I should have known a Grays Harbor sporting event would not be a chill occasion. When I walk into the gym a few minutes, behind my son – we’re late for the start of the game – the bleachers are stuffed. The room is a clamor of intense, hostile shouting. For a game of ten year old boys. First game of the season – somehow I forgot how people act.
My daughter and I park at the Wishkah end of the bleachers – by accident, I don’t even think about seating location until a few minutes in. Presently my son’s subbed in and I finally see him in action for this, his very first game. Within a few moments it’s obvious he doesn’t have the ebb and flow of full-court play down, at all. He has learned – in the brief two weeks’ worth of practice they’ve had – to dribble and shoot with confidence. But he doesn’t know the dance, where to be on offense; where to be on defense. I grew up playing and I feel the pull to jump in the game. My feet flex in sympathetic pace with the team’s choreography.
The game is a close one, and a lively one. It is a beautiful thing, watching these children turn into young men on the court. I feel joy in my heart, watching their errors and graces.
A time-out in the third quarter and my boy leaves his team and joins me. His face is flushed and shamed: his deportment hurts my heart. He turns his body on the bleacher against my warmth, tells me, quietly – “Mom, I can’t play. I don’t know how to play.”
I’m thinking two things, They should be teaching you that, and then: But this is how you learn.
But I’m silent in this moment, this beat – showing that restraint. I’m amazed at how much my son is growing up, how keenly he understands his inadequacies. Of course, he isn’t the only one still learning. Many boys out there have double-dribbled, performed traveling screens, fouled in all sorts of ways. One young man made two deft attempts at a basket for the other team before they all sorted it out.
But now: I tell Nels, “You don’t have to go back in, but you need to sit down there and support your team and coach.” I lean forward and return my attention to the game. For a bit he huddles against me, his hot little body in repose. In a moment he feels better, and returns to sit by his coach, and support his boys.
Our team catches up in a tense fourth quarter. The game goes to overtime. In those final minutes, I see the coach ask Nels if he wants back in – Yes, he does. He steals the ball. He goes for it. He gets back in the game. They win by two. I can see in his heart, in his face: he’s okay.
Despite the angry hubbub during the event, everyone is smiles. I talk to a few parents; give a hug to a friend I hadn’t seen. Nels is hungry – adamant he needs a burger.
We walk out into the late evening’s sunshine. “I’m proud of you,” I tell him.
Later in the car we four are traveling back from errands in Olympia; in the CD player a mixtape. The strains of The Police’s “Roxanne” edge into our space, providing tempo to the rain outside, which is not so much hostile as it is lonely, and spooky.
We’re all silent for a bit, and I don’t know what the other three are thinking. But I’m thinking: This song is musically Perfect.
I turn to my husband. “You know this joker doesn’t even have a job,” I say, of the plaintive vocalist.