February 26, 2016

Getting Stuck in the Right Place

Written for The Master's College C362.1 Essay Writing course with Dr. Jack Simons on April 17, 2006.

Getting Stuck in the Right Place

The first house I lived in was old, white, and in Ohio. The second was an apartment in Southern California, the third an on-campus rental, and then there was the town house, the A-frame with bats in the eaves, the rental with three mulberry trees, the owned yellow house with 30 oak trees and a jungle gym, the rainy rented tract house in Washington, and we finally ended up in the Chico blue stucco 1/3 of an acre with a pool. I cringed at the sound of the flapping bats for eleven months, climbed the mulberry trees for three years, played on the jungle gym for the next four years, watched the rain from my 2nd floor window in Washington from February to July, and jumped into the Chico pool several times during the 110-degree summer months.

A page from my high school yearbook.
But I couldn’t go swimming at any other house, we stopped having a swingset after we moved to Washington when I was thirteen, and I’ve never liked climbing any trees since the mulberries. The only thing constant between the houses besides the dad, mom, two daughters, and two cats living there was the place we were when we weren’t at the house: the gym.

Somewhere between the late night basketball games, the afternoon volleyball practices, and the day-long summer camps from pre-school and on through the rest of my childhood, my life became different from the other kids my age. My true home had wood flooring, a high ceiling, baskets, and painted lines. My dinners consisted of microwaved pepperoni pizza, a Milky Way bar, and a can of Sprite, sitting on the bleacher with my mom and sister next to me and my dad across the court on the bench. When my dad had to stop by his office to pick up paperwork, we didn’t have to wait in the car or sit silently in office chairs. My sister and I would run into the gym to set up the mats into forts. We’d sit behind the blue plastic pads and wait for Dad to wonder where we were.

He’d walk into the gym doorway and call out, “Christy? Lindsay? Where are you?”

Muffled giggles were the only answer he ever received. He would wait thirty seconds, then yell again as he walked out the glass doors, “Okay, well, I’ll be back on Monday to get you guys! See ya later, I’m leaving!”


And two skinny little girls would run out from behind collapsing blue gym mats, shrieking and racing to the car to make sure of their departure. Where were we going? Back to some house, but away from home.

I started to dislike living in the gym around the time when I was ten years old. I didn’t like having parents who were teachers and coaches, always at school with me, always knowing my moves from the moment I woke up until the moment I fell asleep. I wanted to get away from it all and to have my own life somewhere other than a gymnasium. But despite those feelings, I couldn’t change the fact that most of my life had been and would be spent in the gym, at least until I moved away from my family.

*     *     *     *     *

I’m four years old…

A deep breath…and pull!

My head won’t budge.

Pullllllll! Okay, push against the shiny metal bars!

My pulse jumps and the panic of my four-year-old mind sets in.

I am going to DIE!

“Uhhhh, help? Help? HELP!!!”

My dad rushes from around the corner and laughs at me as I begin to cry. He laughs because his little girl’s head is wedged between the vertical bars of the bleachers, and I cry because I think I am going to die.

*     *     *     *     *

I’m seven years old…

Careful…careful…I just have to get over to the other side of the – whoops.

I trip over a cord behind the scoreboard table. The cord that leads to the scoreboard, the game clock, and the numbers that inform the parents and other fans of what is going on. And now the cord is unplugged. The board goes blank, the people turn to stare, and I turn red. The junior varsity boys’ basketball coach is mad, the players are annoyed, the fans throw up their hands in disgust, and I run to hide under the bleachers for the rest of the game.

I don’t walk behind the scoreboard table during a junior varsity boys’ basketball game ever again.

*     *     *     *     *

I’m eleven years old…

“Christy, give me the ball!”

“No!” And I kick the volleyball across the gym before the boy catches me. He runs after the ball, grabs it, and starts throwing it to his other friend over my head. But the other kid doesn’t throw it far enough and I catch the ball and run the other direction. The first boy gets my arm, takes the ball, and sets up to drop-kick it as I reach to get it back…and kick! His foot connects with the ball, but not before connecting with my finger.

Okay, OWWW. Be tough…don’t cry…you’re tough…it’s swelling…be tough…whatever you do, DO NOT CRY.

I tell my parents the next day that I have jammed my finger by catching the ball wrong, and could we possibly go to the doctor because it hurts really bad and it’s purple? I can’t tell them the truth; I like the boy and the finger turns out to be broken, and right before the biggest game of the Bear River Recreation & Parks District youth basketball season. My dad – my coach – is mad, but I can only have him be mad at me, his point guard, and not the adorable fifth grade boy.

*     *     *     *     *

I’m sixteen years old…

“Hey Kristie, we’re all just wonderin’ where you are, and we’re about to start the game, sooooo…yeah, just show up soon, okay? See ya!”

I hand the cell phone back to my mom and hurry off to the pre-game talk. The game comes and goes, and we lose by twenty.

“Can I have everyone’s attention, please?”

“What’s going on, Hayes?” I wonder to a teammate as we walk to center court.

“I don’t know…” She replies, tired from the frustrating game.

And the parent continues his announcement.

“Some of you may have noticed that the Prianos did not make it to the game tonight.”

Oh, finally. Some information.

“Their family was in a car accident on the way to the game.”

Okay…so what?

“Candy, the mom, and Steven, the son, both have some cuts and bruises.”

Why hasn’t he said Kristie’s name?

“Mark, the dad, has some internal bleeding and he’s in the hospital.”

Okay…Kristie…what happened to Kristie?

He pauses and takes a deep breath before saying, “And Kristie, the daughter, has had a severe, ah, trauma to the head. She’s in a coma right now and the doctors think there is a possibility of permanent brain damage…”

I don’t hear anything else. The tears start falling, we drive to the hospital and wait. We wait in the hospital, in the blue stucco house, and in the gym. We wait six days, and then my best friend Kristie dies.

*     *     *     *     *

I’m seventeen years old…

I am getting tired of playing volleyball all the time. I think about whether it’s really worth all that time I’ve put into it, and do I really want to do this after high school? I just don’t care anymore. I’m at the biggest club volleyball tournament of the year and I’m having some fun, but my heart’s not into it.

“THREE, THREE, THREE, THREE!” I call out to the setter. She contacts the ball wrong and sends it flying over and behind my head. I adjust my footwork and reach for the ball to knock it over, and I start returning to the ground.

Why is my leg bending inward…bending…still bending…oh my word, that is NOT supposed to happen!!!

“Ow, ow, ow, ow, my knee! Ahhh, ow, my knee!”

Deep breaths, deep breaths, no tears, you’re fine…the pain wasn’t that bad, but how many pops did I hear? One…two…three…yes, three pops…dang it, this can’t be good…

I am carried off the court and assisted to the makeshift training room.

“Well, you can’t be totally sure until you get an MRI, but you probably tore your ACL.”

“What? How long is the recovery?”

“About six months.”

It’s July…six months…January…that’s my whole senior year of sports…

And in this moment I know I’m not done. I can’t be done. I can’t end my entire life of playing sports this way. I turn to my dad, who’s as crushed as I am, and I say through tears, “Dad. I’m not done. Now I know I have to keep playing. I didn’t know, but now I do. I have to, Dad, I have to, I must…”

*     *     *     *     *

I’m nineteen years old…

I sit on the bleachers with my notebook because I want to be a writer so I’m writing. I look up from my first paragraph and glance around the empty gym. I see the college championship banners, the left behind basketballs from the most recent week of camp, and I look down at the untied running shoes on my feet. I set down my notebook and pen and close my eyes. I can still hear the hundreds of boys and girls yelling and laughing, their basketballs thudding into the ground and clunking into the rim, the squeaking of their shoes on the hardwood floor…the sounds of my life.

My life…I’m about to start my second year of college…what am I going to do with my life? I can’t leave this place…I can’t leave the gym…it’s home.

I don’t want to be a writer anymore, I want to be a coach. I don’t want to get away from the gym anymore, I want to live there again. It’s the only place I’ve ever lived and I can’t leave it, I must stay.

I laugh at my latest realization and write about it for the next ten minutes. I walk down the bleachers and pick up a camp-bought basketball with the name “SARA” scrawled on the rubber white panel in blue Sharpie. I make some free throws, and I leave. I’ll be back later to play some more.

*     *     *     *     *

It was my journey from who I had always been, to who I had wanted to become, and back to who I had really been all along. I said I’d never be a teacher or a coach, and now I’m planning on it. My parents always supported my decisions regarding my degree, but I think my dad always knew I would end up back in the gym. He knew because he has the love for the gym, too, and he has passed it on to me. 

The gym always gave my family something to do and somewhere to be, regardless of what city or house we lived in. My dad pretended to be surprised when I told him that I changed my major, but I know he wasn’t. We’ve talked about it since, and now he laughs because his little girl still has her head stuck in the bleachers, and she finally doesn’t mind it so much anymore.

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