For my Roka Akor friends.
Special thanks to Mary for the inspirational nugget.
The home team’s bleachers in the Lincoln Middle School Multipurpose Room. It is the final moments of a Lincoln Eagles’ Girls Basketball Game. The air is filled with sneaker squeaks and the COACH’S urgent instructions, occasionally punctuated by the 13-year-old BOY who desperately attempts to call the game over the room’s craptastic sound system. The words struggle out over his braces, but he’s doing slightly better than most 13-year-old boys would do calling a game.
The PARENTS in the bleachers are invested in the game, barely able to sit. Among them is JENNIFER DOBSON. The pace of the game is indicated by their head turns; the score by their growing enthusiasm. Although her countenance is hopeful, JENNIFER’S body is clenched. Although she cheers along with her peers, but JENNIFER is obviously concerned that a player, her daughter, is not matching the level of play of the rest of her team; she struggles to keep from yelling out helpful hints to her child.
5, 4, 3, 2, 1!
The buzzer signals the end of the game, and the PARENTS ecstatically jump from their seats to go off and greet the players. JENNIFER trails but a moment behind, allowing herself one moment to look down and gather herself. She takes a deep breath, raises her head, and puts on a happy face as she follows the others off.
The home team’s bleachers in the Lincoln Middle School Multipurpose Room. It is the final moments of another Lincoln Eagles’ Girls Basketball Game. The air is filled with sneaker squeaks and the COACH’S urgent instructions. The ANNOUNCER has not improved, but at least he hasn’t worsened.
The PARENTS in the bleachers are still happy to be there, cheering on the team, which is winning this game handily. JENNIFER DOBSON is intently watching, but has seemingly lost interest in expressing her team spirit. She now paces back and forth a few steps in the bleachers. As the game draws to an exciting close, her frustration morphs into disbelief and finally incredulousness. She stops pacing and just stands, stone-faced, as the final seconds are counted down.
5, 4, 3, 2, 1!
The buzzer again signals the end of the game, and the PARENTS high-five one another and jump from their seats towards the players. JENNIFER is frozen in her spot, her mouth slightly open, her brows knit together. After a moment, she shakes her head, looks up to the sky, sets her jaw and follows the other parents. She doesn’t smile.
Another day, another game. More sneakers, more coaching, more “ummms” from our orthodontically-challenged ANNOUNCER. Certainly more cheers from our PARENTS, except for JENNIFER, who this time is reading The Orphan Train. She looks up every so often just in case something is different this time. It isn’t. It never is. She goes back to her book.
5, 4, 3, 2, 1!
JENNIFER knows the drill and, without looking up from her book, cheers joylessly along with the parents at this third victory. They all leave once again, and she doesn’t bother to drag her eyeballs up from her book until COURTNEY DOBSON, her daughter, approaches wearing an Eagle’s pinny. She is #8. She is breathless. She is riding high from this latest victory.
Mom! The team and I are going to Mickey D’s to celebrate. Can you pick me up there in an hour? Ohmygod, did you see those last two minutes? I didn’t think we were going to pull it off, but we did! Man, this is the best. Basketball is my thing!
No, Courtney. No, it is not your thing. I’ve been coming to these games for three years — three years — and in three years, you have not touched the ball once. Not once. Not once have you touched the ball. Three years of watching you run up and down the court without grabbing the ball, stealing the ball, or even asking politely for the ball. You haven’t touched the ball. So, as far as I can tell, this is not your thing, unless your thing is asking me to come here and listen to Sparky Voicecrack over there tell me how much everyone else touches the ball and how many points it gets your team.
You want this to be your thing? Touch the ball. Touch the ball, or so help me God, you will find a new thing, one where I can come and cheer for you doing something other than watch you run around like a gerbil in a habit trail.
Touch the ball, Courtney. Ok?
COURTNEY runs off
JENNIFER turns to see one of the other parents has come back to retrieve a giant foam finger he accidentally left in the stands. They stare at each other awkwardly.
Once again, the home team’s bleachers in the Lincoln Middle School Multipurpose Room. The sneaker squeaks are the same. The coaching is the same. Most of the PARENTS are the same, although now JENNIFER sits, jaw clenched, body still, watching the game under furrowed brow. She is waiting. She is a little scary. After a basket is made, the PARENT WITH THE FOAM FINGER cheers and turns to her for a high-five. She glares at him and he backs away, suddenly remembering who she is.
13-YEAR-OLD GAME ANNOUNCER
Oooh, and Eagles’ #8, Courtney Dodson just committed a foul on #17 from the Ravens. That’s the first foul for Courtney in her entire time on the team.
The stands are silent as all eyes go to JENNIFER, who slowly stands up, stony faced. The other parents instinctively pull away from her. There is a moment. She decides.
Good job, baby! That’s my girl! That’s MY girl!