“Life is a game with many rules but no referee. One learns how to play it more by watching it than by consulting any book, including the holy book. Small wonder, then, that so many play dirty, that so few win, that so many lose.” Joseph Brodsky
The past few years have aged me. I don’t always want to admit it. I’m pretty vain like that, but it’s true. Not only has my physical body aged, but my very spirit.
My friend, Bill, asked me a while back if I would ever write for Life With the Coach again, and I gave him a cool, clean, “no”. I meant it at the time but life has a way of humbling us, and after a lot of bad calls these past few years, I suppose I’m finally ready to be honest with myself and write about what’s changed me.
We are like that aren’t we, people who think we’re doing just a little better than we really are, or perhaps it’s just me? We lie to ourselves about our strengths and minimize our weaknesses at all costs. I used to be really great at that, you know, manufacturing happiness and looking like I had it all together in the game; pretending that everything was wonderful because it was just too shameful to admit that sometimes things were not okay.
In January of 2019, I was one of the most hopeful -and possibly prideful-people on the block. I lived in a beautiful home, in a town where friends were on every corner, around every aisle of the Food Lion, or at the next gas pump at the Scotchman. Sure, I’d had a few hard hits back in the fall of 2018, when my sister was a victim of domestic violence, one of my third-grade art students died in a house fire, and my childhood best friend had lost her fight to cancer, all within a couple months, but I thought I was holding it together. My pride told me so anyway. I had just graduated with my master’s, and frankly, I thought life was certainly on an upswing. In February, The Coach left to take a new position with Appalachian State’s football program. This was going to be an amazing new journey for our family-chock full of opportunities for us all.
The Coach left to live in The High Country and start his new job. I was left behind with the kids to wrap up our old life in a neat and tidy package. The Coach would see us on the weekends. It would be fine, right? Until…I started crying at the Food Lion. People would congratulate me on The Coach’s new job. At first, I would smile and nod and be okay with it all, but then the words would catch-hard like a jagged piece of gravel in my throat…”uh, yea, great…thanks”. I was being crushed under the weight as the reality of our choice to leave our hometown of twenty years sank into the layers of my mind. Had we made a bad call? The Coach didn’t have time to console me. He had stepped into a new realm that was taking every last speck of his energy, and all I could see were the zinc-gray thunderheads building on the horizon. As much as I tried to ignore them, they metastasized and darkened.
I had to sell the house. The house had been my dream. I had prayed for the house. Friends of ours who were contractors had taken 18 months to meticulously restore the 1940’s home to a picture of architectural integrity, warmth, and customized perfection for our family. It was a blessing. Now, I had to sell it. I also had to finish out teaching the school year, saying goodbye to the students I loved, pack, help the kids with homework, projects, prom, dance recitals, and their school year; saying goodbye to all of their childhood friends- our friends, our community. Meanwhile, I had to find a new job in The High Country, and find a new house that we could afford- a feat in itself if you’ve ever tried to find a practical home on the side of a mountain that doesn’t cost a clean fortune. Thunderheads started to break open-striking me with huge bolts of lightning.
Back at the Food Lion- I’m crying now and angry- seething every time someone congratulated me on The Coach’s new, exciting, and wonderful job. I was falling apart. The wheels had not only fallen off, I was scraping along on a broken axel. I had dealt with depression as a teen, but my pride told me that I’d beat it for life-I hadn’t seen that demon for years. “Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again…” Simon and Garfunkel blared from the inner foldings of my soul.
I applied for 11, maybe 12 jobs. I went to interviews- nothing. What was I qualified for? I only had 18 years of teaching experience, multiple teaching certifications, etc., and had successfully helped my boys make it into their teens, alive and with all their original parts. The little girl still isn’t a teen, thank God! I was married to The Coach, so I had managed our home and life; although not always well, while working and getting an advanced degree. Rejection is a hideous whisperer who lurks behind every slammed door. I cried out to God and went to therapy because none of my friends really understood why I was so sad, and I felt incredibly guilty for whining to them and not being happy about all of the new things that were coming to my life. All of the bad calls and good calls melted together in emotion, and I had to- for the first time in a long while, acknowledge that I might not win this one unless I processed all of the things that had and were happening to me- It was most certainly, Death of a thousand cuts.
In May, I finally got a teaching job and we found a house. I was thankful. We had sold our beautiful home in Shelby, and I mourned the loss of my old life. The day we moved in, it flooded out in front of our new house as storm water poured like a rushing river down the side of the mountain into our driveway, and down the culvert next to our home. I cried and prayed since I’d never experienced anything like it before, and The Coach was of course at the football field.
The summer was filled with unpacking boxes and the attempt to make the new house a home for us. It felt foreign and strange- like sleeping on another planet. The top of Grandfather Mountain loomed in the distance, holding many secrets, some of which he’s disclosed to me and others I have yet to know. The sunrises over the mountains revealed daily a new canvas filled with colors and forms, each beautiful and varied from the last. I would walk the roads around our house and often not see another soul.
Fall, 2019-Brief Synopsis-We had a successful first season with App State, and we made many new friends and went to a bowl game in New Orleans. Things were feeling a bit brighter. In football terms- we had put a few points on the board.
After the new year of 2020, many of our football friends we had made in our first season at App State moved on. New lesson: College football coaches move A LOT. We said goodbye to many people we’d come to care for, and who had made us feel welcome and accepted. I was hurt and felt the twinges of the darkness again, and questioned what life might bring our way next.
At school, the science teacher across the hall from me started talking about a new virus that he was discussing with his students. They were all watching videos and reading about it in class; speculating a world pandemic. I scoffed at the idea and went ahead and started my unit on Fahrenheit 451, a classic by Ray Bradbury. As my students and I discussed the world of the novel, we saw so many parallels to our own world.
In March, just after The Coach and I took our oldest son to dinner for his 18th birthday, the world shut down, and suddenly the political, social, racial, activities of our world felt like we were living in our own strange and unthinkable future, like the one in Fahrenheit 451 where the lines of wrong and right are completely unclear.
Covid Quarantine: We all know the story, we’ve all lived our own version of it. Some were better and some were, and still continue to be, much worse.
Just after my oldest son started his freshman year at App State, the rest of our family came down with Covid 19. I taught school from home and was in quarantine for a total of 31 days. We were blessed. None of us were extremely sick.
Until now, I haven’t been able to write anything real about all of these experiences. Life has been just a little too real these past years, so I have been writing fiction. Fiction and my imaginary worlds have been my solace and my healing place. Facing the truth has been hard. Looking back at the last several years has been HARD.
I am taking a break from teaching because Covid-teaching was totally a hellish nightmare, and though I am a good teacher, even good teachers need to step back for a moment sometimes. Many days here on top of this mountain where I live, I find myself alone with God. Alone with my stories, and alone with my dogs. I walk alone most days and think about where exactly it is that we are all headed?
The Coach is still working hard on football. Football has been an anchor for us. He’s in meetings today, after yesterday’s win against Arkansas State. Football has been good and we fight for every win, but the daily struggles have been real. Let’s face it, life’s bad calls suck. Bad calls can lose a game. Bad calls are hard to rebound from. They feel unfair. They are unjust. How do you get back what you lost? You don’t. You just accept it, and try to move on. I heard somebody say not long ago that God doesn’t waste anything. I need to believe that, and I think that other people need to know that too.
I spent a month this past summer in New York City. I was doing a filmmaking workshop there. It didn’t turn out like I thought it would, and with the Delta Variant looming, people were still very isolated and afraid. The Coach came up for the first week, but I was alone for most of the time. I did meet up with some friends and a former student, but mostly I had a lot of time to think and to reflect on the last few years.
I felt like an invisible observer most days as I navigated the city or looked at it through the lens of a camera. I witnessed many people, some so self-consumed and cold, that it physically made me ache. The light in many people has dimmed. Is it because of all of the bad calls that we’ve experienced? I saw so many lost souls; like empty cicada shells, you find clinging to the bark of trees. They seemed like there was so little life left in them, and others so jaded, callused, and closed off to any kindness shown to them. They glared at me with eyes that suspected I was trying to manipulate them or take advantage. Others were oblivious to the hurt around them as they walked down sidewalks in clouds of pot smoke, working hard to escape their pain and isolation. Still, others set up cameras on the city sidewalks so they could record their fabricated, “beautiful” NYC life in order to influence the world at large with their shiny, charlatan posts on social media.
Perhaps, I am judgmental and cynical myself after all of the bad calls I have experienced, but in trying to find a glimpse of hope or a flicker of true light, a cloud lingered over me in that great city. I drank wine purchased from the East Village Wine Shop and watched copious amounts of Friends episodes-(oh the irony) in the evenings to try to soothe my soul, as the noise of horns, shouts, and music of the city droned softly in the background.
The small tenement apartment where I stayed reminded me that at times during the early twentieth century, 10 or more people would have lived in a cramped, dark space like that together when they first came to our country. Even under the gray cloud of New York, I started appreciating things again, especially the simple things-my family, my friends who know how odd I am but love me nonetheless, the clean air and beautiful view from my mountain home, and the nature that I so often have taken for granted. It got me thinking too about all the bad calls that people have experienced throughout history and how they kept playing the game by looking for the better days to come.
Some of the people I worked with in my filmmaking workshop gave me hope too. From all over the world, and all younger than me; they shared amazing dreams and creative spirits. My former student who took me to Harlem where we saw amazing musicians giving a concert from a stoop and the community that gathered around them dancing and laughing, gave me hope. Joy and strength peeked out from behind the masks that we’ve been wearing.
The last few months have had hopeful days. Not all have been hopeful, but some have, and they have been sweet. They would be the days of good calls, I suppose. The good calls aren’t manufactured. I refuse to do that anymore. I’m different now. I’ve been humbled by all of the bad calls- the ones I’ve told you about here and ones that are stories of their very own. I choose to have gratitude for all of the tiny moments of goodness in my life. Even small gains should be celebrated. I know that after being stripped to the bone, there is no hiding what’s left. I am only impressed now by what is real and true.
If I could go back in time, would I? Could I go back to where I was comfortable in my old life and stay there? Would we choose to do things differently? The Coach and I agree that growth is never easy, and anyone who’s ever stepped out on faith knows that you can’t grow in your comfort zone.
Life will never be the same again for most everyone on our planet, even those who refuse to admit it-and those who’ve had the means to avoid their share of bad calls. My prayer is that the last few years have only made my light truer, stronger and brighter, and perhaps someone who’s found themselves out of the game will see that light and want to fight again, no matter how many bad calls have been made. In writing again for this blog, I hope that my words will bring hope to someone else, and if you happen to see me at the Food Lion, it’s okay to give me a little wave or ask me about The Coach.
*Dedicated to our dear and very genuine friend, Bill- Thanks for believing in my writing, and thanks for letting me sip on something cold and rock on your front porch. I hope to do it again soon.
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5 responses to “Bad Calls”
Love your blog.
I cannot find the words to adequately express to you how moving this blog was to me. I cried for you, cried for me, and cried for others who have gone through the “ bad calls” and darkness of the past few years! We all have stories , yet many of us have kept them inside! Thank you for sharing yours, and through that, helping us relate better to our own!
Since the first time I read your writing , I knew that you are blessed with talent.! After reading this tonight, it occurs to me that your talent has grown exponentially, perhaps as a result of having gone through the “ bad calls, and darkness of your soul!
Keep writing!! You have a book( or books) in you!
Love and prayers to you , “ Coach”, and the kids!🤗😘👍
I very powerful expression of how many of us feel. You are a writer as well as an artist. Thank you for sharing this with us.
Your personal story puts me in mind of a very dear old friend of mine……. A Mr. George Bailey, who at each and every opportunity he made plans for and hoped to accomplish seemed to be taken away from him at the last moments by a ‘bad call’ Being stuck in that dusty little ol’ town having to find a way to save 2 cents on a length of pipe while managing that broken down old building and loan never getting to see the world as he had hoped to do…. Feeling helpless, and cheated and desperate.. only to realize in the end that all he ever really needed for his life to be everything he could ever really want it to be was the family he had that loved him and the dear friends he had surrounded himself with throughout his ‘Wonderful Life’ Kudos to U my Dear Catherine, you have a family that loves U dearly and friends that hold U dear… Hoping you and Lance receive only good calls from here on in..
Lots of love,
Thank you Pappy. You know, that’s my favorite movie of all time. Love to you as well, and thanks for your kind words.