It was a day I will never forget. I’ve had days like that before. I was nervous, but that was nothing new. I used to play tennis and captained a team, before gun safety consumed my life. I knew that tennis and nerves go hand-in-hand. It didn’t matter how many lessons or how much coaching I got; I was never able to completely overcome my nerves. So when I woke up one morning with the same jitters, I decided to treat the day like I did when I played tennis.
There are rules that help. First, it’s important to find the right outfit. I chose business casual and pinned my Be SMART button to my sweater. Next, hydration: I drank my vitamin infused smoothie and added an extra water bottle to my purse. Having the right gear can make or break a player. I packed, too: 10 sandwich size zip-lock bags each filled with a cable gun lock and postcard about the Be SMART program.
Finally, I needed to do something about the nerves. In the car, I put on my favorite go-to music. Over the years I’ve become a superstitious tennis player, and in times of severe anxiety I listened to the same song over and over again. On my first morning of my next step, I was having trouble finding that song. I took it as a bad sign—plus the butterflies in my stomach wouldn’t stop doing loop-de-loops.
So, I gulped a big breath of air before I entered the Texas State Capitol building. I was testifying that day for the first time. It was early, around 9. I stood in the security line and put my purse on the conveyor belt. I walked through the scanner and waited for the officer to ask me about the zip-lock baggies in my purse. Sure enough he said, “Ma’am can you open your purse?”
His straight-face turned to an expression of curiosity as he asked me to explain the contents of the bag. I smiled and said, “Those are gun locks. I have 10 of them. They’re for the committee members who are holding the hearing about safe storage.” He nodded. I felt a need to add, “I volunteer for an educational gun safety program, BeSMART. I teach safe storage to parents and I hand these out to anyone wanting to keep kids safe.” I laughed nervously.
He just nodded again, and cleared me through security. I grabbed my purse and stopped in the center of this historic building. I couldn’t remember where I was supposed to go. I re-read the email on my phone: Room E2.112, Criminal Jurisprudence hearing room.
As I scrambled to the elevator, fear rose again. I read over my talking notes for the hundredth time, and then popped a breath mint. All the while I wondered why I agreed to testify. Jitters are a part of every good match.
It was a long walk to the hearing room, with people in front of me and people behind. I saw several wearing the red Moms Demand Action t-shirts. No one I knew, though. Inside the committee room are even more people for the hearing: Texas Guns Sense, media, committee members, and people openly carrying knives and long guns. Was I scared? My heart raced, not for fear of being shot, but because I was about to play my first singles match in like 20 years. Back then, I lost.
The room was a swirl of beige, green and gold. I needed to find a seat and my doubles partner. I sat next to Jen from the local Be SMART group, perched in a chair that reminded me of an old-time movie theatre. I stared at the table I would soon be sitting at. It had two mics and four chairs. That table faced the house committee. I was going to be playing on center court. Everyone would be watching this match. It would be recorded and placed in the archives. Instead of having one line chair umpire, this court had more than eight—all sitting high up in their chairs, waiting to overrule a mistake a player might make.
I turned to Jen. She’s been playing this game longer than me. She’s the lead for local Be SMART program. She’s my doubles partner in a lot of the work we do, but today would be a singles match. The best she could do is wish me luck.
The meeting started late. I watched for hours as each person tried to win points. Some were eager for their spot on center court. What they had to say made them feel better, but it didn’t stand a chance of changing anything.