Echoes of a pickup game

Yesterday walking home from school Jay looked back and said, “Why does it have to be today.” We were hurrying to the car, to chess class across town, but his eyes were on the football game forming on the playground. “Can I stay,” he asked. “Hal is playing today.”

Hal is a boy in fifth grade who’s hard to tag when he has the ball. When Jay said his name I found myself back inside a middle school gym on a Saturday morning during the winter in Maine, where the floor by the door was wet with small puddles of dirty melted snow. As I shot around, I kept one eye on the door, hoping each time it opened that Heath would walk through. Heath, who was in eighth grade, two years older than me, and who I’d noticed during a recent basketball game had hair growing beneath his arms. If he came to the pickup game that morning I knew he’d pick me for his team and maybe pass me the ball once or twice because he knew I could hit an open three.

And then my mind was back on the playground outside Jay’s elementary school. I remembered how a week earlier I’d seen him huddle with Hal before a play, devising a route, and how then the ball had been hiked and Hal had hit Jay in stride for a touchdown. Now, I told Jay he couldn’t stay to play because we really had to be going. He took one last glance back over his shoulder and in that moment I felt something I don’t always feel – that I really understood my son.