When the coronavirus stay-at-home order was issued, Cosette Balmy laid on her bed in her sports themed bedroom. Her room is full of basketball trophies and medals. On the wall, she has NBA’s star Russell Westbrook’s poster, the first basketball she ever won and pictures of her family.
Balmy was born in Martinique, a French-Caribbean Island. She shared an apartment with an old friend who traveled with her to the United States. They came the summer before their freshman year of high school to experience basketball in America. Both of them received scholarship offers to play for Junipero Serra High School, a private Roman Catholic school. Balmy left her senior year because she received a better opportunity at Rebit Academy, another private school in Los Angeles. The life of an amateur athlete not only required Balmy to stand out from her peers, but it also required her to be emotionally independent and resilient.
“Some say that I am determined and headstrong from a basketball point of view,” said Balmy. “I wanted to play basketball, so I left one of the smallest islands in the world to come to America.”
In all this time, she has only seen her family on four occasions in the past 6 years. Balmy is the youngest in a family of 8. She grew up with 3 sisters, 2 brothers and her parents.
“I grew up with all my family around me,” Balmy said. “In a very short period of time, everyone was just gone. We all went in different directions. Literally the family house went from a full house to an empty house.”
The threat of the pandemic made Balmy ponder about visiting her parents, but Martinique placed restrictions for those who weren’t in the medical field. But things moved very quickly once she got word that her sister, Christine, was infected with the coronavirus. Balmy purchased an airplane ticket, debated on headphones, but took a book instead, grabbed toiletries, clothes and snatched her sky blue and white disposable surgery mask before she ran out of her apartment.
When she arrived at Los Angeles International Airport, the crowds of travelers reminded her of the risk she was taking. Balmy had bad asthma attacks until she was 12 years old. She started to reminisce about those attacks. She remembered that her face was really pale and had experienced body aches. Things got so bad that she couldn’t function and it was hard for her to breathe.
“I was actually really nervous about being at the airport,” Balmy said. Given my history with asthma, I was pretty anxious because it attacks your lungs and ability to breathe.”
Once in the terminal, she tried her best to keep her distance from other travelers. She continuously washed her hands and made sure her mask was on properly. There were only 30 to 40 passengers who boarded the Air France plane to Paris that afternoon, so the flight attendants arranged one or two people per row. As the plane took off, Balmy thought about the life she was leaving behind. She debated whether or not she should transfer to California Polytechnic State University, Pomona and continue playing basketball in the fall or perhaps take a year off and let things settle.
“I don’t know where I would be if it wasn’t for basketball,” Balmy said. “I’ve experienced a lot in life and right up until today the only consistency I’ve had was basketball.”
She also thought about all the moments she had lost over the years. Two or three years ago Balmy missed a family gathering. In fact, she was the only family member who missed it. She thought about the old family parties such as Christmas celebrations and how the family always celebrated Easter together. The family cooks cooked, the kids were usually outside and the rest sat around the dining room table and got ready to eat. Balmy hadn’t seen her sister, Christine, in over 8 years.
“I wanted to be closer to family,” Balmy said. “It also gave me a chance to see my four nephews and two other siblings living in France. I figure it’s not ideal, but it’s my chance to see them.”
Prior to her arrival, Balmy got word that her sister’s symptoms subsided.
“She works in the medical field, so she already knew what to do,” Balmy said. “She had put herself in quarantine before I had gotten there and knew she was better.”
Upon her arrival, her 24-year-old nephew drove down to pick her up. They headed to Chapelon, a city about an hour outside of Paris.
Balmy nervously approached her sister as soon as she arrived.
“I opened the door as she was coming out behind it,” Balmy said. “I just stood there. It felt like 30 minutes, but it was probably a minute or two.”
Balmy had always felt a little weird when it comes to affection. Perhaps it had something to do with the physical distance between her and her family. As a matter of fact, she didn’t even hug her sister; she cheek kissed her.
Christine Balmy was also shocked to see her sister for the first time in 8 years. Still holding onto her biceps, Christine, gave Cosette a friendly little slap in the face. It was like she was acknowledging that her little sister had grown up. Even though they hadn’t seen each other in years, love was still there. There was only one thing left to do.
“The next day I jumped on her and hugged her,” Balmy said.
Perhaps in the future, she’ll transfer and continue playing women’s basketball. Her goal is to play overseas, hopefully, so her family can watch her play. But for now, Balmy is enjoying every single moment.
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