My best childhood friend , whom I have known since I was 12 years old back in that small New England town, Bernardston, Massachusetts, never held a squash racket, stepped foot on court nor struck a hard rail to good length. He is seriously ill with esophagal cancer and has a tumor so big he can’t swallow solid food. He is undergoing chemo therapy which is making him sick and he’s down to 123 lbs.
I have been coming off a series of squash injuries lately, have been really stressed out in my other work, technology, and have been a bit of a bear to live with, according to my wife. When I received the news about Mr. Wyskers (Wally Wysk whom I always called Wyskers), my son was away in England training with Steve Townsend in Birmingham, he is always good at putting things in perspective and when confronted with a crisis we usually have a hit for a bit and stop in between and talk about the elements of the crisis. He wasn’t around, my wife was great, but nothing was calming my spirit and mind. I seemed to be in that mindset am I now going to see those near and dear around to start dropping off. How long before I am struck with something like this – my wife was right, I was having a bit of a pity party. I did not go to church to pray or kneel at my bed to pray for Mr. Wyskers, I wanted to be on court 6 at LA Fitness in Lake Success, Long Island, where I coach and play.
I arrived and changed into my squash shoes, stretched a bit and went on court and closed the door. I looked around at the four white walls, the courts are enclosed so they are very quiet. Through the glass backed court the usual packed crowds and throngs of weight lifters silently, eerily so, as if it they were a silent movie, pumped their iron. This court was where I needed to be, the old feeling of calm and perspective began to come over me. Wife was right, pity; here I don’t feel pity, anxious, life is life and death or the prospect of it is part of this life. I began bouncing the ball with my racket, a couple of students paused to watch, they waved, I just nodded. They knew, I was in a place not accessible to them right now and they kindly left me alone. I was mad at myself for the complaints about my injured hand, my complaints about being tired and sore, and thinking about what’s going to happen to me too, all the while my friend was facing something much worse, reality. But the ball I was bouncing has that rhythmic sound , the same effect a Hindu mantra has or meditation might have…I was releasing the negative stuff breathing in the good energy and breathing out the bad energy. I started striking the ball, at first my hand really hurt and my knee was bothering me, but I ignored it I wanted to see the ball, hear the ball, move in my mind as if I were a gazelle….I was striking the ball well as it began to warm up, I stepped on the forehand side up and down the court repeatedly volleying the ball then playing it back keeping it going for as long as I could. I was working up a sweat, I was beginning to breathe as if I was in a good rally. I switched sides, my backhand was good, my racket was really quick, I wasn’t plodding with my feet….my mind began to wander I thought of how Mr. Wyskers and I use to skip school and hang out and talk about books and music.
Mr. Wyskers, what a talent, he taught himself classical Spanish guitar, played in a rock band, wrote countless songs for his beloved girl, Jill, and I wrote him some poems he used as lyrics. We were wiseasses, we went to a small rural school, certainly no squash nor any tennis even, we played football but were kicked off after a couple of years because we smoked and had long hair and read and were into art and music. He loved Steinbeck, I can remember him completely enthralled by his works, Grapes of Wrath, The Pearl…he loved Woody Guthrie and Mississippi John Hurt, I turned him on to blues. He was an artist as well and loved Michelangelo and studied his art and works…he joined a rock band and they began playing locally and we eventually drifted apart. I started thinking about what my son had sent me from England about how Steve was changing his stroke in the front. We had talked about how his game in the front needed work, I didn’t know how to really help him fix it, but Steve made an adjustment that worked immediately. He had him bring his racket down more and had him extend his arm more on the follow through in the same motion as if he were dropping, crossing, or railing…I see the pros do that…I thought wow, that is cool stuff. I can’t wait for him to show me this when he gets back.
I had to take a break, I had been hitting without stop for quite awhile, I felt like myself again, no matter what I do or don’t do in this game of squash , I am just happy to play it – just like I am so happy to know this friend of mine and share a critical moment in his life. When we reconnected through Facebook a few years back, he remarked how we seemed to pick up right where we left off. I was sitting outside the court drinking some water and looking into the court, no matter what, I thought, like my friendship with Mr. Wyskers, every time I get on that court should be as if I never stepped off of it. I want him better, I want my game better, but sometimes you just have to take what comes, as clichéd as that is, and just be happiest with what you have right now.