Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Story - The Bone-Jarring Tackle

I think I'm just about done prepping my Wordpress location for this blog. I'm pretty sure I'll be ready to begin directing everyone there sometime this weekend, even though it probably won't be 100% ready. As I mentioned before, I will still post in both places for a few weeks and will include a link to the new location with each post. Make sure you follow that blog once I start those announcements because, eventually, this one will become obsolete.

Thank you all for your support so far. This blog has been more successful than I ever anticipated at this point! Tonight I'm sharing a short story memoir that I finished writing for one of my classes. I'd love to hear what you think of it.


The Bone-Jarring Tackle

            “Tell Mom that I’m in the field playing a game of football,” I say to my sister as I hurry down the stairs.
            “Okay,” she says without looking up from her book.
            I round the corner while putting on my Cris Carter jersey. He is my favorite player ever, number eighty for the Minnesota Vikings. When I wear this jersey I feel like I can catch any pass that is thrown my way. While my thoughts are wandering I run into my younger brother, Michael, and he falls to the ground.
            “Watch out,” I tell him as I hurry past. I don’t want to be the last one to the field, or else my first game with these guys might be my last one, too.
            “I’m coming, too,” he says as he gets up from the floor. He brushes some lint from his bright orange John Elway jersey.
            “No, you’re not,” I say as I stop in my tracks. There is no way my little brother is tagging along for this game. He is five years younger than me and will get massacred by the high school guys. Besides, they wouldn’t like him tagging along.
            “If you don’t take me, I’ll call Mom,” he says.
            “She wouldn’t let you play, either,” I say.
            “I don’t have to tell her it is to play football,” he says. “She’ll make you take me.”
            “You are such a brat sometimes,” I say. “I wish you had never been adopted.”
            I know that will get him upset. My sister and I have teased him about this for years, even though we know it isn’t true, because he is the only one in the family with blond hair. It has the desired results. His face gets bright red and tears well in his eyes. His voice gets shrill and he screams at me, even though I’m right in front of him. “I’m not adopted. I’m telling Mom when she gets home.”
            He stomps all the way upstairs to his room and slams the door several times. Little flakes from the ceiling popcorn fall to the ground as he stomps across his room. My sister sits in the chair, unfazed.
            “You’d better go before Mom gets home,” Jessica says without looking up from her book. She is reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which must be interesting because she hasn’t put it down since she got home.
            “Yeah, I’ll be home before dinner,” I say as I walk into the kitchen. I grab a couple of Oreos and head out the door. The brisk autumn air welcomes me as I cross our massive green deck. Leaves of red and orange decorate the branches of the tree in our backyard, stretching above the garage. Bees hover from flower to flower, gathering stores of pollen before the winter comes. The grass in the neighboring yards is fading to a dull brown, but our yard is still a vibrant green.
            I cut through the back yard and enter the field. It stretches east for a mile, covered in grass and flowers and the occasional weed. In the center is a tall fence that the neighborhood kids play baseball around. Many times I’ve walked past them, wishing I could be a part of their game even though I am terrible at baseball. A three-foot wide creek cuts through the center of the field, running east to west. On the south side of the creek is a paved trail that runs parallel to its bending path. At the east end is a covered shelter with a few picnic tables. This is my destination.
            A rabbit is startled from the grass as I jog past. The songs of various birds fill the air as they stop in our trees along their flight south for the winter. In several different places groups of children chase each other in games of tag, their laughter echoing in the air. A mother jogs along the path pushing a red and black stroller. On the other side of the path an elderly couple walks side by side, the fingers of their hands interlocked.
            Most of the guys are already around the picnic area. A football is tossed around among them, spiraling perfectly as it cuts through the air. Conversation and laughter flows freely from the group. They welcome me as I arrive, tossing me the ball. I am not expecting the ball, so it slips through my hands and tumbles away. I mentally curse at myself for being so clumsy. I pick up the football and throw it to the next guy. It falls short and hops into his hands. I can tell my stock is falling already.
            The focus has already moved off of me and onto the last two to arrive. One is tall, the other short like me. They both appear to be athletic, which means they’ll be among the first picked. The taller one is wearing long sleeves and jeans even though it is in the low sixties. The shorter one is wearing a blue soccer jersey and shorts. They are welcomed with a chorus of greetings, and the game can now begin.
            The captains of the team must have been predetermined because two of the guys step forward and declare themselves as being the captains. No one voices dissent. The two athletic guys, unsurprisingly, are the first two selected for the teams. Four down, eight to go. The next four chosen are the ones who were proficiently throwing the ball around before I came along and dropped it.
            I glance at the guys standing next to me to see my competition. I’m by no means physically fit, but I am in better shape than at least two of them and the third has on glasses. I like my odds at being picked next. Surprise overwhelms me when the kid with the glasses is chosen next. And then one of the out-of-shape guys is picked. This always happens.
            I’m always picked last. It has been that way since the early years of elementary school. I was short and shy. I was clumsy at times. I played the least important positions in team sports, like outfield and center. I am suddenly reminded why I only like watching sports. No one gives me a chance because of first impressions, so I never get a chance to get better.
            These guys don’t know that I usually have the hands of Cris Carter and can catch the ball. They don’t know that I can be a shut-down safety like Robert Griffith. I already can tell they’ll have me run routes and not throw me the ball. They’ll have me be the one to shadow the quarterback and force him to throw the ball early. They will never know any differently, and I’ll never be invited to play another game.
            I accept my inevitable fate. I am the last person left, going to the team with the shorter, fit guy. He tells me his name is J.J., and the other guys ask him why the tall guy is wearing long sleeves on a nice day. He tells us his name is Jon and he moved here from South Carolina. I guess they aren’t used to this kind of weather.
            The other team punts the ball to us to start the game and J.J. hops in front of me to grab the ball. He takes off like a bullet, darting in and out of defenders as he crosses the field. He seems to be too fast to be stopped, but Jon comes up and tackles him. We get the ball at midfield. In the huddle I am told to go long. I am always going long. That means nothing.
            The ball is hiked and I run past everyone. No one pays attention to me. Instead they direct two of the guys to guard J.J., leaving me wide open in the end zone. The ball is thrown to J.J. and the other team intercepts it, running the ball back for a touchdown. That team celebrates the score while we huddle back at the other end of the field. When I mention that I was wide open, the guy throwing the ball said he never saw me. He promises to look next time.
            We get the ball back and our guy goes down quickly. We have a long field ahead of us. We huddle and I’m told to line up behind the quarterback and he’ll hand me the ball to run it. Here is my chance. I’m ready to run like Robert Smith, dodging and spinning past defenders. He hikes the ball and turns to hand it off to me. I reach to grab it, but he pulls the ball back in and bootlegs the opposite direction. I’m left running out for a pass, confused by this change of events. He passes the ball and we get a touchdown because someone was left undefended. I don’t care. I wanted the ball.
            Flashbacks of flag football come to mind. I played on a team for two years. I didn’t get to play quarterback or running back or wide receiver. I didn’t get to be a good position. I was chosen to play the center. My duties consisted of hiking the ball and running a short route for a pass that rarely came. I ran so many button hooks that I could still run that route perfectly.
            In two years I never scored a touchdown for that team. I was rarely thrown to, and was usually caught soon after since I ran a short route in the middle of the field. But one game I had my chance. I got the ball and spun past the first defender with a move that would make any player envious. I turned to the end zone and charged forward. I was unstoppable for a play. I reached the end zone and was ready to celebrate my first touchdown.
            And then I heard the refs whistle. There was a penalty on the play. Our quarterback did an illegal block. The touchdown didn’t count. My chance at doing something great for the team vanished as quickly as it had arrived.
            We kick the ball back to the other team and get a chance to play some defense. If I can’t be Cris Carter or Robert Smith for my team, the least I can do is play defense like Robert Griffith. I’ll be the best safety they’ve ever seen, and word of my defensive talent will spread and the high school team will want me to play. They’ll see that I can play.
            They hike the ball and I drop back, watching the quarterback. I see one of the guys break free from the defender and so I start running that way to cover him. I leap for the ball as it flies by, but I’m too short to reach it. He catches the ball and makes it into the end zone. I sigh and accept the fact that my size is not doing any favors for the team. If I were six inches taller, that pass would have been mine. But I’m not.
            The game runs on and I get a chance to catch a few passes every now and then, and even manage to deflect a pass or two. The game is nearing its end, since dinner will be served for most of them in a matter of minutes. We have time for one last drive. I’m running a cross pattern down the field. The ball is hiked. I take off and cut to the right. The ball is in the air. I leap for it and pull in the pass. Wham! I’m hit mid-jump by Jon. I flip in the air and land on my back. The air is knocked from my lungs. My vision gets blurry. The ball is still in my hands.
            I lay in the grass, too stunned to think for a moment. Then reality sets in and I realize that I caught the ball. Against all odds, I made a great play. The aching in my chest is a constant reminder of the hard tackle. It hurts with each breath I take. I can hear commotion from the other guys and I know this is my chance to make an impression. Their attention is fixed on me and how I react will probably impact how they perceive me in the future.
            People start to crowd around me. I brush aside the inconvenient pain and get to my feet, laughing. The thrill of catching the pass fuels my adrenaline. I can tell this isn’t what they were expecting. Anyone else would be lying on the ground still, in too much pain to get up. Or at the very least gasping for air. I am doing neither of those things.
            “That was fun,” I proclaim as I toss the ball to our quarterback. “Let’s do it again.” A few people voice their concern but I brush that aside. The catch and my reaction have done something. It has won some respect. They won’t avoid giving me the ball any longer. I have been accepted as an equal, at least for one day.
We get back to playing, but the game doesn’t last much longer. The sun is getting low in the sky and the sound of crickets starts to echo through the field. I get a few more passes thrown my way and the other team makes sure I am covered. I manage to leap and deflect a pass, too. I never score a touchdown in the game, but it doesn’t matter anymore. I’ve proven myself worthy of belonging on the team.
            After the game ends I head over to J.J.’s house, along with Jon and J.J. We sit outside on his front porch talking about football. We laugh about the catch and the tackle. It was a moment we wouldn’t forget anytime soon. Jon tells me he never expected anyone to pop back up like that laughing. At that moment he knew I was a cool guy. J.J. nods in agreement.
            “Do you play video games?” Jon asks me.
            “Of course,” I say. “I grew up playing Mario and Zelda when I was little.”
            “My favorite game is Dragon Warrior IV,” he says. “Have you ever played that game?”
            “I love that game!” I say in response.
            The three of us continue to talk for a while as the sun gets lower in the sky. We find that we have a lot of the same interests. Jon mentions that he doesn’t have many friends since he moved here in January from South Carolina. He has become good friends with J.J. because they are neighbors, but beyond that it is a challenge. He says it is hard to leave behind friends he knew for his entire life and move across the country. I understand the feeling because I moved back to Altoona two years ago. I had lived here for most of elementary school but missed out on Junior High, where many friendships are initially formed. We’re both trying to find a way to fit in and be accepted.
            I head home as the streetlights are coming on for the night. Dinner is cold, but I don’t mind because I had fun. My brother told my mom that I wouldn’t let him come, but she told him that he couldn’t go play football with us because he’d get hurt. He didn’t like that, but I secretly enjoyed hearing that. It turned out to be a great day, and I had gained two new friends.
            Almost thirteen years later I am still friends with Jon. We’ve hung out a lot, played many video games together, watched lots of football, built a poker table, and many other things. We spent almost two years as roommates. Sometimes it is hard making new friends. Other times it is as easy as playing a game of football with someone you don’t know.

No comments:

Post a Comment