In the summer of 2003, one of my close childhood friends and next door neighbor, Jeremiah Hamlett, from Phenix, Virginia, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. The night I received word of his diagnosis, I went over to the basketball court across the street from my house and Jeremiah’s and sat in my car with a green notebook pressed against the steering wheel of my car, and began writing. This is the story of our childhood. This is the story of life and friendship in the face of cancer.
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For Jeremiah and our friends and to the childhood we experienced together
I asked a hummingbird about what was wrong
Why with other birds it didn’t join and sing a song?
It put me squarely in my place
And said with a very straight face,
To their songs I enjoy humming along.
—RALEIGH D. MEADOW
Kevin Hancock, September 2006
For the past couple of years, ever since Jeremiah was diagnosed, I have thought the same exact things that I have just read. Every day now I think about Rob, Jeremiah, you, and myself and all of what we did as kids.
I remember when you and Rob and Jeremiah got caught on the tracks when the train was coming, and to this day I don’t think you’ve ever gotten back on them. As dumb as it may sound, I wish I would have been there with y’all.
You know as well as I do that we all looked up to Rob and Jeremiah for everything. I was lucky enough to have one of them as my brother, but I have always and will always consider you and Jeremiah my brothers as well.
About the title
For quite some time, WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT AT 10:16 was aptly titled THE COURT: JEREMIAH’S STORY, after the basketball court in Phenix, Virginia, where we all lived out our days in childhood.
Shortly after Jeremiah passed in January 2007, I changed the title to what it currently is today to reflect Jeremiah’s death. He was “going home,” you could say. It was meant symbolically.
You see, 10:16 was not the time of day Jeremiah passed. 10:16 was the time of night when the lights at the basketball court in Phenix would turn off like clockwork, and we, as kids, would stand from where we were seated on the court and make our way home.
“Welp, must be 10:16,” Kevin would often say.
And then Robbie and Kevin would make their way one direction toward Park Street, the Tucker boys in another toward Charlotte, and Jeremiah and I, who lived across the street from each other on Church, would walk up the small hillside toward our homes.
As we grew to be young teenagers, the particular time was sort of a running joke for those of us who grew up in Phenix whenever someone from another town happened to be there when the lights went out.
“You mean 10:15,” someone would say.
“No,” we would reply. “Dexter set it for 10:16. Check your watch. 10:16 on the money.”
On a daily basis, during dinner time, my mom would stick her head out the front door and yell, “Jeff! Time to eat.”
And I would do one of two things. At the end of the game, I’d run home, grab my plate, and eat at the basketball court between games or when the ball rolled down the hill and there was a stoppage in play, or I’d yell back, “I’ll eat at 10:16.”
If you were to drive by the basketball court in Phenix, to the passerby it wouldn’t seem like much—not back then, not now. They might see but a cracked blacktop with two wooden backboards and rusted red rims on opposite ends. To us, it is where our childhood was birthed, where lifelong friendships were formed. It’s where our shadows still exist in another dimension, playing a game of two-on-two to 50, win by four. Check.
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