After the NCAA Tournament, DJ had some down time. Or at least some time in the evening that wasn’t 100 percent on-call. She was fully and completely exhausted after the season and she had made up her mind that she was done. That was her last basketball season. She thought. She hoped. She asked Lesa to meet her after work at the Mexican restaurant to bounce ideas off her. Lesa never held back with facial expression when she heard emotional news so talking to her could help solidify her decision.
She asked the server for another container of salsa to go with the chips and salsa that was delivered and ordered a beer. Lesa showed up just as the server returned with a container of salsa for her and she ordered a water.
“I gave up pop. Soda. Whatever you want to call it. Every time I drank a diet coke with a meal my stomach felt like it was exploding. I’m on Day 3.”
“That’s good,” DJ commended her. “Only 18 days to go and you’ll have it whipped.”
“Do you think that’s all it takes? 21 days and a habit is whipped?”
“I do. I think it is a number to strive for, a goal to focus on while trying to make a change.”
“I guess that’s true. Any time I’ve tried to quit my fingernail chewing habit I’ve focused on 21 days. My nails get all long and my hands look like someone else’s. I hit 21 days, the game is over and boom, I’m right back to chewing my nails. I hope it’s not the same with drinking pop. But water is pretty freaking boring, so it might be exactly the same. Hit 21 days and go back to the 12 ounce fizz and sweetness of dark, bubbly caffeine.”
“If you need caffeine, drink coffee,” DJ said after a swallow of beer. “I have a pot a day, before work.”
“Jesus. A whole pot?”
“Yes. But no other caffeine the rest of the day. Thankfully, beer doesn’t have caffeine. Just empty calories.”
“Are you happy the season is over? I’m kind of sad. For the players. They did so well only to make it to the Big Dance and realize, well, they aren’t there yet.”
“Yes. I’m happy the season is over. I’m very proud of our players. They worked hard and they really did improve. Dramatically. The ending was rough, but life is rough. The best thing a player can take from a season like that is to realize life isn’t fair. Working hard doesn’t always pay off. But it will at least get you to places you otherwise never would have gone.”
“That’s true. I hope they see it that way. Oh. Speaking of 21 days. Rhett’s been out since we returned from the tournament. I think we’re at 28 days now. Four work weeks. It’s so weird walking by her office and seeing the door shut.”
“I knew she was out but I didn’t realize it was since the tournament. My God, that bus ride home. It was just pure chaos. No one knew what bus to get on, luggage was tossed anywhere it would fit, people were just all over the place. That’s the price we pay for bringing cheerleaders to a game,” DJ said, smiling as if having a cheering section was the cause of chaos.
“I got on the bus as quickly as I could and just sat, waiting. I felt bad because I looked out the window and saw Rhett wandering around, disheveled and lost. I tried knocking on the window to get her attention but someone grabbed her and put her on the other bus, thankfully.”
“Leave it to Kim to turn a successful season into a nightmare, just to get out of town as quickly as possible. Everyone thought we were staying a second night, going to watch the games on Day 2. Nope. She sends me and the other assistants to knock on every door announcing our departure in 15 minutes.”
“I was just glad I had changed out of my dress clothes. I wouldn’t have had time to change and taking the bus all the way back in those clothes, I would have been miserable.”
“That bus ride was pretty miserable anyway. No movies, no talking allowed. But at least we made it back.”
“We did. I guess Rhett forgot her luggage? For like a week she had two suitcases outside her office door. How does someone forget their luggage? And why didn’t one of the other administrators just open her office door and put the bags in the office?”
“I don’t know. Seems like an obvious thing to do, to help her out. But forgetting the luggage…Lesa, I think maybe she was drunk after the game.”
“Oh, I’m sure she was. That’s the only explanation for forgetting. Right?”
“I can’t think of another acceptable reason.”
“I went to her motel room before the game. And, sidebar here, how awful was that motel? We made it to the NCAA Tournament and stayed in a motel. It could have been a pay-by-the-hour establishment for all we know. God, it was awful. Anyway, I went to Rhett’s room to check on her and she was propped up on her bed with a bottle of whisky on her nightstand. My first thought was, where’d she get that? But I was staring at it and she caught me. I told her I was just there to see how she was doing, see if she was enjoying beautiful Ruston, Louisiana. She said she was but she couldn’t believe our pregame meal was going to be at a Pizza Hut.”
“Well, I don’t think we are to blame for lack of food or hotels in a city,” DJ said, defensively.
“I’m not blaming anyone. It was just, ick. And Pizza Hut? We ate there so many times when we had games in Alabama, I didn’t think anything of it as a pregame meal. I guess Rhett has higher standards.”
“You know, I saw her in the morning going for a walk,” DJ said, reflecting on Rhett’s behavior. “It was cold. Colder than Florida at least. So I was a little surprised to see her out. My first thought was, good for her, getting some exercise. When she wasn’t at breakfast I dismissed it, thinking maybe she was showering after her walk. But as I went back to my room I saw her returning. It was like and hour and a half after I first saw her and she had a brown bag in her coat pocket. I didn’t think twice about it but now…did she walk to a liquor store in the morning? That had to be at least three miles. No wonder she was so confused by the bus. She was drunk, hungry and worn out.”
“I think she’s at rehab,” Lesa said, definitively. “She took time after Thanksgiving, she took time again after Christmas. Maybe she realized it takes more than 10 days and is giving the 21 day thing a go? Of course she’s past that by now, so she should be in good shape. Right? Man, I hope she’s ok.”
“I do too,” DJ said. “I need her back soon because I’m going to quit.”
“What?! You are going to quit? Did you get another coaching job? What are you going to do?”
“I didn’t get another coaching job. I’m going to give up coaching. It was impossible working with Kim this year and when I talked to Rhett about it she gave me some advice, basically boiling it down to stay or leave. Stay and deal with it or leave and do something else. I want to do something else.”
“I’m going to be a personal trainer. I’m going to do handyman work. I’ll paint, I’ll hang cabinets – I’m tall and strong. I don’t care what I do but it’s going to be something I decide, not something someone decides for me. I’ll have to hustle to make ends meet but even doing that, I’ll probably work the same or less than I do in this job. Only it will be for me.”
“You are one brave lady, DJ. But if anyone can do it, I’d bet on you to make it work.”