Journal 51: Time for bed, time to think

October 21, 2007

Normally, I try to soft-pedal my complaints. I add disclaimers about how thankful I am that I've had the opportunity to play basketball for money, that I get to travel, that I've had such amazing experiences in my life ...

But not today.

Today, I'm listening to Mudvayne and I'm going to write it like I think it.

Because my life sucks right now.

I blame my bed. Or, more accurately, I blame my bed for not being in Menorca with me. Of course, I have a bed in my apartment in Spain; I would really have something to complain about if I were sleeping on the tile floor.

But it's not my bed. And I could make the case that my bed in Kansas is the best bed in the world. And not in a "My mom is the best cook in the world" kind of way. Seriously. It's wonderful. It's soft, it's wide, it's long. It even looks inviting. The puffy white comforter resting delicately on its top brings to mind clouds, feathers and punchbowls full of Percocet.

My bed in Menorca isn't even a bad bed. Sure, it took the team two months to address the fact that the mattress on which I was sleeping was the wrong size, but even before the recent adjustment ... well, I've slept in worse conditions. Collegiate nights with two people sharing a twin bed come to mind.

Still, it's not my bed. My Spanish bed came with the apartment, which means that other people have slept in it. It is reasonable to assume that all sorts of lewd and disgusting things have been done in it. With my bed, at least they're my lewd and disgusting things.

At present, I am about to embark on a comeback from the broken ankle that resulted in arthroscopic surgery No. 3 within a 12-month period. I'm not entirely sure I'm ready, but I don't get paid until I can play ... and I'm tired of the pro bono work I've been doing.

With this return to the court comes the realization that my next injury might be my last; I'm not sure I have the mental fortitude for another rehab. And I'd like to be able to walk when I'm 45. My gut tells me that allowing multiple orthopedists to stick sharp instruments into my legs is not going to aid that quest.

My fear of the next injury is, of course, unreasonable. I can't very well spend my life worrying about another mishap. But the timing isn't great. At this stage in my life, I spend a portion of every day wondering how much more basketball I can play. When I was 23 and fresh out of college, it seemed like a pro career would be a fun lark. I would play for a few years and then I'd move on to something else.

My career has gone well beyond a lark. I've spent the better part of the last six years traversing the globe like a tall Han Solo.

I've done pretty well. I've learned how to adapt to new situations. I've learned how to live life in two-month stints. I've learned how to survive by myself.

But I'm wearing down. In the past, when people asked if my transience makes for a lonely existence, I shrugged off their concern. I usually said something like, "It gives me time to think." Which was true, but was also a lie by avoidance. I could say the same now too. Except I would continue the sentence.

It gives me time to think ...

... about how I've missed out on my 20s because I was wandering around the world while my friends were having lives.
... about how I haven't had a stable relationship with a girl in three years.
... about how much I miss my family.
... about how great it would be to have an internet connection in my apartment.
... about how long it's been since I last saw a girl naked. (72 days)
... about how long it will be before I do again. (At this pace, 208 days.)
... about lonely post-practice car rides.
... about the empty apartment that was waiting for me.
... about nights highlighted by six Budweisers, whiskeys and Coke, and Nine Inch Nails in the background.
... about snapped ankle bones.
... about how hard it is to come back from them.

... and about how it doesn't matter how well I write about my life, or how funny I make it, or how many digs I take at myself -- I will never be able to describe it well enough so that whoever reads my description does not immediately think, "That ungrateful son of a bitch. He should try my life on for size. This 9-to-5 in the FedEx distributing center isn't a pleasure cruise."

But that guy couldn't do this. He would have quit back in college, when our coach made us come in at 5 a.m. the day after a home game against Baylor. A game we had won by 20. We were summoned to practice in the predawn hours because we hadn't beaten them badly enough.

Here's the thing: when I write the above, I do it with a touch of pride. I'm proud of myself for surviving certain periods of misery and heartbreak. Periods that I cannot appropriately describe. Periods that only fellow basketball players can understand. Losses, injuries, missed payments, waiver wires, garbled once-a-week phone calls home. Cramped bus rides in Arctic cold, girls who wouldn't date me because I'm a basketball player, girls who would date me only because I'm a basketball player.

Meanwhile, FedEx was loafing his way through a marketing degree and four years of happy hours and corporate retreats.

Complaining about something without providing a solution is a cowardly thing to do. But what's my move? Is it time to quit? Am I cracking? Is the fact that I'm questioning my life a sign of weakness, or a sign of growth?

Maybe, if I had enough intestinal fortitude, I would end this journey that started when I was 12. I would begin whatever is next: a writing career, a job in television, grad school. I could still salvage some of my youth, fading as fast as it is.

But I can't help but think there's still something to this basketball gig. This weekend, as I sat and watched my team endure its fourth drubbing of the year (in four tries), I couldn't help but want to play. Even as I complain about how much I hate my life, I hold out hope that playing again will make the depression worthwhile. Some of it, anyway.

In the meantime, I'll make a deal with the FedEx guy who now hates me. If he promises to stave off the resentment that has been building while I've been complaining about my life, I'll make an effort to fix things.

But first, I'm going to need to talk to him about the shipping costs of one king-sized bed.

Paul Shirley has played for 13 pro basketball teams, including three NBA teams -- the Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns. Paul can be found at myspace.com/paulshirley. His book, "Can I Keep My Jersey?", can be found here.