An April 1st never goes by when I don't 1) call my Mother, whose birthday is today--imagine all the pranks she endured as a kid, especially with her trickster younger brother!--and 2) flash on the worst April Fool's day I can remember.
It was 1990, twenty years ago now, and I was a college sophomore sitting in the stands with my teammates watching the women's national championship. Yes, watching. In the stands. On our home court in Knoxville. The nosebleed tickets and requirement that we attend were part of our coach's not-so-friendly way of reminding us that we hadn't managed to make it to the final four that year despite all predictions and expectations to the contrary (see this post about that loss's immediate aftermath). At the championship, we were both watching and being watched, so that we really had to pay attention to the game and couldn't seem to be having any fun at all. Not that we were. It was rather miserable to be there in street clothes and have another team in our locker room, on our floor, being cheered on by a crowd that would have been ours, and it would have been a capacity crowd had we made it. As if living in the (im)perfect tense weren't enough, Regina had to go and bring on some devastating future-tensed news at half time.
She was transferring.
We are talking about my very best friend here. The one who informed me on move-in day that it wasn't cool to wear flat dress shoes, even if you're as tall as me. The one who I immediately liked a ton. We shared a room on every road trip, having received special dispensation from the policy that we had to share around, because our teammates were tired of her silliness and my sloppiness. Regina, "RG" as she was known to the team and to our fans, and I were inseparable. Only Regina was bold enough to bop Pat on the head with a wadded up pair of dirty socks on the bus, and only Regina, in doing so, could draw laughter and a head shake from Coach Summitt. Regina, who would pose with me Hans-and-Franz style in our sports bras and shorts in front of the big orange-framed locker-room mirror, to the squealy delight (and some amused eyerolls) of our teammates. Regina, who helped stage the gymnastics feat that would chip my tooth on Lisa Harrison's knee. Who, once forgetting she had already been in the game, removed her playing jersey thinking it was her shooting shirt as she was squat-running to the scoring table to check in. Who mouthed "I love you, Jeff" to the ESPN cameras when we were losing to Stanford, and then became horror-stricken when I told her the coaches would use that as the game tape. Who, when she got to meet Michael Jordan at half time of an exhibition game, skipped the protective barrier and locked her arms around his waist, nuzzling her cheek just below his sternum and refusing to let go until Jordan politely informed her that he was "all sweaty," and gently pried her off of him. Regina, who would go through a pitcher of lemonade at road restaurants before our food would come and would inform the waitress before she even poured the first glass that she "might as well bring another." She was the center of the "eat-em-up crew," a nickname given to the five freshmen the previous year because we all ate with such, well, gusto. Regina, who brought life to our team, was leaving, as were many of our teammates following that turbulent season, including our teammate also named Debbie whom we adored, and whose departure would leave the "freshman five" as four before two years were done. But Regina was to make it a stumpy, lifeless three, and I was devastated.
She explained to me how the coach from Michigan State had gotten in touch with her, and how that had been her "other" school when she was being recruited--the path not taken, we all had these--and how the coach had asked her to think about coming back home, and how she had thought about it, and would ultimately do it. She would be a superstar there, I knew it. And I understood her decision, on the surface. But I was already mourning. She looked away, and I knew she was crying, so I looked back at the game which had just resumed, a wet blur of non-orange.
And then, making sure that we weren't being watched by the coaching staff, Regina came in for a sideways hug. I started to heave a little, and she got really close to my ear and whispered,