Writing from the Heart: Don’t jinx it

Encroaching on men and their sports can be a good thing — and a memory-maker.


When I got married, my husband wasn’t into sports — playing or watching. He didn’t know the NBA from the NFL. And I loved that about him. When the men would gather in groups at parties, the talk invariably would go to, “How ’bout them Mets?” Joel didn’t engage in those conversations, and often we would rehash the evening in the car on the way home. What is it with guys who stay boys? I would ask. Why don’t they talk about anything substantive?

But his youngest brother Mart, my brother-in-law, 19 when I met him, was a Celtics diehard.I loved this guy, and we were very close in the early years of my marriage. But I had kids and he got into an edgy lifestyle, and somehow I lost him.

When my husband started playing tennis in his 50s, he started watching matches and YouTube, and I watched as he threw himself into this new hobby. He had tennis buddies. He had games scheduled. He bought himself a bunch of racquets, and spent more money on tennis balls than clothes and food and cars and … me. (OK, not me).

But I was certainly not one of those silly waste-of-time spectators.

Once Joel started on the jock path, it was easy for the three brothers, who were all into watching basketball, to recruit my husband into their web.

All of a sudden the TV was on for NBA games, which seemed to start in October and end in … well, never. And the noise from that television began encroaching on my silence.

I asked if he could watch with no volume, and he kindly put the thing on mute.

Then the phone calls started. The brothers yelling into the phone, Nooooo! Did you see that? That wasn’t a foul, you idiot! He barely touched him! They were watching in unison in two different time zones, and four different locations.

I can’t explain what happened. There is no logic to it. I can only say that by mistake, one night, hearing the nonstop monologue from the speakerphone, I looked up from my book and I caught a glimpse of the dance on the screen. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. It was a ballet. These baskets they were making were not random acts. They weren’t happy accidents. They were well-rehearsed, a human machine well-oiled and flawless. I was watching anticipation and intuition and communication. I was watching the result of millions of hours of practice, which it turns out does make perfect.

But it was Mart, the best athlete of the bros, and the commentator for the new family sports channel, who penetrated my consciousness first, with his repetition of, “Don’t jinx it, Nance, don’t jinx it.”

I began to find a whole different appreciation for what I had judged as men using sports as their only means of intimacy, a waste of productive time, and lurching themselves back to childhood nostalgia.

I was mesmerized and moved. I asked my husband to turn up the volume. He was only too happy to comply. With the sound, I became even more engaged, glued to the TV. I don’t know if it was the tribal thing, the belonging to something greater than, or the fact that now I had an excuse to be with Mart and scream into the phone, “No!” Or “Yess!” or “I’m dying here!”

I began to shape my whole evenings around the time of the games. I canceled dinner plans. I left parties early. I started sneaking looks at my phone to check on the score when I should have been listening to someone talk.

And then my Mart got sick. He was diagnosed with throat cancer, and it became harder and harder to understand him on the phone. We still called each other, and between my constantly saying, “What? Say that again, sweetie,” and screaming when Tatum made a three-pointer, the thing was losing its joy.

Mart died three months ago, and the Celtics season started up that same week. I couldn’t turn on my TV. The brothers started up with the calls. They said the team never looked this good. Something shifted, they said. It’s otherworldly, they said. You won’t believe Derrick White. He can’t miss! And Jaylen! Oh my God! And now they’ve got this guy Porzingis. He’s 7 foot 4!

“Nance,” they yelled, “where are you?” I didn’t know where I was.

And then it came to me. This is grief.

It wasn’t just the game that had seduced me. It was the reconnection with my precious brother-in-law. And now that that was broken, I couldn’t imagine caring anymore.

I’ve learned grief. I know it. I know how to navigate feeling sorrow and recovering. But somehow I forgot. You don’t throw out the baby with the bath water. You keep the baby. You change the bath water. But first you mourn. You honor the pain part. And I was trying to skip the pain by shutting off the TV.

So this Friday night at 7:30, with trepidation and a willingness to feel my broken heart, I will return to my team, and scream on Mart’s behalf; Don‘t jinx it! Don’t jinx it. Don’t worry, Mart, I won’t.