At a large national archery tournament at the end of the ‘90s (a tournament for which I had been the favorite to win), my mom called and told me she wouldn’t be home when I returned from the event. She had her sights set on things other than my family, and that was that. (P.S. I didn’t win that tournament.) In the twenty-plus years since then, I haven’t seen her. Oh, I saw her once during my parents’ divorce proceedings, in a courthouse in San Diego County, when I tossed my eyeglasses on the tile of the courthouse floor out of anger, attracting the attention of a court security officer, who escorted the teenaged me to the parking lot as a threat to the sanctity of that hall of justice. And I had the unfortunate fortune of seeing her one night shortly after I turned eighteen and she was in a fit of pique, and bad things came of it all (though not terribly bad: they could have been far worse).
In some ways, this maternal departure shook me (Mom’s exit involved some other aspects that may best be saved for another day’s discussion—or never at all). In other ways, it set me on a path of adventure, like some socially awkward, terribly dressed (even for the ‘90s) Luke Skywalker leaving Tatooine.
No, never mind. None of it qualifies as being anything even close to the coolness of hitting Mos Eisley in search of a ride to the stars. But the debacle booted me into the world, to finish my bid—unsuccessfully—for an Olympic archery spot, to drop out of college and start coaching sailing to make a living, and to spend some time calling an old Ranger 29 sloop home. Not bad, really ... except a gawky, never-been-kissed, bespectacled little girl in too-big clothes, with a too-big store of trust, doesn’t make a good heroine for that kind of story.
That unpretty, too-skinny teen did have a talent though: she could read like a devil. She could read and synthesize everything she read. And she read a lot. So she could learn from the absolute greats. The stars of the big shows. She could sit at the knee of coaches like Phil Jackson (oh, those unstoppable Three-Peat Chicago Bulls of the mid-‘90s), with his book Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior, and learn about sports psychology and mindfulness (the mindfulness she would refine much later as a still-awkwardly-dressed public defender with a yen for yoga). She could learn from these greats and slather their wisdom all over her choke-prone efforts to shoot or sail her own way to golden whatevers.
I pulled out my old copy of Sacred Hoops today. Perhaps with a thought to read it again after all these years, given this whole archery-rebirth thing. Or maybe just to see this water-warped, torn relic that traveled with me to a coaching gig at a yacht club in Chicago, to finishing my undergrad work in Hawaii, to managing a sailing program and campaigning a Europe dinghy in the San Francisco Bay Area, to law school in the Midwest, to sitting in storage on the Gulf Coast. Maybe this book should snuggle into the bright-orange backpack that holds my archery gear, and maybe I should toss the whole kit in the RV and point us north (the Bosun and Boat Dog, too!) to find an old friend ... a fellow I once knew. Or I didn’t know him; that ungainly girl in navy-blue sweats, with an XL t-shirt on her 110-pound frame, knew him. An old friend who knows archery like few others. An old friend who, long, long ago, maybe didn’t think that that ungainly little girl was so very hopeless as she perhaps thought herself. Who says now on the phone (after watching a couple videos from my practices this week) that maybe the archery form he saw in those videos has some substance to it.
Anyway, I’ve had this copy of Sacred Hoops a long time. It still has a scrap of notes from college tucked in its pages. And maybe it needs a new adventure.