Intensely exhausted and exhaustedly intent
Conflict, perpetuity, what it means to walk away.
There is an ingrained expectation in walking away. When a person leaves, quits, untangles themselves, says enough. It’s that in the lead up, or building to the decision to call something, they have tried. Tried to stick it out, to solve a problem, to make amends, but expended some effort in correcting what they could before calling it.
It isn’t a bad expectation to have. I’ve held myself to it and subconsciously others. When I give it more thought it seems vaguely puritanical, probably a little capitalist, but I also think it’s hard to find social contracts, or these ideas we have about how people should act and be, that aren’t steeped in the same periods of history they’re meant to bind.
I thought about what it is to walk away, first, because of Kyle Lowry. In the pressure cooker that popped this past week in Miami, with Erik Spoelstra, Udonis Haslem and Jimmy Butler getting into it, Lowry, as many people were satisfied (relieved? I was) to note, walked away. As Spoelstra’s eyes widen, fix and partially glaze in a look that is equal parts awe and rapid calculation, as Haslem begins a mantric “I’ll beat your ass, I’ll beat your ass”, and Butler revs, Lowry stands from his seat on the bench and cuts a quick right, eventually ending up at the scorer’s table.
The first clip I saw of the fight? Dust-up? Day in the life of “gnarly guys” according to Spoelstra? was the game footage. Admittedly, it was Lowry I looked for first.
He doesn’t show up until 14 seconds in, and that’s if you know where to look. Even then, you can’t be blamed if your attention is snared by the clipboard Spoelstra has emphatically thrown down on the court in Butler’s direction, its papers scattering, and P.J. Tucker zeroing in to bend coolly and scoop everything up.
So on second watch then, when you find him, there’s familiarity. Lowry standing like he is, hands resting low on his hips and feet planted in a staggered V, is a calculation. I know this stance. It’s Lowry at the end of every close Raptors game he played, debating which way he might will his body. It was Lowry waiting on Kawhi Leonard, or DeMar DeRozan, or later, giving accountability through distance to Fred VanVleet, watching to see what he’d do. To me, it’s Lowry when he knows control is hovering somewhere in his vicinity but out of his hands. An acquiesce that got easier with every season as his patience grew and stubbornness shrunk.
He doesn’t stay away long. He starts to walk slowly back over to where Dewayne Dedmon is gently but firmly buffering Butler from the bench, one giant hand flat on his stomach, around the time Tucker hands the clipboard and papers back to an assistant coach. He stands without talking beside them. Spoelstra curves around behind and begins to berate Butler again. Butler is emphatically motioning to Lowry, who is now making a motion for a time out. A formalized time out because yes, this seems like it’s going to take awhile.
In those other instances I knew Lowry had tried, I’d watched it through the preceding game or series, this time it looked abrupt. Here, he moves away like a person switching trains. A part of me, briefly, wondered if it signalled something bigger to his role on this team. But then I thought no, Lowry has been trying, on the floor in his uncanny foresight, in ways private to him and his family, all year, beyond the tidy bounds of the season or the controlled rhythm in one game to the next.
That’s why I thought, what does it mean to try, before walking away? And what force do we imagine is laying out the litmus test for it?
The water dulls the contact but the muted gravity makes it harder to shake. A hand drags along my shin, hooks around my ankle and is gone. I feel the drag for three strokes — pulling free, pulling away, and correcting my own rhythm. At the other end of the lane I rest on the ledge and squint through fogged goggle down the length of the pool, but it’s all churning water and limbs in motion. I take another lap.
The second hit comes at my shoulder. Wider, like a smack, enough to change my trajectory by a few inches so I dig into my stroke and keep my legs straight as not to collide with the guy I’m spitting the lane with, coming at me opposite.
Time is almost up so I swim the rest of my laps without stopping. There are no more surprises underwater. I know it happens, in a froth of bodies of different size and strength, going different speeds, the laws of motion might as well be perched like a creep in the lifeguard chair, yearning for contact. But in all the times it has there’s usually a smile and sputtered sorry either at the end of the lap or the end of the swim, an effort to heed more closely to the flimsy lane ropes and their genial allotment of space.
In the change-room the woman who was doing the contact walks around naked and takes what feels like an opulent amount of time putting on body lotion in front of the mirror. Something I’ve liked about swimming is that I don’t find myself all that worried or aware of my body when changing now, before or after. And I like that generally most swimmers I’ve come and gone in proximity to seem to feel the same. Maybe it’s the echo of impacts from the pool but it feels, even in the inconspicuousness of the change-room, an assumed line of separation is being crossed. By the time I’m shrugging on my winter jacket, slinging my gym bag onto my shoulder and cramming my headphones in I have no idea what I’m mad about, and what I want from it anymore. My hair dries on the streetcar.
P.J. Tucker with the papers.
How he oscillates out of the initial tight atom of conflict and comes languorous back, pulling on an ankle mid quad stretch when the papers slip and scatter across the shining hardwood, like conviction is suddenly sharp in him. He bends like you would to help someone get something they’ve dropped in a hurry, something important but also banal. The feeling like, We’ve all been there! radiating from him as he fans out both hands and gets everything up in one go.
The correct feeling, watching this, is it killing you.
Because you can’t watch Tucker lackadaisically pick something up off the floor on national television, in front of an arena full of fans sure they are about to watch a full-blown fight, hand it neatly to an assistant and stand, job done, hands on his hips, and click back to what is actually happening. Butler and Spoelstra still leaning into their words, not full on shouting but their bodies backing them up. Tucker is standing there and you can feel what he feels as he heaves a great big sigh, you do too, and wonders how long this whole thing’s gonna take to tire itself out.
P.J. Tucker with the papers. I could watch it all day.
Thinking about how it’ll soon be time to put the Toronto winter uniform away (long black shapeless parka). Press it like fatigues (take it to the dry cleaners and idly motion to the whole thing, unsure how to specify lifting pure exhaustion, what you have worn for months without really thinking about it) and fold it neatly away (stuff it into the tiny attic closet) for another season (feel the absence of its lumpy shell of protection in those first nervous days unsure what to do with your body so light, freed up from the weight of winter).
My aunt clarifies that she only handed him the bullet, placed in a small box with a velvet interior and a glass top so he could see that she’d carved his name on it.
We’re sitting around my parents dining room table. The balloons tied to the chandelier for my cousin’s birthday glowing in the low light from above and the candles on the table below. The hours have slipped eagerly by in the comfort of shared memories, compared, in how quickly and easily we manage to skip through time now that we’re all in the same place again. We rush, jumbled, through my aunt’s house in the country again. The dirt basement and the wood stove in the kitchen we fought hard against succumbing to the drowsing comfort of as our parents stayed up, played cards at the long wood table, drank rum and cokes. The graveyard across the street my brother can’t remember. The graveyard across the street my cousin remembers playing with ghosts his age in. Lifting flowers from graves a skipping girl in clothes too old for her would point at and he brought to school for his teacher. His teacher telling my aunt she must have some garden. My aunt looking outside and seeing the old pear tree, tiger lilies and scrubby lilac, a practical vegetable garden.
Standing in the corner of the outdoor shed in our grandma’s backyard, dripping wet from the pool and not allowed to set foot in the house wet so rushing to change while eyeing uneasily the swarming yellow jacket nest up in one corner. Always up in one corner, no matter which uncle took it out at the end of every summer.
The ghosts my aunt keeps now. One that thumps up and down her hall like it has a bad leg, she says.
In comes the cake. My cousin cuts wide slices, grinning, and I see us running, always out of breath, through the woods, cutting creeks, yowling and hooting and bolting home when my aunt would let out a long, loud whistle as the light waned and blue night came down to cool the flush in us.
My aunt puts her fork down and smiles at me straight, the way she’s been doing all my life. She gave it to him with a nod and the truth, she says. “I said if he ever touched my friend again, then I had the part that made it work.” It was up to him how he took it, as a threat, promise, or the understanding that this was her, trying.
It’s always this time in the season. The standings are a roil, there are a handful of games left, nobody feels 100%. For players there is a lot of walking away, there is a lot of conserving. The overwhelming feeling is let’s get this over with. The other overwhelming feeling is not wanting it to end.
At the Raptors game on Saturday night, Indiana in town, a speaker stack caught fire. Burst right into flame like something biblical, instead of a magnet pulsing too fast too close to its inner casing of paper, as my dad, 40 years a DJ, explained to me. An entire section slowly cleared and Nick Nurse said he didn’t clue in to what had happened until he noticed a fire fighter, full uniform, standing idly at the baseline.
The energy now is intensely exhausted and exhaustedly intent. Everyone wants a different thing. Different MVP, Rookie of the Year, though the candidates are only ever the same three to four people, the arguments for each repetitive, also applicable to each one of them, and delivered with the ferocity of a sermon. There are only so many psalms. Blessedly, it appears we’ve forgotten about Sixth Man. One less thing to be ceaseless about.
The desire is so strong to call it (the season, its people) that I can’t decide if it’s for a finish or start. We want the game eternally, every day becomes doomsday. Where can you go in that but around and around? Walk away, come right back. To say enough, like Lowry — beatific. At least a breather.