Happy day before Thanksgiving, everybody! Enjoy the food and time off of work (hopefully you’ll get to enjoy atleast a little of it). Tonight’s entry: more of our stay in NPR, Florida. Football, fights, and a little bit of criminal activity.
“One-missippi two-missipi threemississippi fourmissipifivemisipee!”
I rushed forward and chased the boy who was holding the football.
”I’m open,” Kenny yelled. The acne faced, skinny teenaged boy heard Kenny and threw the ball to him. Kenny, who was shirtless, jumped off of the ground and stretched his hands into the air. He caught the ball and fell back onto the ground. His sneakers slammed against the concrete as his athletic body bolted down the gravel street. “Touchdownnn!” a guy on his team bellowed as Kenny reached the 5th mailbox boundary line. Kenny turned around, grinning widely. Sweat glistened on his chest, streamed down his legs and dripped from his forehead. He slammed the ball down into the road, wiped the sweat from his brow and hollered. He saw me and smiled. I smiled back. I liked Kenny; at the time, I thought that he was pretty much the coolest guy ever.
Kenny was the middle-aged fun guy who lived on the same block as me. All the kids, including myself, loved him. Parents seemed to like him, too. He’d walk outside with his football every day, just as it was getting late in the afternoon, and slowly but surely, all of the neighborhood kids would slip out of their houses and meet him in the middle of the street, directly in front of my house. A game of touch football ensued and it usually lasted until sundown, when moms would call from porch steps that dinner was ready and the younger kids, whose curfew was the street light coming on, would rush themselves home. My mom said that she didn’t think it was very safe for me to be playing outside with the big boys who threw the football around for hours, but dad said that it was good for me; that I was strong enough to handle them.
“Just let her do it, Lucy,” he griped at her one day when I had been banned from going outside. I had spent the entire afternoon watching the game from the window. Sulking.
“The exercise is good for her and they love our Rosie,” he appealed to her, gesturing towards me. “They look out for her. They know she’s small.”
An exaggerated sigh. “Whatever Rose,” my mom gave in wearily. “Go ahead. Go play.”
I ran out from the house as fast as my legs could carry me, beaming and feeling the life and joy just surge through me.
”Can I jump in?” I asked Kenny eagerly as I reached the edge of my yard. It was mid game, and looking back on it now, the gang probably enjoyed playing rough and tough and not having to worry about watching out for a little girl, but Kenny was just a really nice guy.
”YOU BET you can!” Kenny hollered back at me. He was already gripping the ball between his fingers – his fingernails were digging into its white lacing – and it looked like his team was on the offense.
“Can I be on your team, Kenny?” I tried my best to sound casual about it, but I know the request came out as hopeful.
“Duh,” he rolled his eyes at me and smiled.
I fell into my position at his left and rushed forward on the word “hike,” caught up in the bolstering excitement and energy all around me. People were yelling “I’m open,” and I was, too; I didn’t always get the ball thrown to me, and I didn’t usually catch the ball when it was thrown to me, but I loved being a part of the group. I loved playing the game. And when my team was on defense, I was always chosen to be the counter on account of how fast I could talk. I felt important… useful.
Quickly after moving into the neighborhood, I became friends with a girl who lived down the street; her name was Noel. She was older than me by at least four years, but she took a liking to me for some reason. I’d walk over to her house in the afternoons and on the weekends and we’d collected Pokemon cards together. I had a big, blue binder that I kept all of mine in and she had a binder for hers, too. One of my favorite things to do with my allowance was to spend it on buying new packs of cards from the gas station my parents usually stopped at. One day after school, Noel and I decided to walk up to the gas station together and get into some mischief. She wasn’t a very good influence to be around.
“You just distract the guy and I’ll grab the cards,” she briefed me on the way. I nodded silently as we neared the front door. I gulped. I had already spent my monthly allowance and Noel didn’t have any money either, but we wanted a new deck of cards so badly. They were about five bucks a pack, and you never knew what you’d find inside; maybe some precious, valuable card you had been pursuing for months… maybe a bunch of stupid cards you already had multiples of. You just never knew.
“Just play it cool,” Noel instructed me.
“Duh… of course!” I said confidently.
I walked down the candy aisle casually, eyeing the blow pops and little blue packets of Oreos. I knew I was supposed to go distract the cashier any minute now, and I was formulating a plan as to how. Ask him to help you find something, I coached myself. Or… or ask where the restroom is; that’s it! Ask him to show you where the restroom is.
Just as I had decided that I was ready to go perform my duty, Noel walked up beside me. “Didn’t find anything you wanted?” she asked rather loudly.
“Um… no,” I responded slowly, feeling confused.
”Okay, then let’s go.”
She began walking out and I followed her, still very confused.
After we had moved about ten yards away from the gas station, she squealed. “We did it!” she cried, and started laughing. My eyes widened as she pulled a shiny, colorful pack of Pokemon cards out from underneath her shirt.
“You got them?” I asked, amazed.
“Well duh,” she rolled her eyes and smirked.
There weren’t any amazing cards in that pack that I can recall; what I do remember is feeling guilty about the incident about 6 or so years after it had occurred. I remembered my part in the act and told my mom about it. It caused a bad feeling I couldn’t push away, so I had mom send a check to the gas station for roughly the amount of a pack of Pokemon cards. We mailed it but didn’t bother to include an explanation; it was just a check for five dollars and something cents. And thus, the universe was put into balance… once again.
Noel and I had a few sleepovers together and we tried building a tree house out in the front of my yard once. The project never went any further than a single wooden board being nailed at an awkward angle on one of the sturdier, easy to reach branches. We got along fairly well; she was bossy, I tried to be passive… but my mouth always found a way of getting me into very messy situations.
Noel and I were arguing about a petty situation one day; I can’t remember the details of it, what she said, or how long it took us to be okay afterwards. What I do remember and will never forget is what I said and what happened to me a split second after I said it.
Noel made some kind of snooty remark, something to bother, offend or aggravate me; all I knew about Noel, besides her age and poor grades in school, was that she lived at home with her mom; she didn’t know where her father was. So that became my ammunition.
”Yeah?” I looked up at Noel angrily. “Well at least I have a DAD.”
I had my arms folded and I stood there with my head held high for a second; that’ll teach her.
Then, I felt it; a crushing blow to the stomach. I remember opening my eyes and seeing gravel; lifting my gaze and seeing Noel’s blonde hair swaying from side to side as she ran home. I hobbled into the house, still bent over, and gasping for air.
Dad was watching TV when I walked into the house. He bolted up from the recliner as soon as he saw me all bent out of shape.
“What’s wrong?” He asked quickly.
“I.. I ca…can’t…breathe…” I managed to reply.
Mom and dad sat me down and stood in front of me, looking bewilder. I whispered the name “Noel” and dad started pacing he was so angry.
“I knew you shouldn’t be hanging out with that rascal,” dad fumed. “You are always worrying about Kenny and those football kids,” dad pointed at my mom. “THEY aren’t the ones to worry about. It’s that stupid girl.” He kept pacing, shaking his head and glaring at mom.
“This isn’t MY fault,” she said irritably.
They continued arguing while I cradled my stomach in complete and total misery.
“Rose,” dad asked me suddenly, “why did she punch you?”
When I told them why, they were speechless. Dad’s pacing stopped immediately. Mom’s face grew blank. She blinked a few times.
“Well no wonder,” dad said quietly.