You can’t handle it

December 8, 2011 § 6 Comments

I am at my ten year old son’s basketball game in a white tile floored elementary school gym when a parent behind me—a single parent who attends every single practice and game in a pristine matching shirt, shoes, and baseball cap—yells out to a kid on the opposing team, as our team dominates the basket, “What? He can’t handle it!” I should mention that this man is about six feet five, not exactly slight of build, with a deep, carrying voice. I am stunned, then I laugh, then I wish I hadn’t. Poor kid. But it sticks in my head, and after hearing him taunt the kids throughout the game, we bring the phrase home, like a new, excitable puppy.

My husband and sons and I tell each other, “You can’t handle it!” whenever we feel like we’ve done something well, as in, “taste that cake I made. You can’t handle it! ” Then, we apply it to strangers at the grocery store, as in, “Yes, I did just get that parking space—lady in the red Toyota can’t handle it! She caaaan’t handle it. ” It goes on. You can imagine. It is almost like a high five after a while.

It doesn’t occur to me until months later to turn the phrase on myself. By then, my Mom has died, just when I thought I could handle life after my dad’s death. I can’t handle it, I tell Jeff. Don’t say that, he says. You keep saying that. But I can’t, I say. It’s too much. I can’t handle it. Stop saying that, he says.

I make a conscious effort to be more cheerful, which is to say, I stop openly bawling in the grocery store, in my office at work between classes, at the post office. I still can’t handle it, but I try not to say so out loud.

There are two things that do help me handle it, though, at least a little: basketball and words with friends. I find my favorite phrase applies here too. Also, unlike everything else, I have to be totally present for them. I am SO present, in late winter, in a game with my sister (who must research cheats on the internet) that I can’t put down my phone while I am cooking, so my iphone becomes the newest ingredient of my soup. I get a new one and keep playing. I am in every Duke game. Coach K should pull me off the bench. I guess this is because these games really, really matter to me while I am in them, and then, smack talk aside, they don’t. Not in the way that makes my heart race, makes me take deep breaths, makes me yell out to some Carolina player whose shot gets rejected, “He can’t handle it!” Then, when the game ends, I go back to the world where I have to deal with work, and making dinner, and trying not to bawl in public.

Basketball season is here again, thank God,  and I am once again consumed for delicious hours, transported by the squeak of shoes, the stunning beauty of Andre Dawkins’ three pointer, and  Jay Bilas’ unaccented voice into some kind of other dimension, full of six foot five young men who know what they are capable of. I have found I can even play words with friends during half time.  This, my friends, is how you handle it.


§ 6 Responses to You can’t handle it

  • Bird says:

    Steph, I so love your writing. You are my soul sister. I’m always here whether you can or can’t handle it.
    GO DUKE!!

  • Judy Goldman says:

    Steph, this is stunning. I feel it in my stomach. Thank you for writing such a gorgeous piece.

  • Loretta says:

    “I guess this is because these games really, really matter to me while I am in them, and then, smack talk aside, they don’t.”

    This is my favorite line. It’s the moment when we, as readers, feel completely confident that we’re in capable hands. When you pull it all together and show us what the world — your world — is about.

    Such a beautiful piece, Steph.

  • Stephanie, this is beautiful and I know you can handle it but even when you feel you can’t, you have a right to cry and let your emotions out. Your writing is so real – it is like living inside your body and mind while you read your words. Keep writing and I’ll keep reading and praying for you to “handle it” day by day.

  • Christina says:

    Stephanie, I loved this! Every year at the start of basketball season I think of a story a friend told me decades ago when I first moved to North Carolina. She was sitting on the front porch of an elderly neighbor’s house, both of them in rocking chairs, and remarked that it must be hard, as one gets older, to be one of the last ones left among one’s friends and relatives. “What keeps you going?” she asked. “Well,” the old lady replied, “There’s always ACC basketball.”

    I’m beginning to know exactly what she meant. Strange what a consolation a “mere” game can be.

    Wishing you (& Duke) a sweet season.

  • Luisa Tio says:

    Thanks for sharing these words. They are beautiful. I’m thinking about you!

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