Alright, fine. You really wanna know when I fell in love with her? It wasn’t just one incident or one moment of “That’s it, I’m totally in love with Nikki”. It was more like a slow unveiling or something. Like this feeling that grows and grows until you can’t ignore it anymore. It just wouldn’t go away. And trust me, I had enough on my plate without having to worry about another woman in my life.
I had rehab going on, coaching to do, and a full-blown marketing campaign to uphold. Not to mention personal appearances to make it seem like I have a life. I had to show up for Didi’s games when I could, be available to the WNBA “higher-ups” when they needed me, and in the meantime, find time to shit, shower, and shave! Add in family obligations and sleep, and it made for a very hectic life! And falling in love with Nikki was, aside from not being in the plan, almost an inconvenience. But I couldn’t help it.
Love is not something you plan. It does not “go with the flow” and “fit in” with your schedule. It blows in from the sidelines and throws you a no-look pass in the middle of the lane and expects you to put in the shot while doubts act like 7-foot-tall post players over your head.
There is never a good time to fall in love. There’s no “perfect time” for losing your heart and soul to another human being. Particularly when your “heart and soul” are supposed to belong to someone else! I may not remember when I fell in love with her, but I do remember the moment the “unveiling” was completed.
We’d just started a movie in her apartment. We were sitting on the couch, her on one end and I on the other. Our feet instinctively tangled together because that’s just how we are. We are that comfortable with each other. We were then, we are now. There was a bad storm outside and the rain was pelting the windows really hard. I didn’t want to admit it at the time, but I hate thunderstorms. They scare the fuck outta me. But I tried throwing myself into the movie, hoping that it would take my mind off the terror outside.
About 45 minutes into the movie, the lights went out. Panic hit me like a softball to the head: pinpointed, fast, and hard. I could have sworn my chest was going to have a bruise from the force! There we sat, in the dark, my heart pounding in my ears so much that I barely heard her tell me to stay put while she found the candles. I couldn’t move. I could barely breathe. It was almost totally dark in her apartment and outside. I couldn’t help myself, I began to cry silently.
Nikki found matches and candles and brought them into the living room. When she lit a candle, I started wiping my face, hoping that she didn’t see the tears. At first she didn’t say anything, she just looked at me. I stared back as if nothing was wrong with me, knowing full well she saw the stains on my cheeks and the redness under my eyes. She quietly sat on the couch again, resuming her position, and asked me what I was most afraid of in life. I thought about telling her the usual answers: not being happy, kicking the bucket before I accomplish everything I want to, and never finding someone to love me.
But instead, I told her the truth: I’m most scared of loving someone too much…and of course, rainstorms with thunder and lightening. I prepared myself for an all-out laugh. At the very least I thought I’d get a chuckle out of her. But she didn’t even break a smile. Instead, she said that she was most afraid of not taking advantage of every opportunity to better her life. Good answer, huh? After a few minutes of thinking about that, I asked if, in retrospect, she’d ever done that—let something like that go. I was shocked as shit to hear her say, “Not yet.” I didn’t know what she meant by that at the time, but I felt that it had something to do with me.
Just then, a huge clap of thunder shook the apartment and set off my tears again. I was so embarrassed, but I couldn’t help it! They wouldn’t stop! I kept wiping my face like something was on it that wouldn’t come off, like a hair or a spider web or something. But she didn’t buy it, not for a second. She told me that it was alright to cry in front of her. She was so genuine, and so open, I knew she wasn’t going to laugh at me. And if I’d asked her, we’d never have to mention it ever again. And then I just let it go. I cried and cried. And a few minutes into it, I was no longer just crying about the rain.
It was everything at once. I was having an emotional outburst and it was long overdue. She sat upright beside me and wrapped her arm around my shoulders. We sat like that for the longest time, her arm around me, my face buried in my hands with my elbows resting on my knees.
I began to cry for all the missed lay-ups, all the faulty shots, all the fouls, every single ache in my body, all the pain in my knee and ankles, all the press questions I’m tired of answering, all the pressure of being “on” every single damn time I step out of my house, and all the distance between Didi and me. I was crying because I missed my mom, UConn, and my life. Where was my life? What had my life become? It had morphed into this big, huge, unsatisfying weight on my shoulders. And in case you haven’t noticed, I don’t have very broad shoulders! It was too much. And sitting right there on Nikki’s couch, in the middle of a rainstorm, with the lights off, and one candle burning, I let it all go.
And she didn’t say a word. She didn’t tell me it was okay, because I already knew. And she didn’t say it was going to be alright, because I figured it would be. And she didn’t tell me what I should do or feel; because she knew it wasn’t her place. She did exactly what I needed her to do: hold me. To me, it was the weakest and the strongest I’d been in a looong time. And boy, did I need the time to break down! I cried for about an hour. I wiped my face a billion times, I’m sure.
And through it all, her arm was there on my back, holding me reassuringly. And that candle flickered silently, reminding me of something I’d heard a long time ago, back in high school. An English teacher once told me that a single light in a dark room can illuminate enough for you to see your way out. At the time I was too young and stupid to care what that meant, but sitting there that night, I got it. I finally got it.
I was in this dark place where life wasn’t fun anymore. It was black with worry, anger, and resentment. I was covered in a veil of darkness brought on by distance, doubt, and stress. But that one candle, Nikki, brightened up the whole place enough for me to see my way out. I realized that I loved being with her so much because she’d touched me in a way that I hadn’t been touched in a long, long time. And I don’t mean that she touched me physically.
Sometimes the deepest stroke into your soul isn’t felt on the surface of your skin. It’s felt inside you, in that place you don’t let many people inside. It’s in that place that hurts the most when someone does something unkind to you. And you don’t choose the people who touch you there. You can’t “allow” someone in there. They make their way there subversively–without your permission, sometimes. It dawned on me that she’s where I feel safe, loved, and cared for. She is everything I’d had from Didi when I first fell in love with her. She is the light that brightens the darkness of my world. I know what you’re thinking: Sue, you’re living a cliché. But I’m telling you, she’s the reason I still have my sanity.
She’s the entity that puts those dimples in my smile. She’s what keeps me getting up every morning and running on that damn treadmill. She’s the reason I do rehab, work out, eat right, and giggle at songs on the radio. She’s the laughter in my voice when I feel like crying. She’s the swagger in my step after a great shot, or a completed pass. She’s the emotion in my play, the twinkle in my eye, the beat to my heart. She’s the only thing that keeps me sane sometimes.
Sitting there in that living room almost 6 months ago I realized that a little fire had started inside me. It’s fueled by Nikki’s love for me. And, with any luck, if I treat it just right, it’ll keep burning there for a long, long time.
Hey, it’s cheesy, I know it. And it’s probably not what you expected. And it’s certainly not the story legends are made of, but it’s mine.
And remember, you asked!