Saturday, February 19, 2011

Carry on

During games like Wednesday's, Davidson 83 GaSo 56, when the result is hardly in doubt past the first half buzzer (nice layup, Jake), my mind wanders. My thoughts clump and crowd, my heart pounds loud. It's a good time to notice things, with no rock in your stomach as the seconds drop. I start to look around. And three days later, my choppy musings wind up here.
*
It's not hard to get in your car or walk over from your house and come to watch a game. But what happens when a couple thousand decide to do the same thing? From five minutes down the block, but also from thirty minutes, two hours away? This is a choice, for some not even a question, and I am continually struck by how we choose to spend our days, and what that begins to mean when we choose to spend them together.
*
I see the suit-and-tie men, the assistant coaches -- clutching clipboards and bending their over-long frames into folding chairs, tapping their feet and biting their lips and batting words back and forth. I don't know them any other way, but I imagine that they see themselves on that court as they used to be. Somewhere in the back of my mind I consider the magnitude of it: what they first experienced here was so deep that they have committed themselves to it as adults; as they grew, they found their futures here.
*
The boys play now. Each movement adds to the collective memory, not simply part of the media guide, but part of the air and the meaning of this place. This sophomore class I watch particularly, and I can't help but picture one February night two years from now when they will walk out from the shadows with these moments etched into their faces, forming the way they walk and wave to the crowd. They will keep and carry it, this history that the nights before -- the nights we are within -- have created.
*
As the game wanes and we sit contentedly watching, lazed and glazed into beatdown mode, my eyes catch a guy in the stands sporting jersey #2. And with that I get the idea wedged in my head that Jason, very much not in Belk, very much on the Pittsburgh bench (with a clipboard himself), is somehow here. The jersey with his number, purchased one day in the bookstore, holds the meaning he created for it. It is inexplicably bottled and held and carried, and the air is deeper, the story is richer.
*
Past, present, future all seem to blur when I'm in here, and maybe that's why each bit of it tips my cup closer to brim-full. The claim of their names, the music, the words, the itch that has grown into my bones, I have to cheer for them, I have to. I have to cheer for them because I have seen what can happen and I have felt what it can mean. Belk is small enough so that Jessie and Carrie, over in the endzone, can motion and gesture to me as if we stand together still; we've developed our own sign language, with texting interspersed as needed. I see Carrie's curly hair flying and remember the freshman she was when I stood next to her in Detroit -- did I know she'd be a best friend of mine? The air is deeper, the story is richer.
*
Later, after, I go to the bar and get a hug from the coach who's three wins away from 400, who's called this place home for twenty-two of my twenty-three years. I talk with people that I used to know only by Internet handle, now familiar friends, and we laugh and ramble and wonder: What makes this fun? Why do we go? What do we do when it's over? What's the point?
*The point is to have my arms around my best friends at halftime. The point is the bright eyes and sunsplitting smiles from the bench when the basket goes up and in, the arms curled around backs and deep focusing breaths when you have to fix it. The point is to make something happen, to answer the guy who won't quit hounding you, and draw the foul. The point is that the football players raise their arms in brotherly triumph and roar for the halftime kids, who shriek giddily back because they're learning a thing or two about what you carry and what you love, and what you're proud of, and why.
*
I drive back alongside the late-night truckers, and I call Seattle; Sarah and I haven't had a good catch up since before Thanksgiving. By the time we've gotten through the ritual updates, I'm back to the city, stopped at a red light with no cars in sight. Now we're talking about the things we can hardly explain; the big things, like solitude and moving forward and how far should we plan and what are we doing and what makes it worthwhile in this strange massive-miniscule world of being, um, more or less, adults.
*
"You can really make it your own," she says, after I ramble about the little things that make my days go, the people I'm meeting, the GPS that I don't really need anymore -- and I love that she says that, because she's dead on. Even thirty miles down the road from such a cozy place, this life is pure different, and I'm proud of what I'm doing with it. Sometimes it sucks, sometimes I don't get it, sometimes it's suddenly marvelous -- all of it I claim, mine.
*
Back in Belk, I claim it too, this story -- but unlike my late-night drives, my job applications, my solo grocery shopping, there's more to it than that. Because here, once you make it your own, the hat gets passed around. Tales and jokes and collective gasps and Johnston Gym and College Park and Raleigh and Ford Field add up until it is not solely mine, but also yours. Not all of life you can do that way (sometimes it's just you, and the ground, and your very-much-alone breaths), but in here, there's no question that we breathe through this together. It's part of a deep, building magic that, if my mind were to wander so far that it dropped off a cliff, I might understand more fully.
*
Not tonight, though; the buzzer sounds and we take a grinning winning breath, carrying new moments into the fray.

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