The days begin to pass quickly. At a time of year when most people are hunkered down, hibernating, and waiting out the winter, my life is in full motion. I have been skiing way more than teaching, socializing, or even thinking about Brian. My days in the mountains are intense with workouts and tryouts and the anticipation of the Games in March.
When I finally get a weekend off, I relish the opportunity to be in my own bed, sleeping in and enjoying the laziness most people take for granted. I open my eyes, and the sun shines radiantly, though there are still flurries coming down off and on. Yesterday was a downright snowy December day, and it felt weird to be in town while there was probably some great skiing to be had in the hills. But, on this Saturday, when the ground is blanketed with white, I have absolutely nothing planned for the day and no idea where I’m going or what I will do. I’m in a funk, probably because once I get into the groove of hard training; it’s hard to take a day off. I feel like I’m losing my fitness and my edge, although realistically I know they don’t simply disappear overnight. I also haven’t had any great conversations with Brian, although we’re still writing daily.
I roll out of bed, head to the shower, and get ready for the day. While I’m rinsing my hair, I come up with a plan. I’ll head to the showroom where I know Jake will be working on his car, getting ready to put it on a trailer to head to South Carolina for next week’s race.
With winter fully set in, it seems like forever since I’ve spent quality time with Jake as sounding board, confidant, fellow speed demon. Ever since I found out he was happily married and I would never be Mrs. Jake, he’s turned into a pick-me-up, taking his role seriously. He always tries to make me feel better in moments like this when all I want to do is sit around and sulk.
As I push my chair across the linoleum floor of the showroom where we all keep our cars indoors during the winter, I spy Jake under the hood tinkering. I roll up to him in silence and manage a very slight “Hey.” I’m so quiet, partly because I don’t want to scare the crap out of him and partly because I don’t have the energy to be any more exuberant.
“Hey, Rainey, how ya doing?” Jake turns his head to look at me while still ducked under the hood.
I don’t say anything, only look at him with pathetic puppy dog eyes until he catches on that things in my world aren’t quite right. He stops what he’s doing, wipes off his hands with the nearest cloth, and comes over to me, getting down on one knee, so he is at my level. For a moment, I envision this gesture as the tender scene of a marriage proposal, but I know better. Jake is being polite. Getting down on my level to talk rather than standing tall and talking down to me. This is one thing I love about him. He thinks about these etiquette details, and I appreciate it.
“Jake, am I doomed to live my life alone? Why can’t I get myself to call Brian, ask him out to lunch, and meet him in person? Why am I so scared?
“We both know you’re in serious like with Brian. You have to be willing to let go. Let yourself feel and take a chance. Even if it doesn’t work out, it’s giving it a shot that counts. He might not be the one for you. That is a definite possibility, and there is a chance you’ll lose him, but that’s part of life. You can lose anything, on any day. You know that. You can lose your ability to walk, lose your family, or lose this relationship you have been building online. But that doesn’t mean you should live holding your breath, waiting for the worst. Why not go into this with hope instead of dread?”
“Because I want to be realistic.”
He stops talking long enough to stand up and retrieve his soda from the roof of the car and then returns to his position in front of me. I begin to get uncomfortable since I know what’s coming. It’s me. I know it’s me, getting in my own way.
“Rainey, you know what I believe? If you always go into situations expecting the worst, often that’s what you’ll get. I know you’ve learned this a million times as a skier and as a driver. When you’re on the ski hill or the track, and you feel outclassed and believe you’ll never win, you won’t. You don’t stand a chance. You have to have some amount of confidence and faith that things will work out the way they are supposed to. And it might not be with Brian. He’s the first guy you’ve dated … if I can use that term … though you haven’t actually even met him yet. Maybe it’ll be the next guy who is the right one. Or the one after that. You realize that Amber is not the first woman I’ve dated, right? Don’t tell her that,” he says as he winks at me.
Amber, Jake, and I are all keenly aware that Jake is a hot commodity, and that he’s had women throw themselves at him over the course of his thirty-three years.
Then he launches into the lecture that I know I need.
“Love is difficult. It can be fun, but it can also be exhausting. It’s hard work, but ultimately, it’s rewarding. That’s why it’s such a huge emotion. It has to be able to encompass all those things. It’s not all sap and romance like in the movies. Even your parents probably had those spiritless relationship moments of ‘Uh, you again?’ But there’s something about knowing you have that bond, and you’re united by a common feeling that belongs only to the two of you. To get there, you have to be willing to stick your neck out. And that’s where you’re getting hung up. You realize this isn’t all about the chair or your mom and Sunny, don’t you? It’s really about your unwillingness to open your mind. To be out of control and take the plunge. You’re staying in your protective little shell.”
Jake has me figured out, and as he looks directly into my eyes, I feel my body shrink into itself. I cross my arms and brace myself to take the rest of what he has to deliver.
“Rainey, it’s okay to feel scared, but the only one who can take the leap of faith is you,” he continues. “Being in love is like driving your car. You have to trust your machine, your mechanics, your tires. But more than that, you have to trust yourself. Think about how scary it was the first time you raced in a field of other cars. Did you ever get that lump in your throat when you were hitting a turn in a race, and there were cars on all sides of you, and you prayed that you would get through unscathed? You were totally out of your comfort zone, right? I don’t know about you, but I love that feeling when your skin prickles and the little hairs on your arms stand at attention because it makes me feel alive. Yeah, sometimes I feel like I’m gonna crap my pants, but when it’s over, and you’ve crossed the finish line, you know you’re a better racer because you had courage. And the more times you crossed that line, the more comfortable you got. Now it feels like home. You get on the track, and as soon as the flag waves and the race starts, you settle in and know exactly what you’re doing.”
He is right. There was a time when racing scared me out of my mind. But the more I did it, the more comfortable and confident I got. I learned my car inside and out. Got to know its quirks and when something wasn’t dialed in quite right. I wanted to learn to race so badly that I kept on pushing through all the scary stuff. I always thought—keep my eye on the goal.
“Approach falling in love with the same confidence and faith,” he continues. “Picture yourself with everything working like clockwork. But instead of being on the racetrack, picture yourself on a Sunday afternoon drive. Don’t rush to the finish line. Breathe it in and really feel it. Experience it for the butterflies it gives you. Even feel it for the lump you get in your throat when you disagree. Let yourself feel emotion because then you know you’re alive. You are living, Rainey. If you don’t, you’re just as guilty as what you assume about all the men out there. You are confined. Not to your chair, like people might say, but to your thoughts. That somehow different is bad. You have so much to offer because of your situation. Turn it around. You are the prize and it’s their loss if they can’t see it. Not yours.”
“Jake, I know. But I’m terrified. I want so badly to find someone who sees me as a person, not a chair or a tragedy. How do I get over this?”
I am so caught up in my woe-is-me drama that I don’t realize someone else has walked into our area in the showroom and is standing within earshot listening in.
From behind me, in the corner, piping up in a demure female southern voice, she matter-of-factly answers my question. “Just jump.” I can see the big loving smile on Jake’s face as we turn around to see Amber behind us, having heard our entire conversation.