Before you read this, read:
LAUGHING AND YELLING, playing and fighting, we were all there: the kids of Phenix. From the oldest and tallest to the youngest and shortest. All skinny. All bean poles. Each scene was being acted out as I sat alone in my car that Friday night in July of 2003. Everyone knew their individual lines. It was our childhood replaying itself inside my memory.
In clear detail, I remember not being strong enough, even with two hands, to shoot the basketball overtop my head. Instead, I had to rely on the granny shot to push my efforts ten feet into the orangish-red rim above. This halo afar from my tiny reach stared at me from its distance peering down as I looked back up at it blinking my eyes to capture what would one day be mine I knew as I long as I kept at it. My feverish attempts again and again and again of trying to dribble the basketball between my legs at that age always ended in redundant failure.
Yet this drew a smile upon my face as I sat there alone reminiscing of how my lanky, little legs were so infinitesimal and squat back then that the orange basketball seemed nearly twice the size of me, resembling, as it may, the pumpkin carriage used in the 1950’s version of Cinderella, the Disney version, that my sister and I used to watch as kiddos.
I TURN MY key back to the off position and look down once again toward the court staring blankly at its gray complexion.
The music stops.
Suddenly, in the corner of my eye, I notice a doe come darting out from the makeshift football field in Jeremiah’s backyard. The doe jumps gracefully into the night fearing not a soul. A fawn follows her pouncing into the air. Its coat blotches of dark brown, white, and yellow.
The scene reminds me of the time when Kevin came running to the basketball court one evening after school and an influx of white-tailed deer unexpectedly appeared behind him. He swooped down, his hands clamping ahold to the grassy floor. His eyes were cast in fear as he laid on the ground allowing time enough for the deer to all pass him by. One leaped over his young body. Absolute fright swathed him. He looked helpless, frozen in time.
Robbie, Jeremiah, and I were all waiting for him to arrive at the basketball court for a game of two-on-two to fifty, win by four, watching it unfold, laughing.
And then another song travels into the airwaves.
It occurs to me that the court was never what I had thought. When everyone left Phenix to go their separate ways years ago, be it for college or for work, I attained deep inside of me a particular grudge.
I grew angry and distant.
They had left me.
The people, the friends I had known my entire life, were suddenly not there anymore. No one ever told me this would happen. That it could happen. That everyone and everything I held dear as a kid would disappear one day. That the sound of the basketball ricocheting off the blacktop, which called me to the second story window of my home, would stop bouncing. Stop making its familiar sound which let me know someone was over there, waiting.
I was alone. By myself.
It was similar to a resentment I had at a young age for the new kid who moved across the street from me and took my best friend Robbie away.
You just read an excerpt from When the Lights Go Out at 10:16. A story of a 1980s/1990s childhood growing up in small town America. A story of life and friendship in the face of terminal cancer.