This is not going to be the post I meant to write today. I’ve been planning that one for a while. It fit perfectly with the storybook ending that I envisioned for my beloved 2016 Tar Heels–the ending that crashed, burned and dissolved into vapor last night in 4.7 seconds. However, even though I’m sad, even though I just finished the really long and ugly cry I’ve been wanting and needing to have all day, this is still a post that I feel proud and privileged to write. After all, the sky is still Carolina blue and being a Tar Heel fan is about more than winning.
One of the very first blog posts I ever wrote explained how I became a Tar Heel fan. In spite of the fact that I regularly sing the fight song, I was not born and bred in North Carolina, but I have lived here longer than I have lived anywhere and I feel qualified to sing the song because I have bred and borne a couple of Tar Heels of my own along the way. Being a Carolina fan, for me, is intertwined with motherhood and that’s one of the reasons that this season has been so hard. My baby boy, my over-the-top fanatic Carolina fan graduated from college last May. Now he has a big-boy job and all the responsibilities that go along with it down in that other state that REFERS to itself as “Carolina” but is not. He’s only been home once since Christmas and we didn’t get to watch a single game together all season.
Just before the ACC tournament I had to go up in the attic to find some clothes for my grandson. While I was up there, I noticed two of Matt’s Carolina shirts. When we were packing his stuff last fall he set aside his championship shirts from 2005 and 2009. “I should probably stop wearing these,” he said. “I don’t want to wear them out.” So up to the attic they went. I don’t know what came over me that night, but I think it was a complicated mix of missing him and worrying about the tournament and being a Carolina fan. I grabbed both shirts and brought them down to my room. I put them on my dressing table where I could see and touch and smell them. Then came the Notre Dame game. I went upstairs at half time and saw the shirts. I was missing Matt to whom I was texting game updates. I put the 2005 shirt on and went back downstairs. We won. Uh-oh. As any Carolina fan knows, I was now obligated to wear this shirt for every game as long as we were winning. And I did. Tomorrow I will wash it and put it back up in the attic. We had a good run; we really did.
There were times, and one was last night, when I asked myself why I was still putting myself through this. I have plenty of stress in my teacher-life. Why allow myself to get all bent out of shape over basketball? The answer is that I cannot help myself. I joined the Carolina way. I drank the kool-ade. The tar’s not comin’ off these heels.
I told myself last night when that shot went through at the buzzer that I would not look at any social media for days. I was in shock. I didn’t think I could bear it. I didn’t sleep well. I kept waking up and wanting to cry, but the tears wouldn’t come. I crawled out of bed when my alarm went off at 5 am and went for a run. It was 50 degrees but really breezy and I welcomed the chill. I was numb and the cold helped me to feel again. When I got back into the house just before six, I realized I would have to go to Twitter in order to tweet my run. I held a hand over the screen but I still saw the post containing the morning’s article by Adam Lucas through my fingers. I love Adam Lucas. I don’t know how he knows what all of us are thinking, feeling and doing, but he does. He manages to put into perfect words the way that Carolina basketball makes me feel, so after I tweeted my run I swallowed hard and clicked on the link for comfort. It was beautiful and it made me feel like maybe I’m not crazy for being so very upset over a basketball game, or at least if I am I’m not alone. I think I was still in shock, though, because I still couldn’t cry. There was just this terrible dull ache that felt as if it was going to suffocate me.
I managed to get my shower, dress, and choke down some cereal. I drove to school thinking about how yesterday I hummed the fight song all the way and wondering how it could be so beautiful outside and how the trees could still be blooming. I went up to my classroom and put my stuff down. I was early and one of my former students slipped in my door while my back was turned. She said good morning and then told me how last week during spring break she found something that reminded her of me. She held it out hesitantly. “I had hoped to give it to you under happier circumstances,” she said. It was a Carolina notepad–and the dam broke and the tears welled. “I haven’t cried yet, ” I replied. “But I think I might now.” So sweet!
I didn’t really want to completely let go at school, so I managed to get things under control and get my day started. By afternoon, though, I was dragging and the tears were ever closer to the surface. One of my senior guys asked me, “Mrs. L., did you cry last night after the game?”
I shook my head. “No,” I said. “I’m planning to do that when I get home this afternoon.”
“I did,” he admitted. “I curled up in a fetal position and cried like a little baby.”
“I spent almost the entire game in a fetal position.” I replied.
These are the kinds of things Carolina fans share without shame. It’s who we are. It’s what we do–because we love our boys. I came home and watched the film of the boys returning to campus. They looked so very sad, and that was it. The tears came–the great big ugly, messy cry. Love is dangerous, but it’s worth the risk. I wouldn’t have it any other way.