There is an event that takes place in Ottawa every year, rain or shine. It is the Hope Volleyball Tournament, a whole day dedicated to playing beach volleyball, music, people, raising money for charity and taking advantage of the few summer months.
So of course, I never went. Gawd, I hate the heat.
That’s a lie. I went once. To watch a family friend play. I complained because the sand was too hot and I burned after being outside for 3.5 minutes. Most of my friends are not the athletic types and the thought of putting together a team terrified me. It seemed like too much effort. Also, I just assumed I would bump into an ex-boyfriend again. See below.
My friend Adrian asked me if I wanted to play this year. His friend had put together a team and they were missing a player. Sure, I said. If they can’t find anyone else by Friday, I’ll do it. And promptly forgot about it.
Sure enough, Friday morning and my phone buzzed. Hi Isabelle! Adrian gave me your number saying you wanted to play hope volleyball this weekend. Are you still available?
I said yes. I always say yes. It’s how I end up on so many teams! But I said yes, checked the schedule, went and bought a few snacks and shaved my legs. Because it was a beach volleyball tournament. Come on.
On Saturday, I walked from the university I attended in 2008 to the beach and met up with 5 strangers. And we played our first game against my high school ex-boyfriend. Because Ottawa is the size of a small puddle. And it was fun. The day was perfect. We won 4 out of 5 games. We were a great team. It was bright and sunny, the music played loudly and I got along really well with a guy on the team. So much, that he let me draw a heart on his shoulder in sunscreen, hoping that it would leave a trace.
You may be asking yourself, where is this going?
Or you’re not. That’s fine.
A few days later, I asked him his heart was. He responded: these days, mostly free and clear thankfully. How about you?
In my haste to be clever and funny, I hadn’t realized that my question was a bit strange. The heart on his shoulder, I had meant.
But the question still stood. How was my heart?
I don’t think anyone has ever asked me that, point blank. And I struggled to come up with a response. My heart is fallible. It is full and happy most of the time. My heart stretched to infinite proportions the day I met my nephew, and then even more when I met my second nephew and my niece. It stretched to include the significant others of my best friends and I know it will grow even more when I meet their babies. But sometimes, it is lonely. And sometimes, it just wants to run away. And most of the time, it is looking for something. A boy. A new country. A new place to eat tacos. A taste of gin.
How is my heart?
A few weeks ago, something happened that bruised it a little. A friend, someone I considered to be a really good, a best friend, told me he liked me. And I froze. I had to think in my head what to say. Without a doubt, I knew our friendship would be irrevocably changed. I ran through the list of friends I had met through him, friends I didn’t want to lose. Of course, the biggest worry was that I didn’t want to lose my friend either, who I did so many things with, who was always up to try new things, who went along with all my weird thoughts, crazy ideas and travel lists, who was my unofficial photographer.
It felt like losing a piece of me. I had to be honest. I couldn’t be with him that way. And by doing so, the friendship that we had would be changed. 15 years. Forever altered by the moment on the stairs in front of my apartment building.
I told the boy from my makeshift volleyball team that my heart was bruised but knows it will be fine and full again. And I know it will be. My friends have surrounded me in love and encouragement and support. I booked a plane ticket to a new country where I will reach out to someone I met in Nicaragua. I spent an evening under the stars, with a boy I have started to fall for, in a spot overlooking the bridge between my city and his city.
My heart will be fine and full again.
JUST KIDDING. Stay tuned for Part Two where I realized my heart was not fine.