Thursday, April 11, 2013

Life and Loss with Michigan Basketball: Volume V

The Way it Was

Part I: "He Takes a Timeout. They Don't Have Any Timeouts!"
Part II: The Fall From Innocence
Part III: A Badge of Honor

"Yet another of those little sparks of optimism lit me up and led me to believe once again that if things could change for the team then they could change for me." - Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch

Things had started to turn sour for me that winter of 2011. College was somehow over in an instant and my friends were a long way away. The beautiful summer in the Petoskey woods with the girlfriend was over and she was a long way away, too. My Indian Summer was over, without warning. I was trying hard to navigate the post-grad world I was suddenly thrust upon - desperately trying to find a feeling of home in my new Chicago residence, a long way away from anything I had ever cared about.

I made frequent trips back to Ann Arbor that year, seeking the comfort of home I was unable to find in my new home, The Windy City. There are a lot of memories of late-night bus and train rides - usually including a pepsi bottle with a splash of whiskey - and in those memories my anxiety always seemed to dissipate the closer I got to my real home, Ann Arbor.

There's a walk I remember vividly from that time. I had taken a bus from Chicago, my then home, to Ann Arbor. I was on the trek once again to visit the girlfriend, who I was starting to become unhealthily and (ultimately) disastrously dependent on - though I didn't recognize that until years later - as my own depression was starting to rear its ugly head during those cold months. As the college sweetheart hit the books that Friday afternoon I went for a long walk through the streets of my former home.

During college, I often went for walks through Ann Arbor to clear my head, to get away from the roommates, to relax from studies, to walk off a hangover, to find some calm, sometimes just to walk. I guess as I departed my girlfriend's house that day, I went on that walk searching for that feeling of home Ann Arbor had provided me those four years of college, searching for a peace of mind I hadn't been able to find since moving to Chicago. The search for that home feeling failed, however, and the realization that Ann Arbor was no longer my home - no matter how badly I hated that fact - sunk in deep.  Down South University - the dividing line between million-dollar university buildings and dilapidated college houses; down South Forest street - where beer cans and patches of snow littered collegiate front lawns; through the Oxford neighborhood, where impeccably manicured sorority houses loomed; I felt homesick for Ann Arbor.  I desperately missed my girlfriend, my college house, my family, my college friends. Many times I had found reassurance walking those streets in my time in college, yet this one wasn't working. Instead, it only seemed to confound my confusion: how had things changed so fast?

I had lost my cousin in a snowmobiling accident a couple weeks prior that winter of 2011, a thought that had weighed heavy - like a cumulus snow cloud above me- on my mind over the past weeks. During that walk through Ann Arbor, as the wheels of that monstrous snow storm began to churn, I pondered the burdens weighing heavy on my mind. The funeral I had attended that short time ago left me lamenting the brevity of life, and life's precarious clock lingered with me like a sour aftertaste. As young deaths are wont to do, it left me questioning a lot of things: whether I had made a wrong turn somewhere down the road, particularly in regards to the career I had recently embarked on.

A phone call from a former college roommate interrupted that walk, and I headed towards the old college house in pursuit of a drink or two. This phenomenon was becoming a problem in its own right as I never cleanly transitioned from the hard-drinking college lifestyle to the adult world I was suddenly thrust upon. I once again abandoned the flurry of unresolved turmoil going on in my soul in hopes of drowning it all in a glass of bourbon.

Things would get much worse, and then worse again, before it got any better. But I have a particularly happy memory of that weekend. The mind is a funny thing, with an uncanny ability to suppress the negative memories and retain only the positive ones. I remember all those thoughts I had during that walk through Ann Arbor that weekend, but the defining memory in my mind is a basketball game.

The day after that walk, Zack Novak and Stu Douglass - the faces of the new direction of Michigan Basketball - led my Michigan Wolverines out of the tunnel and into the first NCAA Tournament game for Michigan in over a decade. I watched that game at Charlies, my old college bar, surrounded by my girlfriend and my old college friends. Novak and Douglass rained threes on the Tennessee Volunteers that day in a downright massacre of a game.

 Soon I would be back on a bus bound west for Chicago. But for those brief couple of hours and into that night, everything was back to the way it was.

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