Standing Firm

Maintaining Composure amidst Chaos

n.b. If you have yet to do so, I invite you to visit my about page to understand the purpose of these writings.

n.n.b. Given the meager feedback on my previous post, Short Story (Introduction) No. 1, I do not plan to write the story to completion. Onto the scrap heap it goes!

It has been some time since I last wrote. My, how things have gone truly topsy-turvy.

Sedentary quarantine rules the day; simple outings and jaunts recalled fondly as we gorge on empty calories of half-baked tweets, slanted news tickers, and other frivolous stimuli.

We bipeds have been relegated to pacing abodes turned prisons. In some cases, the two cheeks of our derrières have all but replaced our two feet.

Former luxuries like working from home and lazy nights in have been cheapened by their ubiquity.

Former chores like grocery runs and cooking have been elevated to premier events through which we punctuate the long seconds, minutes, hours.

Amidst this backdrop, two tried and tested aphorisms come to mind:

  • “Everything in moderation”

  • “All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

For me personally, the stress of the situation and lack of routine has upset a delicate neurological homeostasis. Given my dueling conditions of Tourette Syndrome and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, undue stress wreaks havoc on vulnerable dendrites, potent neurotransmitters, and frayed synapses. This tension has fed into and quickened the vicious, rapid, debilitating cycle by which anxiety and angst beget premonitory urges, premonitory urges beget tics, tics beget anxiety and angst. And so it goes.

One particularly frenetic afternoon, I stumbled upon the Personal Statement I wrote back as a senior in high school. Penned to prove my worth as candidate for those Ivory Towers of higher learning, it chronicles my experience as a Tourettic ballboy at the U.S. Open. To date, I believe it to be one of the most honest, pure, and heartfelt things I have ever produced. Because of the dispiriting nature of our current reality, I wanted to share its uplifting message:

Standing Firm

Louis Armstrong Stadium erupts as the cheering thousands laud the entrance of Tommy Haas and Richard Gasquet. As these tremendous athletes stride past me, I stiffen in my navy blue garb while standing alongside the white lines of the tennis court. Upon hearing the two thuds of the racquet bags dropped on the rubberized asphalt, I dash into the humid air, my target locked: the open strip of wall between the Olympus sign and the IBM radar gun. I stop on a dime, standing mere inches from the warm tarpaulin. Straightening my back and folding my hands behind me, I stand tall, ready to chase a ball or retrieve a towel: I am a ballboy at the U.S. Open.

One might believe that pursuing errant tennis balls and attending to players would be the most difficult aspect of the work. I sincerely wish that were the case. Personally, my greatest challenge is remaining motionless.  I have Tourette Syndrome. Like the speeding tennis balls that all too often strike me, frenzied, vociferous neurons in my mind frequently assault my consciousness. These stormy petrels probe me, urge me, plead with me, scream at me, until I acquiesce: I move. Whether it be the suppression of a violent head jerk, or a guttural grunt, my Tourette Syndrome forces me to do battle every second.

As Haas and Gasquet trade blistering backhands and firm forehands, I too engage in a ferocious battle of wills. Fighting tooth and nail to not only manage the distribution of balls to all four corners of the court, but also to keep tabs, as “Crew-Chief,” on my team of six, I maintain outward composure despite internal pandemonium. Akin to the chair umpire’s words of caution to some particularly rambunctious fans, I coax my own unruly urges. Deflecting the rather tenacious desire to jerk my head to the right and to emit some mumbled nonsense, I pursue the evasive tennis balls under the brilliant stadium lights. After supplying Haas with a ball to serve at his resilient opponent, I resume my position at the back wall of the court, standing firm under an unremitting neurological assault.

My job mandates that I stand, with good posture and confident demeanor, upright and still (lest I dare disturb a player mid-stroke). Although not without arduous effort, I have also stood firm my entire life. Tourette Syndrome does not keep me from the daily limelight. Rushing from hockey rink to baseball diamond, I adore the life I lead. When wholly focused on the ice or the hard-packed dirt, I fire on all cylinders, deriving strength for my fight as I glove a ball or stickhandle up the ice. Similarly, when I grip the podium either as debater or as lector, I relish the opportunity to inform and address, trusting my words to reign supreme over my tics. Standing on display in these myriad facets of my life, I let my whole person shine brighter than any nonsensical grunt or head jerk. After an eleven-year struggle, I have grown to realize that what I have is simply a condition, a minuscule part of my confident whole. A whole that can hold his hand up to contribute in class, convey his ideas in a lucid and persuasive manner, and rip a slapshot over a goalie’s searching right glove. 

Incessantly dueling with my Tourette’s, I withstand many an internal punch to my consciousness and pride. Whether in the form of a vicious quip, or a heartless impersonation, society treats my disorder quite lightly; it serves as something to mock, to exploit for cheap, cruel humor. I derive strength for my fight from my optimism, my family, my lifestyle, and my faith. While standing on the tennis court, under the cameras and lights, I strive to convey my determination, perseverance, and love of life to all those suffering. For this monster encourages within me a dogged determination to grit my teeth and to inspire all those less fortunate than I. Though others might view my struggle with this disorder as a handicap, I see it as a fountainhead of inspiration. Standing in front of thousands of the tennis court, I lead my crew as a silent testament to those who are afflicted with Tourette Syndrome and other malicious maladies. 

Richard Gasquet now unleashes a shot into the stands, losing the match in three straight sets. He hurls his racquet in disgust as he drags his feet towards the net to congratulate his adversary. I sympathize with him; many times I, too, feel fatigue and anger after losing control of my tics. Yet, as I view Tommy Haas’ jubilant smile, I better relate to him. After a two and a half hour match, I too have won my match: I have stood still.

Above: A Portrait of the Author as a Young Ballboy

Stand firm, win your match, and keep the faith!

For more on Tourette: