… to Dayton, Ohio

Another Summer, another Mud Volleyball tournament with some of my favorite people. Todd and I had so much fun at last year’s tournament and there was no way we were going to miss it this year, no matter how hard airlines’ prices tried to keep us away. Rachel could not come this time, but I was excited to have Mike (re: the “new beau” from last year’s blog) join us!

A year ago, Mike and I had only been unofficially (but… like… officially) together for a few weeks when I went to the tournament. Now, we live together! I enjoyed packing together the night before and getting everything ready for our very, very early departure. Fun fact, this trip was our first out-of-state trip together!

Thursday, July 14

Our flight was delayed by about half an hour so we got a *little* extra sleep. For once, I did not struggle to sleep and did not feel panicky leaving the house. We got ready, loaded up the car, and were out the door right on time at 5:30am. The lightening show during the drive to the airport made me a little nervous; we had a connecting flight in LGA (yes, New York…) and I did not want to miss it. Todd was flying out early, too, but had a different set of flights and despite our Dayton arrivals being within an hour of each other, he had been roasting me that he was going to be waiting hours for us. I checked his flight status, the race was on.

We were 100% fine on time but FastPark still stressed me out. I am not sure that will ever go away. We both have TSA pre-check (swoon) so I was confident that no FastPark delays would negatively impact anything. As we approached the pre-check area, we saw a massive, 200+ person church group clogging security. Some poor sucker without pre-check was about to have their day totally ruined. Mike has told stories of him traveling to Seattle for work regularly and having everything timed to the minute because it was so consistent; this group would have destroyed that. The group looked to be made up of high school kids and chaperones and they were complete chaos. We strutted right past them.

Mike is a coffee drinker so we stopped for coffee. At this point, boarding was starting in 10 minutes and my anxiety was slowly creeping up to a level 3. He got coffee, I got water, and we made it to the gate with plenty of time. I snapped our first airport picture together; I did not want to bother him (or anyone during the trip) with too many pictures but I also need blog content! People get annoyed by pictures and I try to respect that but they are always grateful after-the-fact to have photos from [insert event here] so it is a tough balance.

I was in boarding Group 6, he in 7. I cannot remember the last time I flew American Airlines; totally different flying experience than what I am used to. The plane had what I can only assume was disinfectant misting around as we boarded. The mask mandate was dropped awhile ago but Covid still exists.

As we settled into our seats, him at the window and me in the middle, I almost forgot that we had had a disagreement about the seats when we booked them. I did miss the window seat. Some of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen were from the window of a plane. Something about being part of the sunrise and clouds brings me peace and joy in a way I cannot fully describe and I really missed it. Instead of trying to lean left or right to sneak a peak, I accepted it was a lost cause and distracted myself with a new book Lindsay had recommended to me: “Book Lovers” by Emily Henry. Mike read a book about demography, “The Absent Superpower: The Shale Revolution and a World Without America” by Peter Zeihan, and other topics way above my head. We talked during the flight but were mostly both occupied with our own books. Occasionally, we looked up and talked about our readings. He is so smart and talks with such passion. I enjoyed learning about what he was reading but wish I understood it more or had the capacity to read something like that and retain it. Meanwhile, my silly rom-com novel…

We landed early at LGA despite our short delay. I missed the landing countdown and blame it on being in the middle seat. I was not going to attempt it because I knew I would embarrass myself and lo and behold, I did. Sigh. Our next gate at LGA was literally yards away from our arrival gate so we decided to squeeze in a bathroom break and lunch during our 35 minute wait.

I suggested we sit at the bar near the gates but we stopped at a sandwich shop instead. Their processes were 100% broken and inefficient, but not my circus. Our food came out in an expected amount of time but Mike’s 16oz black coffee was taking forever. Why the cashier who took our order did not immediately turn around, poor the plain coffee, and give it to us with our receipt… I will never know. They had a separate person for coffee orders and it was a disaster. Mike started to approach the counter to get help. We are both people who try to leave things be and I knew he did not want to interrupt the busy staff to ask. However, we are both justice-police type people if we get pushed too far. I kept checking the gate and we were getting dangerously close to our boarding time. He stormed off out of frustration and said it was a lost cause, but my level of frustration went beyond that and my justice-police self took over. The dumb airport sandwich shop had already taken 20 minutes of our time and I was not about to let them take our money without providing a product. I squeezed between the other patrons and marched up to the counter. As a food runner came out, I motioned for her to come over and DEMANDED a coffee IMMEDIATELY. Just kidding! I politely, but firmly, asked about our missing coffee order and said we had been waiting awhile. She turned to the coffee lady and said something, the coffee lady poured our cup, handed it over, and apologized for the wait. I thanked her and walked away. My man wants coffee, he gets coffee. I appreciated Mike’s hesitation and willingness to wait but there was only so much I could take. It was a 16oz black coffee, not some non-fat, almond milk, mocha-yada-yada with a shot of yada-yada and a chocolate drizzle. Namaste.

We boarded our flight right away; him at the window, me next to him at the aisle. The plane was much smaller so boarding went a lot faster. Want to know what really grinds my gears? Watching people try to put suitcases in overhead compartments. If you cannot lift your suitcase, you check it. If it is weird shaped, you check it. I was probably feeling overly annoyed by it because of the coffee debacle… again, namaste.

Todd’s layover was in Dallas. I checked his flight status – Delayed. Game on!

We ate on the plane. His sandwich was surprisingly good. I tried to be healthier with a breakfast bowl and it was fine. Watery? Healthiness went out the window anyway after I ate an entire bag of Voodoo chips. I wanted regular potato chips but they were fine. I did learn that Voodoo chips are one of Mike’s favorites though, so it was not a total loss.

Water dripped from the ceiling onto his phone. We both looked up, then carried on. We had a nice time cracking jokes with each other while waiting for takeoff. One joke about not being allowed to have chocolate on planes had me laughing pretty hard. I love him so much!

Not being in the window seat made it easier to read more. Mike played iPad games for smart people (programming games?) and read, too. I had a Sprite Zero and we talked about how we were not going to eat like animals on this trip. Translation: try not to eat too poorly and try not to gain 10lbs over the weekend. We talked about oil and gas and clean energy, all of which I do not know much about. I deferred him to Karen during next sushi night. It was a shorter flight than our first leg of the trip.

I did not countdown the landing. Fool me once.

We landed about 15 minutes ahead of Todd. His gate was near ours, so we waited for him. I joked about wishing we had a sign to hold for him and Mike whipped out his iPad and made a digital one. Anything for a joke! Todd laughed when he saw us, so it was worth it. The 3 of us made our way to baggage claim where Todd snatched his bag just as it was about to reach the end of the conveyor belt and go behind the wall. The athleticism!

Brian had been waiting patiently for us outside. The cute Dayton airport lets you just wait, apparently. We all exchanged hugs and I introduced Brian and Mike. On with the day.

We stopped at Costco on the way to the house to stock up on food for the tournament and weekend. We settled in at the house and got a drink. We made it there and could finally relax and enjoy ourselves! The basement was cold but I was just happy for us to all be together. Brian’s mom stopped by, so did Melissa’s. Melissa and the kiddos got home from work shortly after. Calvin did not care *at all* about us. In his defense, he does not know us and there is no way he would remember us from last year. Fiona was shy at first but warmed up quickly. She shared a sparkly butterfly clip with me so it is safe to say we were BFFs again. The frame with selfies of her and me, her and Rachel, and her and Todd was still in her room and she recognized us all. If only she knew how much fun she used to have at Crowbar!

Before we knew it, it was time to head out to volleyball. Last year, I got to sub on Brian’s team and Todd was jealous he missed out. He made sure to arrive on Thursday this year so he could join in on the volleyball fun. Their volleyball bar is seriously the coolest place and it was awesome to be back. They humored me and we took a group picture.

Melissa and the kids came with us this time, too. We got something to eat; everything was fried and it was nowhere near as good as Crowbar’s food but we were hungry and we scarfed down everything. So much for not eating like animals. Fiona took a selfie with me because, again, we are best friends.

Brian’s game was at 8pm and luckily, they needed a sub. Todd played the first set. They played well, but lost. I played the second set and struggled. I cost the team *so* many points because of their league rules: too many spins on my set, setting it over the net, tipping with fingers instead of knuckles, etc. UGH. We were down 11-20 and it was our serve. Sean (Shawn? Shaun?) served… 12-20. Again. 13-20. *Heart racing* Again. 14-20. Again. *Do not mess up the set* 15-20. Suddenly it was 21-20 and it was game point to us. BOOM. Got the win! Our spectators had been going crazy and we all lost our minds. It was wild. I do not consider myself a great volleyball player by definition, but it was really nice to hold my own. It made me feel a little validated… I might be a decent player?

Todd told me I earned the third set, so I played again – we lost. Argh. Validation out the window! (Kidding)

Brian’s friends had a game at 9pm and needed a sub so Mike played with them. They won all 3 games (show-offs) and he was excited he got to play. Meanwhile, Brian, Todd, and I cheered them on and drank more than we needed to. Mike and someone else both bought rounds of shots, too. Oy.

We got home at who-knows-when, showered, and went to bed. I assumed we were all done for the night but learned the next day that Todd and Brian had stayed up until 2am in the basement. It would have been fun to rage with them but I was very, very content going to sleep. It had been a long day and I passed out quickly. Thankfully, I did not need to Facetime my beau at home because this time, he was with me!

Reflecting back, I kind of wished I had stayed up with them. C’est la vie.

Friday, July 15

Brian had suggested we all volunteer to help set up the tournament so we could set up our team tent early and get a good spot. Unfortunately, that meant getting up early on Friday. I was awake in bed, stalling getting up, and Mike rolled over and fell asleep with his arm on me. I loved it. Normally, he has a pillow between us to “support his shoulder,” but in Fiona’s small bed, I got to be the pillow. (This is an ongoing inside joke… I would absolutely hate it if he slept on me like that every single night!)

I heard stirring downstairs so finally got up. Melissa had made breakfast; all the guys ate but I could not. I felt mostly okay but was definitely a little sluggish and… puffy?

We left to volunteer and arrived only to find out that we could NOT set up our tent early. Facepalm. Brian was understandably annoyed. The coordinators had absolutely no idea what their game plan for the day was and it was maddening. The guys were asked to drive a scissor lift and use a hydraulic hammer to install the court poles for all 30+ courts. I got pulled away to fix the fencing around the courts and parking lot that a team the day before had installed incorrectly. Apparently, the coordinators knew the team was installing them incorrectly, but no one wanted to tell them… so, we re-did it. It was so silly. Nothing was organized and no one knew what was going on. I felt like I was barely doing anything but the guys and Nikki all looked like they were working really hard. I felt bad.

More volunteers and coordinators arrived throughout the morning but it was overall chaos. Complete chaos. I had constantly remind myself that this was not my circus (again). This was the 31st year putting on the tournament – no one has a binder of activities that need to be done? There is no checklist? No layout of the area? No logical groupings of equipment and signage? HOW?! Namaste.

We did end up doing a lot more than the poles and fence; set up tables, chairs, signs. Nikki seemed to know more about where things went than the coordinators did. The coolest thing to come out of it was this kid we got to talk to. He was part of one of the groups, a boys group home, and he saw Mike wearing an A&M hat. He told us he wanted to go to A&M to play football. We told him both of us went to A&M and he suddenly had a little more pep in his step! He and Mike talked football and Kyle Field. It was cool listening to how excited he was. He was a junior at a nearby school so Mike got his name (edit: neither of us remember his name) and we told him we would keep an eye out for him and told him not to forget us! We were in Ohio… the odds of running into a high school kid who *really* wanted to go to A&M (spare the Aggie jokes… I was surprised because of how far the school is) were low. Super cool, though!

They did end up letting us put our tents in the general area we wanted to set up, but Nikki would have to come back to claim a spot later in the afternoon. Annoying, but glad she was able to do it.

Our shift ended just before noon and we were all over it. We went to lunch at Lucky’s in downtown Dayton. They took us there last year, too, before dinner one night but this time we got to try the food. In an effort to not be an animal, I got a side salad with my burger and Mike got veggies. It was a shame I ate so many chips, though. They all got beers but I stuck with water. I had been pounding water all morning to try and shake what felt like a permanent headache but no such luck. It was a quiet lunch; we were tired.

Luckily, there were no plans for the afternoon. I read my book and took a nap. Todd and Mike both worked. Brian lounged and I think eventually napped. You know you are real friends when you do not see each other for a year and still do not feel pressured to entertain each other. It was lovely.

The kiddos got home from daycare and did their own thing before going to grandma’s. Fiona gave us all big hugs goodbye, twice! Calvin did not care. I respect that. We (Mike and me) would not see them again for the rest of the weekend so it was a goodbye until the next visit.

Brian plays softball Friday nights so he, Todd, and Mike headed off to that while Melissa and I went to yoga. She started going a few months ago to a nearby studio that practiced Bikram-style yoga. I really wanted to go to softball with the guys, but I also wanted to be supportive of Melissa’s yoga journey. Plus, I figured it would not hurt to exercise and sweat a little on this trip. Mike can make friends with anyone and already knew Todd, so I knew he would be fine going off with the guys. I did feel bad, though, for leaving him.

Melissa’s studio was very close. I registered on MindBody and off we are. The instructor and front desk person were very friendly and welcoming. She asked if I had been there before (no) and if I had done this yoga before (lol, yes). I did not want to tell her I was also an instructor; it did not feel relevant and I did not want the spotlight on me. I did not have a mat or towel; they said to grab a mat from the hot room and they did not rent towels. Uh oh. What was I walking in to? I found the *thinnest* mat I could find in the mat pile of the dark hot room and claimed a spot on the floor. Pro tip: thick, cushioned mats are difficult to balance on so thin mats are the way to go. It was odd to be without a towel.

The instructor walked in, did *not* turn the lights on, and turned music on. I was starting to realize this was not the Bikram yoga I know and love. I cringed when she explained the first breathing exercise, it was game-over. That was *not* how to do Pranayama Breathing. At that point, I told myself “this is not Bikram yoga, this is a different yoga, you cannot compare the two.” Everything would be okay if I could accept it as a different yoga style entirely. There was so much freedom to do whatever you want; you could do literally nothing, or you could go all the way to an advanced version of the posture. Yes, it was the same 26 postures, but it was a different class entirely and it tested my ability to stay in control of my breath, mind, and body. I could go on and on about all the ways it was not Bikram yoga, but I accept that at the end of the day, something is better than nothing, even if that something is not for me. However, I do firmly believe that classes with that kind of posture range (beginner to advanced) are not only confusing for new students, but frustrating, unwelcoming, and semi-dangerous. I could go on and on.

After all the sun-salutes and namastes, class was over. The class was advertised as a 60min class but lasted 80min in total. Why bother calling it 60min if you are almost to a typical 90min class anyway? Oy. Melissa had told me she recently did a 90min class in a different city and hated it. She said the instructor was like a drill sergeant and yelled at her. I sympathized because no one should be yelled at in class. After taking class at her studio, I am super confident Melissa would absolutely hate my class and also think I was a yelling drill sergeant.

Melissa and I went into the hallway to gather our things. It sucked not having a towel! The front desk guy/one of the students, asked me how long I had been practicing. I told him practicing almost 8, teaching almost 5 (WOW TIME FLIES) and he laughed and said his next question would be if I taught. Ha. Normally, I would have stayed and talked to the instructor but when Melissa started towards the door, I did not argue. We debriefed class on the short drive home as we sat in our sweat puddles, destroying and stinking up her mom’s car.

I like a class where I am told what to do and how to do it. I also totally understand those who prefer a more casual, spiritual, hippie class. When I first started, I needed those kinds of instructors to help fix my brain. Once that was healed (lol), I started to prefer the more traditionally strict classes to help with improving my postures (and therefor my body) and meditation. We are all on different paths and need different things; I am glad Melissa found what she needs and I would absolutely go to class with her again in the future now that I know what to expect. In all honesty, it was nice to workout and sweat even if my insides were screaming.

We cleaned up at home and then headed to get sushi for dinner. She had a gift card so it was almost as if sushi chose us. The drinks and food were amazing; we obviously ordered way too much. The sushi salad, which we did not know was a salad, was beyond delicious. It was difficult to restrain ourselves from eating the whole thing. We caught up on our lives, relationships, work. It was nice to have some girl-talk!

We took leftovers home for the guys who got back shortly after us, around 9pm. It seemed like they had a fun evening grilling burgers and hot dogs at softball.

Once again, reflecting back, I wish that yoga and softball with the guys had not overlapped. It would have been nice to spend time with Brian and Todd in a more low-key and small-group setting. I was a little jealous of Mike.

We called it a night fairly early; we knew what Saturday was bringing and needed to rest up.

Saturday, July 16

We got up very early to get ready for the big day! I successfully French braided my hair in pigtails (not that I had been practicing at home for the last few weeks…) to keep my hair out of my face for the day and headed downstairs to start making sandwiches for our lunch later. I made them last year so I was a pro and knocked it out. Melissa made delicious breakfast tacos for everyone and the guys loaded the car and unpacked all the ridiculous gear I bought for everyone. The tournament theme was “White Out” so we were wearing all white – I was extra and bought wrist bands, headbands, and white sunglasses. Not sorry. Last year, we had to figure out how to sneak in alcohol but Nikki had already handled that for us. It was nice to not stress about “getting caught”- not that it really mattered.

Barry and his fiancĂ©, Kristi, arrived and their friend Storm shortly after. We all said our hellos and gave our hugs and I introduced Mike to everyone. Our plan was to leave at a “soft” 7:30am, “hard” 7:45am. A handful of us crawled into the tarp-covered backseat (ah, the memories) and we were out the door at exactly 7:45am! Go team!

We arrived a little after 8am. The parking area was not as muddy as last year, thank goodness. The weather was in the upper 60s and I was cold, but not miserably cold. I had jacket last year but I learned last year that you should not bring things that you do not want muddy. We were all pretty pumped to be there – the Houston crew probably more so. It was just as exciting as last year. They “checked” our coolers for alcohol. The volunteer very clearly said she had to “pretend to check” and I told her she did a great job. Why does anyone go through the trouble of sneaking things in unique ways when they clearly do not care?

We found where Nikki put our tents and started to set them up. Our vodka handles were falling out of chair bags everywhere. Oops. Thankfully, there were way more chairs this year!

The theme was “White Out” and we were probably one of the few teams actually dressed in all-white. A theme should be respected! We got our gear on and duct taped our shoes. I remember thinking it was crazy to do that last year so I wondered what was going through Mike’s mind. Duct tape sounds crazy but it was necessary.

We took our group pictures before everything and everyone got muddy, and before everyone got sloppy.

Once pictures were finished, the drinks started flowing. Our team was not scheduled to play until 9:30am so Gatorades and energy drinks were spiked and the party got started. The other team, made up of Brian and Melissa’s friends, started to trickle in, too. Their “white” theme was milkmen and cows which was pretty cute. Todd and I had met most of them last year so we said our hellos and I introduced Mike. My extroverted boyfriend fit in very well! It was very cool to have him be able to join this year.

The mud and water were so cold! We crushed our first game. Our second game was immediately after and we crushed that, too. Our win record was already better than last year! Hooray. Brian managed to destroy his shoes right away but that could not hold us down. We were not super muddy yet… the day was still young.

Sean (Shawn?) took videos of us playing since Barry and I (the two photographers) were playing on the same team.

Barry took a lot of slow-motion videos and they all turned out VERY cool. He and I knew we would be the only ones taking pictures but we were okay with that. We both get to be in pictures and everyone gets a nice link to a Google folder at the end of the day. So easy.

We had about an hour and a half between our first set of games and the next, so… we drank. There was a lot of flip cup, snacking on chips, and more flip cup. Someone brought recycled aluminum cups which were great for drinking but awful for flip cup. We switched to regular, plastic cups. I think Mike was shocked that I was fairly decent. I might not have “partied” in college, but I know my way around a drinking game. (That might not be something to brag about.) My team lost a lot but we had a ton of fun hanging out, talking, joking around, and passing time. The weather had warmed up a little bit and it was nice out. Again, it felt a little surreal to be there. It was kind of unbelievable that it had been a full year; it felt like we were just there.

The second round of games were at 11:15am and 11:30am. We crushed both of those. One of the teams was undefeated and they were irritating me so much. I was very happy we beat them. They had talked a lot of smack and were being arrogant and rude. Brian’s shoes were in rough shape and despite repair efforts, broke again.

Everyone was starting to get muddier and muddier. I took my tank top off for games so I could have something semi-dry/clean to wear between games. I still felt fat like last year but tried not to let it bother me. We ate our made-with-love sandwiches after the 2nd set of games… and played more flip cup. We definitely had more water available this year, so I tried to take water breaks and stay more “in the lines” than last year.

The next round of games were at 1:45pm and 2pm. The first team never showed up so we took that W and started the next game. We won that one too, making is 6-0 for the day! The tournament had 2 leagues: competitive and non-competitive. If you were in the former, you automatically got placed in a bracket for playoffs. If you were the latter (like us), you had to sign up to play in a playoffs round called the “Potty Bowl.” Being 6-0, we decided to go for it! Todd handled the $50 registration fee and signed us up. They gave him a poker chip and told him to come back at 3pm for more info. I was sitting in our tent and Todd walked back, made eye contact with me, and bee-lined to me to give me the poker chip. He said I would be better at keeping up with it and paying attention. Not wrong.

At 3pm, Mike and I went over to the main tent to see if he won the 50/50 raffle (spoiler: he did not) and to start the super flawed, incredibly broken tournament process. Not my circus, though. It worked for them so namaste. We got paired with a random team, picked a random court, and self-refed the game. No surprise, we won! I went to the main tent to report our win and get paired with the next team. It took awhile but finally we had a competitor. We picked a random court and self-refed the game. We won! I went back to self-report the win and wait for another team to play against. The tournament guy gave us beer tickets to occupy us during the wait each time. We maybe did not *need* more drinks in between playoff games but they were appreciated. I was in full-blown “coordinator” mode which is a fancy way to say I was stressed out. I wanted to fix the ridiculous process and keep things moving and my team was stressing me out with questions on what to do/where to go next. I also had a little jealousy because they were having fun and I was just waiting with the tournament guy for our next competitor. Deep breaths.

We repeated that process for 3 games and won each of them, making our way to the semi-finals. Each team was more and more difficult so we really had to earn it now. The final team we played was no better than us but had 1, really good player who killed us. They also had a decent server who served 10 points on us which was really, really frustrating. We tried our best and unfortunately, we lost. They ended up winning the Potty Bowl Championship, so at least we lost to the overall winners. We were definitely disappointed, though. The winners all got a Bud Light trophy and we had convinced ourselves we were getting those trophies. We made a unanimous decision to sign-up for the Potty Bowl again next year and win the damn thing! I was really glad we decided to do the tournament, despite it being insane, because it meant we got to play more. As Mike said, it felt like a video game where we kept leveling up: Pool play: 6 easy-mode games. Round 1: a friendly family of all ages. Round 2: a group of people in their 20s who were so drunk they could not stand. Round 3: A decent older group who could have beaten us. Round 4: A younger, sober group with 1 start player. It made me wonder how other groups viewed us. Hmm. Mike was also convinced that he was our “it” factor this year. We lost every game last year and won every game this year. What was the difference? Mike would say it was him. I would say it was us not being as drunk. The truth probably lays somewhere in the middle.

Our friends had already packed up and left. Most teams were gone by the time we finished out last game. Melissa had wanted to dunk me in the mud all day, but I knew Mike wanted the honors. It was inevitable that I would end up covered in mud. I had no doubts about that. However, I really did not want to get dunked early and be miserably crusty the rest of the day. Last year, we mud-wrestled, did mud slip-and-slide, and rolled around on the courts. I could still taste the mud in my mouth (even writing this, I can taste it) and I did not want to all of that again. If I were to be dunked, I did not want my face under the water. With the last game over, Mike walked up to me and finally dunked me in the nicest of ways. He grabbed me from behind, sat down in the mud, and rolled us over several times making sure we were totally covered. Perfect! We were already very muddy from the playoffs but that got the job done. The team had started cleaning up and getting ready to leave so we missed out on a muddy team picture but I snagged Mike and we got one together. Note: This picture is now hanging above our bath tub.

We were all very excited to take our shoes off. You have no idea the relief of taking off the duct tape and letting your toes wrinkled toes free. The fire hoses were still on so we all rinsed off as best we could. I did not want to destroy their bathroom and shower like last year so I really got in all the nooks and crannies of my body before getting in the car. We loaded up and headed home. It was a quiet ride home; we were pooped.

We got home around 5:30/6pm and unloaded the car. We all took showers and despite our best efforts with the fire hose, we still got mud and dirt everywhere. It felt so nice to be clean!

We decided to go out to dinner. I was at my social limit for the day and tried to keep it just the 5 of us, but I was out voted and we met up with the other team downtown. I was stressed out and anxious; I could feel myself shutting down but could not stop it. The food and drinks were slow to come out but everything was very good. I struggled with conversation and felt like I was forcing myself to be present. From there, I got mad at myself for shutting down and started beating myself up mentally for doing it. We are all familiar with that spiral, amiright? Just me? Alrighty then. Mike was trying his best to bring me out of it, but it was too late. My introvert-self had maxed out energy for the day and there was no coming back. At that point, I wanted to be left alone. I was afraid of snapping at someone. The check/closing out process took FOREVER and I was getting restless, on the verge of tears.

Look, selfishly, I wanted time with *my* friends. Don’t get me wrong, I like their friends a whole lot! But, at the end of a long day, this introvert wanted to sit with her favorite people and chill. It felt like there had not been a lot of, if any, Brian-Todd-Jillian time because I was separated from them at the volunteer event, missed softball, and we had been with a larger group for everything else. I just wanted Brian-Todd-Jillian time.

Before we left for dinner, I had told everyone that I was approaching empty. They know me well enough to understand and we agreed that we would go to dinner with everyone but not do anything after. Compromise! When they decided to go to a bar after dinner (as I suspected they would), my power turned off. I was a lifeless person walking around with them to find a bar. I tried really, really hard to muster up *some* energy but I was drained and wanted to cry. I felt so awful and embarrassed. Mike was sweet and really, really tried but I needed to be alone to recharge. I love him for trying.

I did not get a drink at the bar. It would not have helped at that point. Sean, Mike, and I sat together and chatted for the hour we were there. The 2 of them got along really well all weekend. I was thankful they could drive the conversation and I could sit back.

We were home by midnight. Mike and I had an early flight so we packed our things. Noticeably absent: a Bud Light trophy. He continued to try and cheer me up with jokes and commentary and I felt like an ass for asking him to stop. The anxiety was compounding.

I struggled to sleep. My skin was dry and itchy. There was a nasty storm and I kept dreaming that our flight was cancelled only to wake up and realize it had not been. I was in and out of it but never reached a real sleep. My heart raced all night and the feeling of panic never left. It was a rough night spent hating myself for not enjoying our last night after a great day, for being a wet blanket, for being an introvert, for being semi-mad at everyone for not hearing me.

Sunday, July 17

Our alarms went off around 6:15am. It did not matter, I was already up. I showered and finished packing. We scheduled an Uber to pick us up at 7am; it was rainy and the car was hot and stinky. It was a quiet 30min, $60 ride to the airport. Seesh! Our departure was not until 8:55am, so we had some time to kill. Todd’s flight was not until later in the day. Mike and I are both “let’s get up and go” people on the last day of a trip, regardless of energy or hungover-ness. I like that about us.

I always forget the Dayton airport is small and you do not need as much time to get to your gate. I dozed on and off for the hour wait. Mike snuck a picture of me sleeping. His participation in blog content was appreciated.

Mike and I talked about the night before. It was tough to explain to an extrovert how introversion works but we figured it out. We had to come up with come creative examples and learn to communicate a little differently. If anything, we learned a lot about each other through that experience (in a good way).

We boarded the plane; our first flight was to North Carolina. I dozed in and out because I was in the aisle seat and could not get stable enough to fall fully asleep. As we landed, I was getting restless and thinking about asking Mike if I could have the window seat for the final flight. I did not want to argue again about seats, though. A part of me was actually trying to accept that maybe we *should* sit separately if the window seat was going to be an issue. Before I could say anything, he said he had been thinking about that same seat-fight from weeks ago and realized I was right, it is nicer to sit together and he was glad we did. He offered the window seat for the final flight, knowing I would use it to sleep. It was really nice and in a weird, unexplainable way, made me feel more confident in our relationship. I have no doubt we will figure out a good compromise for future flights. It may seem silly or childish to an outsider for us to “fight over” a seat, but remember that he and I are both creatures of habit and set in our ways. We are both learning how to give a little and work together.

We landed in North Carolina around 10:25am. Our next flight boarded at 10:37am… so… that was fun for me. My bag was gate-checked so I had to wait for it while Mike went to the restroom. I snatched my bag and we *hauled ass* across the airport from Terminal E to Terminal B. Thankfully, there were moving sidewalks to hurry us along. The signs hanging from the ceiling said, “10min walk to Gate B” followed by “8min walk to Gate B” shortly after. Internally, I scoffed. That was not going to work for me; we needed to be there faster than that. We moved in and out of the crowds and arrived at Gate B just as Group 5 was boarding. This was the one time I was grateful for Mike being a super fast walker! I was Group 6, Mike Group 7. I knew we were not going to miss the flight, but I like boarding with my Group. You get enough space for your bag, can settle in, and are not in the way or bothering anyone. I had to use the restroom still, so I found my seat then made a quick pit-stop at the plane restroom before the plane filled up. Mike joined me at our seats shortly after.

I slept on and off at first. Any sleep was appreciated and leaning against the window helped. The flight attendant gave me a Sprite and some cookies; just enough to temporarily settle my hunger. I read my book and enjoyed looking out the window. It was a longer flight than the first, obviously, but it went by quickly and we landed about 30min earlier than anticipated. We picked up the car and drove straight to Whataburger when we had the realization that we had never eaten fast food together. Y’all, we have been together for a year. Surely, that could not be right? Neither of us could think of a time. Wild.

Our next stop was at dad’s house to pick up my sweet baby Elliott. He was excited to see us! We caught up with dad and Suzette and thanked them for once again, watching Elliott. We got home around 3pm and immediately started laundry; optimistically thinking the mud stains would come out of our white clothes (narrator: they did not come out).

Overall, it was a great trip despite the Saturday night hiccup. I loved playing volleyball and spending time with my friends. Our friendship is so important to me for a million reasons. Brian, Todd, and I met during a weird time in my life, and probably theirs, and they helped (knowingly or not) me get through a lot just by playing volleyball and being good people. I love them so much and love when we are able to be together. (Note: We missed Rachel!)

I also love that a year ago, I was texting and video chatting with a guy I had only know a few weeks and now, there he was with us. I was so excited for Brian and Melissa to meet him. Of course they loved him, but they both said that they loved seeing me happy more than anything.

I cannot wait to go back for next year’s tournament!

Until next time,

Jillian