Standing here with all the other kids, I watch and wait. The ball leaves the pitcher’s hands, takes a big bounce then settles into a slow, lazy roll towards the kicker. I bend down, place my hands on my knees, admire the new school pants I am wearing, knowing a mother’s anger that awaits me at home should I fall and tear them. Sue looks over at me, her eyes squinting as if she knows something I do not. She smiles a devilish smile. The yellow ribbon in her hair matches her sweater, a feminine touch to a girl I know can run faster than almost all the boys in the entire school. I am in love.
After digesting all the pomp and circumstance the end of 2021 could muster I needed a break from the noise. When this happens I usually walk away from the electronic world and head outside into the real world with my dog, Henry. Sometimes, I just take a quiet moment to remember something I did when I was young. I then give it the time it always deserved. Often we are too preoccupied to give these experiences in our lives room to breathe. I remembered a game I played most mornings before the start of school.
Kickball was that game, and I was back on that playground. If both the weather and teacher on playground duty were in a good mood, then the game would go on. We would spread ourselves out — each of us gauging the best spot in the field of play where our odds of catching the ball could be realized. Catch the ball and you are next in line to be the kicker. The focus we mustered on every roll of the ball would have delighted any of our teachers
The elementary school is still there. So is the playground —both unchanged from when I attended back in the ‘60s. That alone is a miracle in these days of “Tear it down. Let’s build new.” I still visit them both when afforded the opportunity. With every roll of the ball I think we all grew an inch taller. And in kick after kick I now realize we played the game the right way. We caught the ball and we played fair. In doing so, we moved through life, from elementary to junior high school and then onto high school, perhaps college or straight into a job.
A lot of us had that game we played when we were young. It is a forever part of us. When times are strained, when lemons are the fruit of the day, we remember that game or a special moment which may not have stood out back then, but over time we realize it has been an important part of who we are today.
When we played that kickball game together, we were like one. Not to be denied anything, especially our place in the world in that particular moment. Yes, there were disagreements, even the rare, but eventual fist fight we all knew was coming —building over time from one morning to the next until that first punch is thrown. Then our gaggle would gather, scream and eventually pull the combatants apart, the fight over and quickly forgotten. Apologies accepted, the game would go on. Not today. Today our fights rage on from minute to day, week to years. Our days are growing shorter. Our anger lengthens, and if we do nothing, our stories will be forgotten. We all have that kickball game buried somewhere inside us, and now it is needed.
We are faced with continuous uncertainty. We have bills to pay, deadlines to meet, family commitments, friends needing our support, holiday commercialism blurring the horizon of life, all while we keep a pandemic’s grip at bay again and again. Politics, climate, inflation, damn pharmaceutical commercials fill the airwaves — you name it, in these last couple of years we’ve experienced it all.
Sometimes a break in the day needs us just about as much as we need that break. Deep breaths may slow down the heart rate, but a good story or memory is tonic for the soul. With the holidays behind us and a new year just beginning, hopefully, some of those memories will eventually come back for a visit, take us away to a better place — if but for a moment — just like that long ago kickball game did for me.
My eyes take flight with the sound of leather meeting rubber. The ball is in the air, the bell is ringing, my arms are outstretched, eyes fixed, the ball is coming right at me, cheers all around. “This is it,” I say to myself. “This is the best,” I think, and then: Sue steps in front while I do a somersault over her, catching air, then the pavement. The ball now tucked under her one arm, Sue reaches down with the other. Her smile stretching from ear to ear greets my stare up. She offers me her hand, helps me up. We walk together into school laughing, the din of the school bell drowned out by the screams of the other kids behind us filing through the door. I look down and see a hole in the knee of my pants. My mom is going to kill me.
© 2021 RJ Heller