January is a special month because it marks the anniversary of when I started dating my husband. This year we will have been together for 19 years, almost half our lives. I enjoy a close relationship with my mother-in-law, but that wasn't always the case. For the first 16 years of our time together, she lived a few thousand miles away. As a result, even though my husband and I had been together for quite awhile, I had only met her a few times prior to our wedding.
The Thanksgiving after we first got married we were invited down to her house in Alexander City, Alabama. I was nervous because we hadn't spent much time together. That Thanksgiving the weather was beautiful, sunny and 60 degrees. The Thanksgiving meal went well and I even cooked a few dishes without incident. The day after, my father-in-law wanted us to go golfing. I had never golfed before, but was willing to learn so off we went.
Prior to hitting the course we spent some time on the driving range where he showed me the basics. Again, I was really nervous because I was still getting to know my new in-laws. Add that to it being my first time playing golf, and I sucked. The thing about golf is that you really need to concentrate, be the ball. And you can't concentrate very well if you are worrying about whether your mother-in-law thinks you need a hair cut.
On the first hole it took me several tries to get the ball off the tee. Even after that finally happened, it didn't go very far. For the first two holes I ended up picking up the ball and climbing into the cart so I wouldn't hold everyone up. After the second hole I decided I wanted to drive the golf cart. My husband explained how it worked, including the concept of a regulator.
On our way to the next hole we had to go up and down some winding, steep hills that were covered in leaves and pine needles. Headed down a particularly steep hill I panicked. The cart seemed to be speeding out of control and sliding on the leaves. I decided the best course of action would be steer off the path in hopes of slowing down. Unfortunately I steered onto an even steeper downhill slope with more leaves and pine needles. At this point, after yelling instructions at me that went unheeded my husband saw ahead that this wasn't going to end well. We were headed straight for a tree, and clearly I had lost my ability to act rationally and wasn't going to swerve to avoid it. There was only one option left. He yelled "jump" as he bailed out the side of the cart and rolled into a pile of leaves. Somehow in my panic I missed this instruction and I nailed the tree. Hard.
In case you didn't already know this, golf carts do not come equipped with air bags. Apparently this isn't a safety feature that most people need. What happened next is a little hazy. Something about a golf cart with a busted tire and some dents and a course official coming by to take it away.
Now I am shaken, a little banged up, and my husband is covered in sticks and leaves. My father-in-law is a die-hard golfer so instead of packing up and heading home he asks us if we want to continue with the round. Despite all that has happened, I irrationally think I need to make a good impression, that somehow this fiasco can be salvaged, so I say "sure". We procure a new cart which my husband drove, and has driven every time we golf to this day.
We get to the third hole and when it is my turn to tee off I hit it, hard, squarely in the middle. It soars. And so do my next shots and so on, for the entire round. I am not saying I made Jack Nicklaus envious, but I did a decent job for a first timer. And every round since then I have made a good number of decent shots.
I am not a great golfer, or even a good one. Or even fair. I am just someone who humiliated themselves so badly that there was nowhere to go but up. And if you have already hit the bottom (or the tree) it is much much easier to focus on golf. Because once you have hit a tree with a golf cart completely sober in front of your in-laws, you'd rather "be the ball".