dear Usain Bolt’s Torso and also Usain Bolt’s Shoulders,

Hello, Usain Bolt’s Torso. And hello, Usain Bolt’s Shoulders. I think of the two of you together — Torso, twisted tight and narrow, and Shoulders, which stretch across decades — and I am reminded of the philosopher Francis Bacon. He wrote a thing about beauty one time. (He quite possibly could’ve written about it more than the one time I’m about to tell you about, I admit.) He wrote, “There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.” I thought to send this to you when I saw you two together on television recently; Torso, barely thick as mailing tube, Shoulders, broad as July.

I hope you don’t think it weird. I also hope you are well. We will be together soon.

Congratulations on your eighth Olympic gold medal last night.

With Love,

Shea