Hardcourt center

It's a beautiful day in South Florida. The sun is shining in a warm benediction. A breeze that feels like fall is stirring the weeping bottle brush branches outside my window. The blue jays are chattering, and Monday is still a comfortable ways away.

I'm inside watching basketball.

First, I've already gone for a walk, escorted by dragonflies. Second, it's the NCAA tournament - the Elite Eight, to be precise. And watching basketball, third and most important, makes me feel like who I am.

Self-definition has gotten slippery in my 40s. I've changed careers. I've gone from playing pool on Tuesdays to making sure school uniforms are ready on Mondays. I've tried to come to terms with the fact that every person I pass in my neighborhood, earbuds firmly implanted and dog tightly leashed, seems to already have enough friends. I've tried to accept a body that clearly demands more exercise to burn its accustomed amount of calories. A few days ago, I braced myself to see the pictures when one of my favorite places on earth, where I laughed and drank and took my husband on our first real date, closed its doors for good. 

These things are old hat, or starting to be.

Yesterday, though, was tougher. We had to put my cat, my companion of 16 years, to sleep. Cancer and dehydration and sharp bones under soft fur and clouded green eyes that looked to me to fix what was wrong. 

Lucien - Goose for longer than I remember why and when - was with me in Myrtle Beach, when I was 20-something and wrinkle- and worry-free, hanging out with some of the best people in the world as the moon rose over the ocean and winning writing awards on a yearly basis. He was with me in Virginia, when my 30s brought a house and more of the best people in the world and tougher competition in a higher circulation category but still rewarding work. He's been with me in Florida, as I floundered many months without a job and then adjusted to a normal person's work schedule and office life. 

He learned to hide when the Gamecocks were on, because Mommy could morph from sleepy, warm-blooded furniture to shrieking, fist-pumping banshee with no warning. He learned the difference between celebratory shouts when the Dodgers hit a home run to inarticulate screaming when the bullpen collapsed, again. He learned, last week before the pain got worse, that the word "rebound" when N.C. State was on the TV could be cause for alarm. 

I'm not 20 or 30-something now. The best people in the world don't just effortlessly cross my path these days. I found out you can't always do what you love best, and today, I bagged for donation all the flowing skirts and sharp work suits that will never button or zip again. I remembered the friend's engagement party where I wore one, and the ACC tournament I covered wearing another. The fact is, none of them fit anymore.

So, as the sun casts lengthening shadows across the tile, I cheer for Duke and the ACC, still and always the best basketball conference in existence. I do it without my constant companion, through whose pointy ears I viewed many a crucial basket. I do it with a heavy heart and a full glass. 

It feels strange, but also a kind of familiar. 

Whoever I am, whoever I become, I know who loves me and who deserves my love in return. I know I live in a beautiful place and am lucky to have a good job. 

And I know the defender has to be standing still to draw a charge. I know these TV timeouts have gotten out of hand. I know Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski are not to be fucked with in March. I know the 3-point line needs to be moved back and the mid-range jumper is a thing of dying beauty. 

I know the sweet suspense of a shot leaving a player's hand as the buzzer sounds. I know the joy when it drops soundlessly through the net, the heartbreak when it doesn't, and every emotion in between.

I know basketball, and, when I'm watching it, who I am.