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Safe Haven

A place of refuge or security, a place of comfortability and peace. The place we run to when life is overwhelming like a child hiding underneath the covers. A location filled with genuine happiness, where you can be your sincerest self without fear of judgement. A section of life that endlessly tugs at the heart pulling you regardless of how far you try to get away from it.

We all have our safe havens. Some consider them coping mechanisms or hobbies but once we commence in that activity, life itself seemingly dissipates. For me, basketball and reading has always been my places of refuge. The peace in the weightless feeling on the court and the stories taking me places I've never traveled to filled my imagination while fueling my drive.

Unknowingly, this shaped me into who I am today with playing collegiate basketball and establishing myself as an author. I remember a time in high school when all I would do was play basketball and come home and read a book for the rest of the night. At one point, my mom had to take the current book I was reading away from me so that I could complete my chores around the house. I used to get in trouble for staying out too late playing basketball, or not doing my homework and going to hoop instead.

Countless instances where I dove into the aforementioned, my most recent was the other day while I was working for the city. Per usual, going back and forth with Amelia's mom to no avail wishing that I can fast forward through the hard part and get to where I see my daughter again. She text me something off the wall claiming that I'm just now realizing that I want to be in Amelia's life and other things portraying me as an absent parent.

An obvious dig trying to get under my skin doing her best to get me to act out of character. It's almost as if she were texting me while someone was looking over her shoulder, like she was trying to prove where we stand as parents. Talking about I don't ask about what size she wearing all while keeping me blocked and not even answering the questions I do text her.

I felt the frustration rising from my stomach to my throat letting out consecutive screams at the top of my lungs. I got out my chair and bounced around the community center, feeling the negative energy ascending over the positivity I've been imploring into myself. I wanted to punch the walls kick over the trash cans and crawl into ball hoping that things will be different once I open my eyes.

Not feeling any better, I grabbed the outside basketball and walked to the courts in front of the building. It was only 5:00 but the sun had already begun making its trip to the other hemisphere. In the fading light, I started to put up shots and playing as if someone were in front of me.

Temporarily forgetting, I imagined myself in front of hundreds of thousands of fans just like I had so many times growing up. Every shot I made ignited a roar in the crowd, the crossovers causing fans to fall out of their chairs in excitement. Even after his death, I still find myself playing against Kobe imitating his antics after making game winning shots.

Emotions subsiding through the ball bouncing, pivot steps, celebrations, and miss or made shots I reminisced on the other times the game has helped me in life. I remembered being on the phone with the girl I ended up dating for the majority of high school and being so nervous that I walked and dribbled as I talked. I remember her asking if I was okay because she could hear the ball bouncing at different intervals, sometimes slow and hard or fast and hard.

I was suspended in middle school for skipping class, I believe, and I didn't tell my parents rushing to the answering machine to delete the message informing them. At home, I was so nervous, I was afraid my dad would come home early or that I would get caught. Instead of staying inside I went out to the driveway and shot hoops for a couple hours to knock the edge off.

If I had known that it would lead to my neighbor bringing me to the side talking to me, and then going on to tell my parents anyway, I would've stayed inside. I couldn't sit all day at home with a ball and a goal outside and not work on my game, I wouldn't of felt right.

There were spanses in time growing up where I didn't want to live in my own head, I didn't like my thoughts and I didn't like me. When I read an adventure of one of my favorite characters like Mitch Rapp, I became him, a new person. An elite CIA agent with primal instincts and supreme skills that will put me in settings requiring me to save the world. At least so it seems, with everything at stake the words vibrated off the page finding myself in between the lines.

Oblivious to the world around me.

Not only being on the court, but activities that surrounded it like running and doing field workouts. Jumping in and out the sand pit, running hills, the grind in general is a safe haven. The hunt for something more, to be better than those before and around me. The sweat waterfalling from my pores, the heavy breathing, the aching of the muscles and clinging onto the notion of never quitting.

In moments like these, what else could possibly matter? Especially when it's enjoyable, it's like our brains are programmed to forget all else even if it's only for an hour.

When I got arrested in prep school for stealing a bike and I was too scared to tell my family for fear of what they would say or do to me. I spent the next couple months dribbling the basketball and finding and outside court to shoot at, just wanting to get away. During that same time I dated a girl who was still getting raped by her father, after finding that out while not being able to help the ball stayed glued to my hand.

The relationship extended to the summer of college and after breaking up with her I remember being in the gym for an extended period of time. I told myself it wasn't me running from the situation, but it was, and I hated myself for it. Even though there was nothing I could do and the relationship had run its course with it being a secret from her parents and me now living in Charleston, SC, I still felt a tinge of guilt.

Spalding has always made me feel better.

After college, Spalding and I had a falling out. Germany didn't go as planned and Amelia was just born while under high stress from the relationship. I couldn't even look at basketball and didn't have the focus to read a book like I did as a child. I enjoyed and grasped what I read but didn't feel like I walked in the shoes of the character, not to the fault of the author but of my own.

During this time, I found a safe haven in poetry. Writing my innermost thoughts, fears, and desires profoundly expressing myself. Realizing I've retained more words than I thought, it was natural and the pen glided over the page. Even though I wrote the pain, it still became a place of refuge because there is a beauty and an art in expression. As well as very therapeutic, and the words might be of pain but the feeling is a release.

What is your safe haven? Is it your passions? Goals? Desires? Is it a substance? Maybe it's God. That's truly the only one we ever need.

I do believe, though, that safe haven's are dangerous if the problems surrounding are not actively getting solved. If you keep running to the safe haven without dealing with the issue at hand, eventually, the walls will fall and life will become chaos.

Whether it's reading, writing, basketball, or God, it's pertinent we take care of our own mental health. I pray that one day, my arms will be a safe haven for all my children.

Amelia and Amara, daddy loves you.

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