Coach Time 7F

Coach Dan stroked the short curls of his black beard. “I’ve heard people say that Double-J marches to the beat of his own drummer.” He snorted a laugh. “I think he told his drummer to take a hike a long time ago.”

“You’re worried about him.” Jimmy’s words were more a statement than question.

“I go back and forth on that. At times I think about how he has a job already, his own apartment — he’s more independent than your average high school student. He knows how to take care of himself.”

“But his decisions — ”

“Yes, yes. It costs him, even in fencing. He’s so aggressive — ”

“Tell me about it.” Jimmy rubbed his right shoulder. “He was coming at me all evening.”

“And his opponents have faced him enough times to know that he falls in love with an attack. If it doesn’t work, he just tries to do it hard, faster. With Double-J, it’s always about what he thinks the most effective attack would be, never about figuring out what his opponent’s weaknesses are.”

“You sound frustrated.”

Coach Dan laughed. “Jimmy, of all the students I’ve worked with on the fencing team, Double-J’s the one I’ve worked with most. But for all the students I’ve been able to work with — it just isn’t working between him and I. I’ve failed him.” He turned to Jimmy. “And that really bothers me.”

“Hmmm.” Jimmy tilted his head back slowly, until it rested against the short wall behind him. “So this is why you’re asking for my help.”

“I don’t have the luxury of having a separate coach for each weapon. Fortunately my epee fencers also fence foil, but sabre — Double-J’s the only one. And it’s the only weapon he’ll touch these days.”

“I see.” Jimmy closed his eyes, let the silence of the large cafeteria surround them a moment. He then lifted his head, opened his eyes, looked at Coach Dan. “I have one question for you, Daniel.”

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Coach Time 7E

“So I ask Lefty, can I talk to that young man?, and he’s like sure, so he goes to get him. Minute later the youth I saw in the lounge, he walks through the door, and his hair’s even more messed up than before, it looks like something out of Mardi Gras.

“I says to him, Lefty tells me you just saved me a whole bunch of money on that brake job. He just shrugs. Then I make some dumb comment about how young he looks, and how I was surprised that Lefty hired people so young. And then he snorts, says that’s ‘cuz he never officially hired me. And I’m like, get out, but he just shakes his head, he can’t, well he could now but when I started, state law said I was too young to work, so he started paying me under the table and we just kept doing that.

Coach Dan nodded. “Double-J’s told me that too, that he and Lefty are all off the books.”

Jimmy turned his head toward Coach Dan. “Figure that arrangement don’t work out best for that young man.”

“You figure right. One of the teachers here, his wife’s an accountant, I asked her to look into Double-J’s finances. He only agreed when she said she was donating her time. Couple months later I asked her at a faculty party, and she said he was making about half what an experienced auto mechanic should make in this area.”

Jimmy turned his attention back to the cafeteria doors. “Makes sense. I could tell by the way he talked to me that day, he was one to want to walk a lonely path.”

Coach Time 7D

“You seemed to know Double-J pretty well.” Coach Dan realized he was speaking in the same tone he used when soliciting a response from his students.

Jimmy shrugged, forearms still resting on his knees as he reclined against the short cafeteria wall in front of the stage. “Brake light on the delivery van flipped on last year, so I took it in to Lefty’s. Tells me it would take him a while to get it fixed and I was like, I’ll wait here. So I’m in that little waiting room they have, trying to find a magazine, and in walks this young man.” Jimmy held out his hands in front of him, shoulder-wide. “He’s got this hair, it’s all black and stringy and wild, like he’s just got himself electrocuted.

“I says hello, and he grunts, heads towards the vending machine. Without looking at me, he asks, you the guy with the van? And I go yeah, and he says found the problem, just had to bleed the brake lines, we’re just about done. And then I thank him, but he just grunts, gets his thing from the machine, walks out without looking back at me.

“Little while Lefty, he come in, says I’m all set. I go to pay, he tells me how much and I’m like, get out, that’s all? And Lefty motions back to the shop with his thumb, says he’s got this new kid working for him, calls himself Double-J. And I says, he the one with the hair, and Lefty’s like, oh yeah.

Guest Blog: Using Writing As A Means Of Therapy by Virginia Cunningham

Maggie Mae, a poet I respect tremendously, recently offered her blog to publish this guest post from Virginia Cunningham. Since I’ve personally experienced many of the therapeutic effects described in this post, I wanted to share it with my readers.

maggiemaeijustsaythis

Using Writing As A Means Of Therapy

For many people, expressing feelings verbally can be difficult; opening up to someone on a particular topic can cause feelings of vulnerability. In this instance, writing serves as a way to be able to express certain feelings through a creative outlet. Writing unlocks your subconscious to bring to light your most pressing thoughts, from current issues at hand or those from the past that you have been avoiding.

The therapeutic effects of writing have been so effective that it is frequently encouraged in the hospital setting for those who are physically or mentally ill. Counselors who have patients who have experienced traumatic events often encourage those patients to use writing as a form of therapy. Suppressing your thoughts is stressful to the body as well as the mind. When you sit down and write, you are taking time to take care of yourself. Instead of…

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Coach Time 7C

Coach Dan reached to his right, retrieved his water bottle. Still sitting, he opened the bottle, drank quickly. Lowering the bottle, he addressed Jimmy without turning to him.

“We’ve got the next four weeks off for the holidays. Practice resumes on the second Tuesday in January.”

Jimmy’s voice sounded even wearier than his body looked. “Wednesday’s my only day off, Daniel. These old bones need their rest.”

“Jimmy, I need a sabre coach.”

“You have six fencers, Daniel. I think you can find the time to work with everyone.”

“Seven, my friend. Confirmed with Dani that she’s coming back after the new year.”

“All right, seven — ”

“Double-J’s ready to quit.”

Jimmy turned quickly, stared at Coach Dan silently as he continued. “It’s this damn captain thing. You heard us talking about it at the party Saturday. Double-J thinks he should be captain, said he ‘deserves’ it, and he’s not happy with it going to Annie instead.”

“Wasn’t aware that being captain was such a big deal.”

“Agreed, it shouldn’t be. But it is to Double-J. He’s taking this very personally, like it’s a slap in the face. Broke the news to him a few days before the party, and though he didn’t come out and say it, I could tell he has this close — ” he squeezed the tips of his right thumb and index f finger together, held them up towards Jimmy — “from saying he was done with the team.”

Jimmy nodded, turned his gaze back towards the door through which Double-J and Rex had just exited. “I see.”

Coach Time 7B

Jimmy waved his fingers in the direction of the cafeteria doors, through which Rex and Double-J had just left. “Tell you one thing, those young men aren’t anything like the fencers I knew back in the day.” He wiped sweat from his brow as Coach Dan asked him how so. “There’s something — dark about them both. With Double-J it’s more evident, but even with Rex, I keep feeling there’s something unpleasant inside him, right under the surface.”

Coach Dan asked if he had gone to a Catholic school; Jimmy nodded, provided the name. “So what you’re telling me, my friend, is that Catholic students twenty years ago in New Orleans didn’t have problems?”

Jimmy shook his head. “Of course not, Daniel. But they — we — everyone knew who they were back then. It was a simpler time, even in a melting pot like New Orleans, at least you had some kind of identity. Those boys — ” he waved his fingers at the cafeteria doors again — “I don’t think they know who they are.”

“What they are, is fencers.” Coach Dan turned to Jimmy. “And even after all these years away from the sport, I can tell you are as well.”

Jimmy smiled, closed his eyes. “I’ll admit, I had a good time this evening.”

Coach Time 7A

December. The first Tuesday.

Coach Dan lifted his chin, called to Rex and Double-J as they walked towards the cafeteria exit. “Nice work tonight, guys.” His voice was labored from exhaustion, the short black curls of his hair and beard glistening with sweat, fencing jacket unzipped, flaps draping loosely.

Rex turned, swept his right arm up, his tall thin body bending like a parentheses. “Thanks Coach.” Double-J waved without turning, continued to the large metallic cafeteria door, opening the thick metal release bar, kla-klack.

Coach Dan turned, saw that Jimmy was sitting against the low wall in front of the stage. His eyes were closed, head resting back and pointed up at the ceiling, forearms resting on raised knees. If his face wasn’t covered in sweat, Coach Dan thought, you’d think he was sleeping. Coach Dan walked in Jimmy’s direction, was surprised when he suddenly started speaking.

“Daniel, please explain to me why I let you talk me into this.”

Jimmy’s eyes were still closed, but Coach Dan shrugged anyway. “You seemed to be enjoying yourself.”

Jimmy smiled. Opened his eyes, found Coach Dan’s gaze. “Problem is, my body can’t keep up with my enthusiasm. It’s been twenty years since I last picked up a weapon, and I’m gonna wake up tomorrow with about two decades worth of aches and pains.”

Coach Dan lowered his body, sat next to Jimmy, legs sprawled straight in front, hands in his lap. “I’ve learned that I can only keep up with them for a short period of time. Give myself time to rest between bursts of energy.”

Bursts.” Jimmy laughed. “Right now I feel about ready to burst.”

Coach Dan nodded, waited for Jimmy to regain his composure. “Don’t think I’ve ever seen those two boys work that hard at practice. You really pushed them tonight.”

“You always call them boys?”

“Don’t tell them I said that.”

Coach Time 6T

“Taking the blame for the good of the team. How noble.” Double-J’s voice secreted sarcasm. “And I expect you’re looking for me to join you on the high road? Perhaps riding a horse as high as yours?”

Coach Dan figured it was best not to reply.

“Coach, you’ve been looking for me to play your game all evening.” Double-J swept his right arm above the restaurant table. “Think it should be clear to you now that I’ll never play along, never pretend that this decision is anything other than it is — taking what belongs to me, and giving it to someone who doesn’t deserve it.”

Coach Dan watched as Double-J rose from his chair. “If it makes you feel any better, yeah I’ll be at Annie’s party a week from Saturday. Jimmy’s food is always good. But what happens after that — I still haven’t figured that out yet.”

Coach Dan lifted his chin, cleared his throat. “Just think about — what we talked about this evening. As you figure out what to do after Saturday.”

Double-J shrugged, then put his right arm through his thick down jacket. He looked down at Coach Dan. “Thanks for picking up the tab.” And then the burly teen turned, wrestled his left arm up and into his jacket, and walked toward the exit door.

End of sixth coaching session

Coach Time 6S

“And I’ve failed you, Double-J.” Coach Dan’s tone was sincere but unapologetic. “Every member of the team has their own, unique needs. And as much as I keep saying it’s not my team, it’s your team — I’m the genius who walked into Stu’s AD office four years ago and said having a fencing team at Bark Bay High would be a fantastic idea.

“So the disappointment you’re feeling now, about not being named team captain this year — that’s on me. Like I said before, I think Rex is right, offering the job to Annie’s the right thing to do, for the team. I’m not going to apologize for the decision. That’s not why I asked you to come out here to the Pizza Place this evening.

“I brought you here to help you see that the team’s decision on their captain is the right thing — not just for Annie, and Rex, and the other team members, but for you as well. Having these conversations is part of my job as coach. And based on what I’m hearing from you over the past hour, I’d say I’ve failed miserably.”

Coach Dan leaned forward in his chair. “So here’s the deal. If you’re angry, I understand. I won’t try to convince you not to be angry. All I’m saying is, be angry at the right person. Not Annie, not Rex — not Bernie, Butch, Kassie, Dani — be angry at me. Because I’m the person responsible for how you feel at the moment.”

Coach Dan leaned back, his posture indicating that he was waiting for a response from his burly teenaged student, and the most accomplished sabrist he’d ever coached, Miles included. A moment later, a smirk crawled over Double-J’s face.

Coach Time 6R

“Haven’t we talked enough already?” Double-J slid his right arm into his down jacket.

Coach Dan remained seated in his restaurant chair. “Only reason I’m asking for a bit more of your time now — is that I know if Annie accepts the offer to be the fencing team captain, you’re not going to want to talk to me.”

Double-J stopped, his left hand barely into its sleeve. He looked down at his coach. “That’s the most insightful thing you’ve said all evening.” The burly teen took his left hand out from the sleeve, brought it across his body to free his right arm. He sat quickly, arms wrapped around the jacket.

The waitress left, nervousness having returned to her face. She lifted the receipt and money from the table, thanked Coach Dan, do you need change, no thank you, you two hav a WONDERFUL evening. Then the bearded, middle-aged English teacher at Bark Bay High School turned his attention back to the moustachioed senior and part-time employee of Left’s Auto Shop.

“Do you know why I started the fencing team, four years ago?”

Double-J shrugged. “Compensating for blowing out your knees in college?”

Coach Dan blinked. “My friend, in the four years you’ve known me, how many times have I talked about my fencing career?” Double-J replied that he didn’t know. “That’s because I go out of my way not to talk about my past. Like last week, when Butch asked me how many bouts I’d won in college.”

“You said it didn’t matter.”

“And I meant it. Yeah you’ve probably heard me talk about Josef, my college coach, how I met him a few years back, and how he gave me hell for not having a fencing team at Bark Bay already. Yeah, if I hadn’t gotten that kick in the seat of my pants, I might not have started a team. But when I did go to the AD, ask for a little money and practice time, I wasn’t thinking about myself. I went in thinking, what can fencing do for my students?