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I stood, body shaking as the noises around me seemed to run into one masked blur. The crowd cheering and the voices of so many I couldn’t understand. I watched my foot place itself gracefully to the line, the ball felt smooth in my hand, as if it was meant to be there. The rhythm of it against the wooden floor, a melody that would sing throughout my mind forever. I felt the eyes of everyone on me, staring intently as if they could see inside of me and find the unconfident girl, cowardly hiding from the rest of the world. The sweat beads pierced down my head, and my knee ached in pain from the fall. The taste of victory was on my tongue, learking about, and I wanted it. I pulled up for the shot and the crowd seemed to silence, hushed and overtaken by the moment of time where it would all be decided. As the ball danced its way through the air, my eyes closed as I prayed silently to myself, and then suddenly the noise of the crowd woke me up.
It wasn’t anything fancy or anywhere I really wanted to be but it was home. A place all our own, a place full of years of sadness, and regret, and difficult times all smashed and complied into one place, holding intact because of the quiet love we shared. Besides the court where I was born to be, my room was one of the few places I could be, just me. A small area all my own, my own place of solitude where I could simply just sit and think. The hint smell of my favorite perfume always hung fresh in the air, the walls cluttered with posters and pictures, and the floor neatly decorated with dirty clothes that had somehow managed to miss the hamper. My favorite part of course was the golden figurines and medals that sat atop my shelf. All giving evidence, or some reward for doing what I did best. My passion, basketball.
It was nearing the third week of January, and as I sat in my seventh hour class the clock seemed to be frozen in time. Stuck still, leaving me sitting in agony waiting for the freedom of the end of day bell. I imagined it is what a prisoner must feel like, trapped behind bars, with nothing to do, but wait and think. I was having such a hard time concentrating and the same thing kept drifting its way into the front of my mind. Our basketball state playoff game was the next night. I knew our team could do it, and I knew we had the ability, and I kept telling myself that. Somehow though, hiding once again in my mind was that unconfident girl scared of her own dreams and there in my mind she was planting a seed of doubt within me. I was sure that she thought otherwise about our chances of winning, and she alone was determined to make me fail.
Startled by the ignorant ring of the bell, my thoughts were shaken back to reality. As I paced the busy crowded hallways, filled with yelling and talking I felt like an observer. As if I was behind a glass wall, quietly watching, but with no real importance but to observe. The faint sense of relief and accomplishment covered some of the faces, glad that the school day was finally over. Others stricken with disgust and irritation from the piles of homework and books that were weighing their backpacks down. My own bag felt as if it was cutting into my shoulder, a constant reminder of what I needed to be concentrating on, but for now it would all have to wait. I finally found my way to the locker room and quickly got dressed for practice. Carefully pulling my hair back into a ponytail, something that had now become routine. I finally made my way out onto the court, and as I did a sense of acceptance filled me. Out there I was simply the spectator, but in here I would never sit and let myself do that. It was my floor and I was meant to be there.
It was the end of practice, and our arms roared upward as we chanted our school’s name, our voices holding a sense of pride and excitement as we were all trying to forget about our nerves. Practice that day had gone unfortunately displeasing, and everything I tried to do, turned into a horrible mess of disaster. My shots weren’t dropping, I turned over the ball it seemed every time I touched it, and I felt like I was back in second grade. Me as an uncoordinated little girl trying something new. The whole time while our coach was talking to us, I felt like I knew what everyone was thinking. They were depending on me and I know they didn’t mean any harm, but all they were doing was making it worse. As a few of them came up and patted me on the back and told me that I could do it, the pressure simply kept building. I was like a volcano slowly getting ready to erupt, and I was just waiting. Not for if, but when I would explode.
That night after practice, and after my routine day of coming home, I said goodnight to my family and I was off to bed. I laid still under my covers, and thoughts raced throughout my mind as I stared into the darkness of my bedroom. Terrifying thoughts and images about the game danced their way inside of me and no matter how hard I tried to make those thoughts leave me, they stuck solid. A cement foundation that was there to stay. I glanced over at the clock and I had been lying awake for over an hour. My body was tired and ached from practice, but my mind thought otherwise. I was unsure on how long I sat awake thinking about the game, because I don’t even remember when I quietly drifted to sleep. The room in total stillness. Deep within my head, even that unconfident girl, had finally fallen to sleep. For once leaving me alone.
The sound of my alarm suddenly woke me up, a screeching ringing that I dreaded to hear every morning. I heard the cars outside already going and the busy noise of honking horns, as if they rest of the world had been awake for hours. I gracefully rolled out of bed and got myself ready for the day. All during the course of school I was completely unfocused, just going through the motions of answering a question once in a while just to please my teachers. As the day drew nearer and nearer to an end, the more nervous I became. The pit of my stomach feeling more queasy and upset as each second went by. The day seemed to drag on forever, but by the time that the last bell sang throughout the hallways, the day behind me was simply a foggy blur.
At home just as I grabbed my keys and headed out from my bedroom I stood, standing face to face with myself in the mirror. My long, brown hair hung softly in its ponytail, resting across my shoulders. My slender body to me, looked weak and frightened, and the sun from the window shone gently across my tanned skin. My hands were slightly trembling, and the fingernail polish from my fingers looked worn and was in great need of attention. As I stood there looking back at myself I stared carefully into my eyes, trying to find something. Staring back at me was the reflection of those blue eyes that had seen everything I had, and I had discovered the sense of fear and doubt within them. Before I could stare into them any longer, I grabbed my bag and headed out the door. The drive there my body sat silently shaking, left alone only to sit and wonder.
After what felt like forever, I finally made my way back to the school. Before long we were already dressed, had finished warming up, and we were waiting for them to announce the starters. As they called my name, my stomach dropped and I ran through the outstretched arms of my teammates. The air was full of hollering and cheering, and as we did a cheer and walked out onto the floor, my coach looked at me with that face. That face that told me that he was depending on. That he too, along with my teammates were counting on me. From then on the time seemed to speed by. All the days working up to this one game had dragged on, and now that I was here the time wouldn’t stop. Before I knew it the tip off had come and gone, and the first half had quickly dwindled away. We had played pretty good, and we stayed neck and neck the whole game. As soon as we entered the fourth quarter I knew it would be a fight for the win, and it would come down to who wanted it more.
We were down by one as the game rolled near the end of the fourth quarter. All of us ragged and tired, but yet with still so much drive within us. Our coach called a time out and we quickly found our way over to the bench. Sitting there, the sweat dripped down my head, my heart pounding, and my breath short and fast. So many things were crawling throughout my mind as I took in the situation. We were down by two, six seconds left in the game, it was our ball, and it was coming straight to me. The sound of the buzzer shook me out of my thoughts and once again we were back out on the floor. My teammate slapped the ball, and my foot jabbed to make a hard cut. My shoes squeaking against the wooden floor and the ball flew into my hands. The image of the scoreboard played in my mind and with all my strength I set the ball down to dribble to the hoop.
Is all I could feel was the body weight pushing against me, pulling me down and then my body slamming violently to the hard floor. My body being thrown as if I was a simple rag doll. The whistle blew and I knew just then what was happening. A foul had been called and I was shooting. The time had run out and it was all on me now. Just me, the basket, and the ball. We were only a few points away from becoming champions, and the only thing that stood in my way was that unconfident girl, bringing herself to the front of my thoughts. I walked up to the line, and my body screamed out to me, like a young child terrified and hurt screaming for their mother’s comforting grasp. I went through the motions and my body swayed into a smooth rhythm as I went up for the shot. The ball gratefully found its way to the net and the crowd was in an uproar. We were down by one and I had one shot left. If I could make it we would go into overtime. The referee bounced me the ball again and my head felt dizzy and tired. My body intensely trembled, shaking as I stood there. I bounced the ball against the worn floor, and twirled it within my hands. The basket looked so far away, and I felt so small, so powerless. With total concentration I tried to push the terrified girl out of my head, but she kept fighting her way back in, bring the feeling of doubt with her. I held the ball in my hands and delicately pulled my body up for the shot. My eyes closed as the ball climbed through the gym towards the hoop. Everyone was silent, and then suddenly the crowd went nuts.
Cheering filled the space all around me, but it wasn’t the sound of my teammates or our biggest fans yelling our names. It was my opponents. Cheering and laughing as smiles spread across their faces. I looked up at the scoreboard, and I tried hard to fight back my tears. We had lost and it was all my fault, and I was left to drown in my consequences. One shot, and I had let that small, insignificant girl in my head win. The game wasn’t just against my opponents, but against myself, and I had failed miserably.