November 16, 2020 (Last Updated January 26, 2021)48 Hour Books
We are pleased to announce the winner of our 2020 ”Second Chances” Writing Contest! Congratulations, Alix Geller, for your fantastic story.
The score is 10-9. I hear it amplified in the explosive beats that burst from my heart: 10-9, 10-9, as I attempt to recall, over the internal roar, that almost forgotten function called breathing. Knees bent, angled forward on the balls of my feet, mind cleared; I’m a figure frozen in the moment. An instinctive yet calculating animal crouched and aligned for the lunge.
And then my opponent calls for a time out and I’ve been granted a measure of pause. Which is not always a good thing.
I should be using this newly-gained time wisely, but instead I’m watching my thoughts run their course. Why am I here? Do I enjoy this? Am I having fun yet? Bouts of excitement ambushed by waves of anxiousness and self -doubt. I’m also watching my opponent.
She grabs an orange towel. She’s using it to suction moisture from her face and neck. I cause her to sweat! She paces in circles, muttering with her head down. I make her nervous! She speaks with her coach. I warrant a conference and strategy! She returns to the table. I have time for one last thought before play resumes. I squeeze in two.
One: I’m playing by the skin of my teeth (a most ridiculous expression if there ever was one, given teeth have no skin), and
Two: How did I get here?
The answer to that question resides in the knowledge that I could not have been here before. Thirty years before when I was in the throes of a debilitating and bewildering array of symptoms, which made executing all but essential tasks beyond my scope of performance. It happened so fast. One night I went to bed a strong, vibrant and happily married young mother, and woke feeling alien and unwell. I used to climb mountains but now crossing a room became a feat similar to scaling Mt Everest. A lengthy search for answers led me to doctors, naturopaths and psychics, to no avail. Then my husband left; and the world dropped from under me. Sorrow and illness commingled in a waking nightmare that was my existence. I cleaned and mopped my floors til they shone, but this obsessive effort at control could not fix cracks in my foundation.
Twenty years ago, hoisting myself up, pulling on the stair railing leading to my home, a useless leg limping behind. Some years later I received a delayed diagnosis of Lymes Disease (an invasion, I knew it) and a reconstructed hip as well as strict instructions which included new taboos: as in crossing my legs, running or contact sports. I gave away my tennis racket, but not hope, replacing the former with hiking poles. I learned to manage ongoing fatigue and ride the many storms.
During my years of pre-diagnostic ill health, I believe I hovered near death more than once. The first time was when, yellow with hepatitis, I left my body for two weeks. I don’t know where I went. Apparently my body stayed home and continued to oxygenate and pump blood without my knowledge and conscious consent. When I returned from vacating it was to a weakened, itchy, burping and saggy version, to a jacket that no longer fit or provided comfort.
The second time I knew exactly where my spirit journeyed Following my first hip reconstructive operation, my consciousness echoed upwards towards the ceiling and I hovered above myself. Peacefully, I floated in a totality of no cares. Not for the damaged foreign body stretched out below, the one that nice but stubborn nurse kept pounding on and insisting on its compliance: “Breathe, Alix.” Not a care, even for the small voiced child; I could see the top of her head and hear her soft utterance, a single word request, “Mom?” It felt so annoying; the way I was periodically jolted back into this hurtful vessel bearing a name I was once familiar with. Until it seemed I must leave, for good, that tranquill perch above it all and give that flawed form below another chance.
And then through the years came another new hip. More sickness and more hospitalizations. I didn’t return to health overnight as I had left it. It happened gradually. When my three daughters were young and needed me, I couldn’t always be there for them, which left me with immense regret. Then, incrementally, they were supporting and guiding me toward wellness. Those once little feet that followed in my footsteps became larger footprints I trailed behind and danced within. I regret the regret. Through their amazing love and my eternal intention and stubbornness that I couldn’t give up dreams of the girl I used to be. Diet and life changes and prayer and time and opportunities for joy and many many chances. Until I’m here, because I can be.
My opponent has a name I can’t begin to pronounce so I refer to her by the first letter: “X”. She’s considerably younger than I am, but then the majority of people are. She’s condensed and compact and toned and well armored. She uses a shake hand grip on her paddle which bears long pips on the backhand and which is very unfair of her. These prominent little beads alter the effect of the ping pong ball, either negating or reversing any spin I might create. It’s an approved form of cheating.
Still Time Out.
I have long pips on my backhand. But I don’t use them. Or rarely. It’s not because I am more moral and less apt to cheat. It’s because I haven’t mastered them. Yet. I use a flat grip and play with one side of the paddle. Unless I don’t. Imagine my surprise when I learned there was a name for this style of play, after suffering criticism and ridicule for exhibiting a lack of style. Danny Seemiller and his brothers began as I did, during the same years, across many states but in a similar garage, and with no training. With no one to show us, we developed what came naturally. It’s a Seemiller grip. Anyway, it’s what I do and I’m sticking with…...and adding to it.
I’m here because I couldn’t be, in the prime years of my life, and I have some catching up to do. I’m greedy and I’m grateful. I take nothing for granted. I’m here because I don’t know if I’ll be here tomorrow, what with fires and floods, quakes and winds (nature’s fury) and with fractures and weakening disease (body’s demise).
Here. Now when the score is 10-9 and I’m down one (10-9, last chance, chants my thundering heart) and am I going to play it safe, or take a risk, or let go and allow spirit to decide by default or divine wisdom? Now, when spirit is my friend, meeting my opponent’s crushing top spin serve with a shot of equal force and accuracy, barreling down the line.
It’s deuce again and I’m being given another chance. I’ve lost count how many times? No matter what happens I’ve gotten this far. The rest is just icing on the cake. But hey, that’s my favorite part.
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