Dear You Know Who,
It has been a while since I talked about this subject. As time passes by, there are some parts of myself that I want to take with me on my next journeys, but that is impossible, unfortunately. I was never the best at the game, but I was working hard to keep up with the others.
I started pretty late, because of different circumstances, (I am not writing this to put the blame on somebody or to accuse that I did not start earlier, but there are some important facts in this story), but after I truly entered the game, I understood what being truly alive means. I had to take it from zero two times. The first time was my beginning as a true player. The second was after I got sick and I was forbidden to play any sport, especially at a professional level, for 12 months. I chose to wait and go back to my passion. I was back in the game pretty fast after that year thanks to an incredible coach who had the determination to give me back the time I had lost, introduced me to the person that raised me, and taught me what basketball is really about.
She took me under her wing and accepted me for who I was. At my first training with her, I was really scared and from another planet. In less than 3 months, I went from sitting on the bench most of the official games, to getting to play at least half of the game time, and in less than 6 months I was part of the first 5 players, sometimes being on the court for an entire game. We did not win any medals or championships, but we were not the last ones either. We had really bad representations and some unbelievable good ones. I quickly understood that the financial power of the basketball club matters more than how good a team is. That did not bother me, because I was living off the adrenaline of the game. I was… there… I was there, full of joy and conquering my fears. That girl that finally found something that suited her, does not have her safe place anymore. She was not the only one in that situation. She saw some of her teammates going through the same experience but walking different paths. Everyone got a chance to move up to the national league, where the requirements were higher, where there were girls brought in from foreign countries to play. It was hard to compete, to build your way up to the first 5 once again. Some did not endure it and quit, others remained, including me, the little girl. I was so close to playing and proving myself on the field, I was so close to scoring that first point in the big league. I will never forget that one cold night when the whole team was supposed to have training before a big game, the big game where I was supposed to play. I was on the list to enter the court, not to stay on the side. I found the balance, that little girl that I was, found the balance. We were invited into the conference room. And they told us that they did everything possible, but the municipality is not going to finance the club anymore and they have to give up a team, us or the boys. They gave up on us. I still do not understand why, because we brought better results than the boys and 70% of the trophies were brought home by the girls. I did not dig deeper to find out what the problems were between the municipality and the club, because in my country it’s common knowledge that the institutions do not invest in sports, only discourage them, then congratulate the athletes when they have incredible results.
But I remember this. I heard the crack inside my soul. It was deafening. The girls that were my teammates since the beginning, heard their dreams shattering in their hearts. It was the end for us, there was no other chance for us to… continue. We did not have anywhere to go to play at that level. Not even for other teams from other cities. I did not react, I just got up with the others when the meeting was over. We were supposed to bring back the equipment. The only time I had to change my player number, 22, was when I was transferred to the higher league and it was not available to continue with it, so 15 became my new friend. In my mind, 22 is still on my back whenever I play. So, I would not give up on some of the last things that might link me to myself. I stepped on that matchfield one more time on my way to the exit. I stopped to take one more deep breath and let go of those pieces that broke from my soul. I let them fall on that court. That girl that I was talking about earlier, that girl that was me, remained there, and she took those broken pieces with her. She continued playing but never came back to me. Only in my memories and stories. I took my bag and went for a long walk home. I did not cry, I did not listen to music, I did not think. I was walking with the echo of that crack following me around. That little girl is still on that court, I can feel her every time I pass by.
She left me with every bit of passion linked to her, to that game, to basketball. The dream was to play for as much as she could, to develop herself as a person, and allow herself to be her true self. The dream was to take those pieces with her while growing up, never to lose that joy of the game, not even as an adult.
Now I live only with the memories of those times. I tried to go back to the game, but it was not possible anymore. The door is shut and I cannot open it again, no matter how hard I try. I end up hurting myself, every time I try. Shouting for those pieces of myself that I miss so much. There are times when I shut my eyes and imagine reliving those moments. It's like I can feel that adrenaline again. I being to practice the moves. I am being blocked, I pass the ball, my teammate receives it, I run like my life is on the line. I can barely breathe from the effort. We score, the other team has the ball, we defend ourselves. The coach is shouting at me to move my feet and not rest in defense. I listen. Someone is stealing the ball. Our coach is encouraging us. We have a chance to counterattack. I run and run. I see the ball coming, I catch it and try to go for the basket. A player is trying to block me and I pass the ball at the last moment. We score. Time is up, I open my eyes. I cannot be a part of a team that wins or loses anymore. I am not wearing my number, 22, or any other. I am by myself, in my room, trying to hang on to those experiences a little longer, but smiling. I was lucky enough to experience that. There will always be a part of me that will regret that I could not stay in that world for longer, or that the people that will love me or are loving me now do not get to meet that side of me. I tried other sports after basketball, I am still searching for that source of adrenaline, but nothing will live up to that. I still compare some feelings to basketball from time to time, even if I know it is not quite healthy. Basketball is a feeling for me, not simply a sport. But I am smiling. That smile confirms the fact that basketball taught me to live every experience to the fullest for as long as it lasts. It’s beautiful being lucky enough to look back at the past and have something that I miss and enjoy the presence of memories. Maybe I will be reunited with the little girl sometime in the most unexpected way. I will hug her, laugh, cry, feel and welcome her back for as long as it is possible. Maybe I will be ready to welcome her back forever.
I remembered that dream of hers and took it to a deeper level. I am trying to find out what I love to do. I am still lost a little bit. I want a dream that is making me work on myself. I have a vague idea. What I know so far is that… basketball taught me how it is to have something that I want to carry with me my whole life. Now is the time to choose a mission in life that I want to dedicate myself to fully. People perform miracles when they have something to live for. I did not lose anything, because nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it.
With sincerity and joy,
By Flavia Tofan