Let me first say that I completely appreciate that many people are just not that into sports, specifically basketball, more specifically University of Kentucky basketball. It's fine. I don't hate. I don't understand, but I don't hate. But I'm from Kentucky and regardless of where Neal drags me around this world in the next 12 years, you can take the girl out of KY, but you can never take KY out of the girl. Someone joked when we got stationed in Georgia that I would become a bulldog. No offense, GA, but no way, no how. Stick me and I bleed blue. Just ask the phlebotomist at my physician's office.
I was a sophomore at UK when they won the NCAA Championship in 1998. Even though the game was far from our Lexington campus, we still collected in the streets to turn over cars, burn couches in the road, and climb onto the top of whatever was closest. (To this day, I still wonder why destroying personal property is the appropriate way to celebrate a national championship, but it is and continues to be.) In short, it was a victory party unlike any I had ever attended. And I was just sober enough to remember it.
So, when it looked like my beloved Wildcats were going all the way to the final game of the SEC (Southeast Conference) tournament in Atlanta last Sunday, it set off a chain of events that simply couldn't be undone. My Saturday/Sunday timeline went something like this:
1:30 PM - It was 10 minutes into the SEC semi-final game with Alabama. UK had pulled ahead and they were playing very well. Even though I was listening to it on XM, I could tell that Our Boys in Blue had caught afire.
2:00 PM - Half-time of the game. I had been looking for tickets for Sunday's final game on StubHub for at least 20 minutes. I found 2 tickets, center-court, behind the pressbox, for $55. I called my cousin, who is also a resident of Big Blue Nation and was watching the game in Lexington.
"Cuz, we could win this game."
"I think we should go to Atlanta. It's 90 minutes north for me, 6 hours south for you. Leave after the game and we'll spend tonight in Atlanta. You could be back home on Sunday by 11."
"Buy the tickets!"
"Are you sure?"
"BUY THE TICKETS!!" Best case scenario: we had center-court tickets to the final game, which was probably going to be UK vs Florida (an SEC rival that I love to beat because they sort of have an ego. OK...they definitely have an ego...Freud would be so proud). Worst case scenario: somehow the Cats throw away the ballgame and I would have to drive to Atlanta on Sunday morning to scalp these tickets on the corner of bitter and crotchety. At least I could get a trip to Trader Joe's and IKEA out of it. I bought the tickets. And then had to buy 2 more because people got word that we were going.
9:00 PM - Arrived at Dobbins AFB, where we got a very clean, updated room for $39/night. Sacrifice to your country has its benefits.
1:59 AM - We had returned home from Applebee's and I had just finished painting my toenails. I watched my cell phone intently so I could witness it change from "1:59" to "3:00." It. was. awesome. Like time travel...but without Mary Steenburgen.
10:00 AM - We checked out of Dobbins and made our way to the train station. Traffic-free drive to the train station, followed by a crowd-free train ride straight to the Georgia Dome? Win.
11:15 AM - Picked up tickets from StubHub desk after leading my fellow travelers around in a 2 mile circle when really, we should have just come out of the train station on the other side of the street. Oopsie. But there were mozzarella sticks to walk off....(which, I'm pretty sure, is not on my Eat-Like-a-Caveman Diet)
11:45 AM - Lunch at Max's Coal-Fired Pizzeria. I don't think the cavemen ate pizza, either. *epic lunch fail* Cheese, dough, and Coke Zero are noticeably absent from my meal plan, but it was the first pizza I had eaten in almost a month. It was slightly orgasmic (or maybe this whole giving-up-sex-for-Lent/War-thing is starting to get to me).
2:00 PM - Half-time and we celebrated the Wildcats' ability to sink the 3's, over and over again. This hand-sign was created by someone during the season and now it's everywhere...on t-shirts, posters, bumper stickers.
Through it all, my most constant thought was I really wish Neal was here for this. A couple of weeks ago, we were exchanging emails about installing our security system in the townhouse when he said, "I just want you to have fun and be safe." I had fun. I was safe. And I was still consistently aware of his absence. He was all that was missing.
Part of surviving a deployment with your sanity in tact is filling your days and nights. Whether it's with work, kids, or roadtrips...it's an undeniable fact that if you stay busy, the wake-ups will pass much more quickly. It's easy to keep my nose to the grindstone and work. work, work through these next 350 days, but it helps to have something to look forward to. I always tell first-timers to plan something that brings them immense joy every 4-6 weeks. Not just a movie with the girls or dinner out, but a treat. This was my treat and it worked...the days continue to fly as I walk on the sunshine of witnessing a Big Blue Win.