It was a Saturday because all emotional things seem to happen on Saturdays and leave the rest of the weekend to think and feel too deeply. My basketball team and I rode the bus to a nearby boarding school. It was the last day of a three-day tournament, and we were exhausted, but we chose to not give up and to keep fighting. People tend to forget that continuing to have hope and strength is a choice. One of our team captains had hurried to the game from a funeral. I don’t know how close she was to the deceased person. I don’t know if that’s what caused her to struggle that game, or if my coach even knew about the funeral. But I know that this game taught me a lot about relationships. And endurance. And love.
We were up by 50 in the third quarter. Maybe we were down by 20, or 2 or 500. I don’t remember because the only memory I have from the game has nothing to do with points or buzzer shots or basketball at all. I was sitting at the end of the bench, which I didn’t mind. I never do. I’ll get my chance. The team captain had a series of bad passes and missed shots, which was unusual for her. On any given day she flies around the court, intercepting passes no one else would even attempt. But for a few minutes, the defense went right by her. I could see the tears begin to shimmer in her eyes as she struggled to catch her breath.
She was standing in a defensive stance when the tears really began to fall. Everyone on the bench looked at Coach, who was standing as close to the court as he could without getting a technical. Everyone expected him to call her out and put in someone off the bench, but he didn’t.
We team members on the bench became uneasy. Whispers went around. She needs to come out.
“Fight,” his voice was soft enough that only the captain and the players near her could hear. No one expected Coach to say that. The bench went silent as he continued, “You have to fight.”
She tried wiping the tears away, but nothing could stop them now. Did he know that this was more than the frustration of a bad game? Did he know?
“Look at me.” She hesitated.
Coach bent down on one knee. “Look at me.” She did. “You’re the leader of this team and you will get through this. You will. You will survive. It will end.”
We could hear her sobs now. I hate this. I hate this so much, I thought, as anger ran through my veins. He needs to take her out. She shouldn’t have to fight right now, not like this.
She was hurting, really hurting. I could see it in her eyes. Everybody could, even Coach. I was so mad that he wasn’t giving her a break when she so obviously needed it.
The assistant coach leaned over to me and said, “Go get some tissues. She’s going to need them.”
I ran to the locker room. This isn’t fair. This isn’t right. I pulled my hand back and clenched it into a fist. I almost punched the wall in frustration, but explaining how I broke my hand while getting tissues would be difficult and embarrassing. I tried to take some deep breaths and calm down. Watching other people hurt can sometimes be more damaging than feeling my own pain. When I had somewhat gotten control of my emotions, I grabbed the tissues and ran back.
I guess my little meltdown didn’t take as long as I thought, because our captain was still on the court. She was still crying, but not as hard.
The bench was restless. Coach walked over to a guard. “Go get her.” She didn’t need to ask who he meant.
The guard went in for our captain, and as she walked off the court, her emotions overflowed again. I handed her the tissues. We surrounded her and tried to comfort her. Nothing we could have done could have eased her pain in that moment. For me, that was a hard lesson to learn.
People need to feel pain. They need to cry. They need to break. They need to fall. And they will need someone to lean on, so be there. Watching someone you care about fall apart hurts, but both of you will get through it. And it will end.
It always does.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.