Quick 180

Life can turn on its axis at any moment.

Micah Wittler, Special Contributor

Walking into the unknown. Down a corridor toward the meeting room. With a knot in my stomach, I knock on the door and enter. Despite COVID shutting everything down for nearly a year, I had been consistently practicing my basketball game. I ran faster than nearly everyone in the program, and I was careful to wholly learn from my instruction on the court; I even handled myself with grace while receiving intense corrections in front of the whole team. I had done it all faithfully to aid me on the court, but also to help me earn some varsity minutes. 

“Hello Micah, go ahead and take a seat.” 

Hands perspiring, I listen to my coaches explain how they have been impressed with me, but Varsity won’t be something that will work. They tell me how Junior Varsity is going to be the place where I will learn to thrive.

Walking into the unknown. Down the courtyard toward the bus. With a knot in my stomach, I looked between her and my shoes as we walked. Despite COVID shutting everything down for nearly a year, I had the best friend group; they were funny, responsible, kind, talented, and they looked after me, not to mention that they were really cool. Not only had I found camaraderie in the group, but I also found a cute girl through the group, and Jane and I immediately clicked. We were into each other and loved to be together, especially because we shared the same friend group. But recently it seemed as though things were going cold on her end. 

“Look, Micah, I just needed to talk with you.” 

Hands perspiring, I listen to Jane explain how she likes me a lot, but our relationship won’t be something that will work anymore. In a cave of loneliness is where I find myself, and I will need to learn to thrive.

While my life wasn’t going how I wanted it to, I was optimistic. 

I knew I was a Varsity-level player and it would only be a matter of time until I would prove myself. The blood, sweat, and tears on the nights when I had practiced over and over again until I couldn’t stand wouldn’t be in vain. The hours I spent refining my shot to make it faster and more smooth, the hundreds of reps I had poured into ball handling, and the precise studying and evaluating of my footwork would not be for nothing.

I knew what it was like to thrive alone. I didn’t need a girl to complete me. Sure I was void of the excitement and fun of a romantic relationship, but I was also free of the heavy weight I’d been carrying. I was free of the worry that she would leave me. I was free of the pain of watching her make time for everyone else but me. I was free of a girl who was ashamed to admit that she even liked me in front of any adult. I had been burned, but it was more like my preexisting open wound had been cauterized. It hurt, but it was all for the best.

That’s what I thought, at least.

Shots weren’t falling. I couldn’t seem to put the ball in the basket. My lungs felt forcibly tightened; our district’s extremely strict mask rules kept me gasping for a breath I would never receive. My polyester mask, wet from saliva and perspiration, remained strapped to my acne-infested face. All the while I was constantly enduring a low-level migraine, probably due to the lack of oxygen to my brain. It was not only very uncomfortable, but it was humiliating. Compared to how I could’ve been playing, I was doing terribly. 

To limit the spread of COVID transferring to each team, we were divided by levels; this meant I only ever saw my JV teammates and the four walls of the auxiliary gym, knowing my buddies on Varsity were just 20 feet away. I barely ever saw them that season; we didn’t even get to ride the bus to games. I had to drive to foreign high schools, play for zero spectators, and drive home without even watching our Varsity team play. If I was lucky, I could maybe exchange a few words with them as they walked in and I walked out. Meanwhile, my friend group had completely deserted me. 

Until it happened, it had never occurred to me that because Jane and I were both in the same friend group, there would only be room enough for one of us after we broke up. And they chose her. They wouldn’t even have the mercy to acknowledge me in the classes we shared. I was ghosted. Life went on around me as if I weren’t there. I still did everything I had done before, just alone. I ate lunch alone. I sat in class alone. I did homework alone. I laughed alone. I cried alone. I cried a lot actually, and I appreciate my mask, physically and metaphorically, for hiding it. I watched my teammates and friends enjoy themselves without me. It was agonizing. The sweet milk and honey I’d experienced had turned sour.

Weeks went by and my perception hadn’t changed, but it had turned. I learned that if I couldn’t change the situation, I had to accept that the doors I wanted open were locked shut. I could either cry about it, break the door down, or I could find another avenue and make the most of it. My eyes were flooded with sadness, anger, and the need for revenge. But I knew I needed to move on; either find a new door or break the locked door down. 

And so I did. 

I found a new friend group that cared about me. They weren’t as talented or cool as my old group, but they stood up for me. And as for basketball, I turned my anger, my vengeance, and even my sadness into an unstoppable strength that kicked through the locked door until I stood victorious on a pile of splinters.

When asked what separates the Navy SEALs who make it from the ones who wash out during training, an anonymous SEAL replied “Just don’t quit.” I couldn’t change the circumstances, but I could refuse to quit. 

Sporting swollen feet, bloody knuckles, tear-stained eyes, a fractured shoulder, and a heavy heart, still I stood. Despite being kicked to the curb, I still stood. Despite losing everything I held so close, so precious, still I stood. I was knocked to the ground and trampled into the mud, but still, I stood. My eyes turned from looking down at the muck I was enveloped in, to the sky above.