I suck at basketball, and this kid knows it. He’s over there in his corner, collecting crickets, telling me about his life. It sounds far more interesting than mine. I shoot and miss for the umpteenth time, and the ball bounces his way. He stands up, but by the time he does, the ball has bounced to the wrong side of him, so that he’s between me and it. Rather than grabbing it, turning around, and throwing it to me, he tries to kick it in an arc up over his head to me—a bicycle kick minus the flip. And it works.
I ask him if he likes soccer. He says he does. I ask him if he’s good at it. He says he is. I ask him how long he’s been playing. He says he hasn’t started yet, but he will in the fall. There seems to be no disconnect between these statements for him. Obviously, if he were to play it, he would be good at it, because that’s just how he is at things. I ask him if he’ll play at school. He says no, because then there would be coaches telling him what to do all the time, and he doesn’t want that kind of inhibition placed on his freedom. I point out that his coaches would probably know something about soccer, since they would be, you know, soccer coaches. He is doubtful of this point. I realize that he’s probably right. Good soccer coaches don’t always gravitate towards the teams with the most six year olds.
I’ve decided that I’ve missed enough shots for the day and that I’m going home. It’s only a nine-foot hoop, so I decide I’ll dunk this last one, just for the confidence boost. I try, but, being generally incapable of scoring on a basketball court, even from zero feet out with nobody on me, I get stuffed by the back of the rim, the ball ricochets around the hoop and falls to the ground. It bounces there, laughing at me. I try again, just to shut it up, and the same thing happens. The kid’s watching silently, judging me. I tell him I’m gonna do this one more time, and I’m gonna make it.
“No you’re not.” he says.
And he’s right. Because it seems that this kid is always right. This damn, cricket-collecting, floppy-haired, baggy-short-wearing, omniscient kid is always right.
The light’s been on for like 30 miles. I really should make a habit of getting gas before I’m in danger of having to get out and push, but that would require a step away from my “cross that bridge” life philosophy, something I’m not quite ready to do. So here I am, going out of my way to get gas before I go home for the day. I’m at a red light, and while if it were any other red light I’d be nervous, the gas station’s right on the other side of the intersection, so I think I’ll make it. The light turns green and I pull through it and ease into the turn lane to make a left into the station, far past the cars waiting in the turn lane going the opposite direction. But there’s a car coming towards me. He’s going a pretty fair clip. My entire thought process consists of “That man’s driving toward me.” I ease back out of the turn lane, but only halfway. Even as this white ’90s Honda Civic hurtles toward my life, I note that the usual adrenaline rush that accompanies imminent death is entirely absent. Indeed, my own lack of fright scares me more than anything. I also wonder to myself “What the fuck is this guy doing here? What possible reason would he have to be in my lane?” I watch the man behind the wheel as his eyes widen, and his face just says, “Oh shit.” He slams on his brakes, white smoke drifts, and he jerks his car back out of the turn lane.
I return slowly to my regularly scheduled programming and pull in to get gas. And there is still an absurd lack of adrenaline or panic. I just keep thinking to myself “What was he doing there?” I start to process and dissect the immense mass of information I seem to recollect about the last five minutes, that whole time-slows-down shit. I finish getting gas, and I get back in the driver’s seat to write down the amount I got and the mileage on the car, because this is my sister’s car and she’s nuts (seriously, who keeps track of that crap?). The car’s facing the highway, and as I look out I see a different me, one lying in the middle of the road with emergency vehicles and personnel swarming around him, calling his mother, telling her the news.
“I just almost died,” I say out loud.
Yet I still have this entirely bizarre calm about me. I almost died, but that’s not a problem. Perhaps this is some sort of natural response to trauma, maybe it’s about that liver thing I still haven’t gotten checked out. I roll on home, past the dying me and on to the grieving mother, alive and unconcerned. I’m alive, but I just as well could be dead. So it goes.
Everyone writes differently, and everyone writes in different spaces. Some people need other people, some people need solitude, some people need a window, some need a wall. I need lonely windows, and this year I have a new space. It’s in my apartment on Woodlawn. I watch as people walk by, people I know and people I don’t. I see old housemates, teammates, professors. I sit here and watch everyone go by, and they don’t see me, and that sounds creepier than a Jack Black–Nicolas Cage lovechild, but it helps me think. I see stories in these people, some that I play bit parts in, others in which I don’t exist. It’s like I’m straight out of Slacker, but I’m not moving with the camera. And I don’t mind. I don’t need to be with everything and everyone else. I’m just watching.
My dad’s often told me that men in our family have a distinct lack of endorphins, and it’s just something with which we have to deal. So as I sit on a bench on a tennis court in Bee Cave, Texas, I think about how to handle those words. I just finished practicing with one of my best friends in the world, the one person I want to punch in the face more often than anyone else, but also one of the few people who can make me laugh no matter how down I am. The sun’s setting, and all the courts and the gym are empty. I’ve already taken off my shoes, socks, and shirt. There’s a silence about the court that feels complete, even if the cars of the highway and the gym’s AC unit insist on interrupting. I stare at the court for a bit, contemplating its emptiness. I pick up my racket and walk slowly back onto it, and stand barefoot in the area on the court known as “no man’s land.”
I feel the cool Texas evening air, and I look at the racket in my hand, the sun on the horizon, and my friend on the bench. And I realize, that after a confused school year of turmoil and a summer spent sorting it out, this is all I need. I may have had some experiences and learned some stuff about myself this summer. I may have learned that some people have things go right for them, that some people are just born with overwhelming confidence. I may have learned that what I have can up and leave at any moment, that I'm uncomfortably comfortable with my own mortality. I may have learned that I’m a watcher, not a doer.
But whatever my quirks and whatever the world’s idiosyncrasies, whatever my trivial troubles and sorrows, I have a sanctuary here—on this court, in this moment. And that moment may be gone now, but eventually everything else will be too. And whatever else may have happened this summer, at the very least, now I know: this court, my racket, my friend, Texas air, and the sunset.
And that’s all I need.
Liam Leddy is a second-year in the College. Summer Musings is a Viewpoints blog that publishes on Tuesdays and Fridays through September 27.