Night funnels into morning and my hands become my dad’s. He didn’t need much sleep, either, doubled over his drawing board in the garage crafting precise line after precise line, a steady hand drafting blueprints for homes much bigger than his own. He also created when his family was hours asleep. When the only sound in the house was the sporadic settling. And maybe that was the foundation’s way of warning us that the dynamics in this family were drawn from finite lines in the form of silence.
He took me to school every day; neither of us spoke, the only voices in the car emanating from a.m. talk radio, strangers calling a host in order to be heard. But the silence between us was not awkward, we were a father and son used to the static.
He was my catcher before I started throwing too hard for his hand, and he sat in the bleachers, grinning with each of my base hits and wincing with each error. But the rides home were neither condemnation nor congratulatory, sans advice or hi-fives, simply, rides home.
Today I am more chauffeur than father. It is my son who doesn’t speak to me. I drop him off and pick him up from the movies when his friends lack gas money to to take him or bring him home. And because he quit playing baseball earlier than I did, I never had the chance to squat in our front yard and catch him, to savor the sound of my popping mitt as if each pitch were a ten-year’s attempt to reach home plate before anyone had the chance to swing and miss.
Tonight when my family dreams of a life bigger than what I’ve been able to provide them, I’ll go into the garage, sit at my makeshift desk and compose poems, breaking in between to study the steady hum of midnight, clasping the heredity in my hands, I’m afraid will never die.
The gym is free for students to hoop in, but I know my body will pay for it tomorrow. I simply intended to take a self-guided tour of my alma mater, a Saturday stroll to relive the sound of intramural soles scuffing the court. And because I still look young enough to be some kind of student, the attendant lets me in without asking for any ID.
I’m content to watch from the sidelines, my cautious mantra as I’ve aged, an observant spectator mindful of my bum knees, more so than former reckless participant who attacked the basket as if his limbs would never ache.
But being older is boring. And the other team needs another man, and in that instant, I need another team.
They ask what my major is; I tell them English and I graduated years ago, though I leave out the part about it being not too long after they were born. They say they’re sophomores and English is their second language. And I quickly see, basketball is not their first.
They don’t fully know the rules and play a sloppy game, the way I might've in fourth grade.
So I become the star. And the bottom of the net remembers me, doesn't discriminate based on the newly sprouted grey that now appears in my unshaven face.
Each twenty-foot swish is a stat to add to my self-confidence. Each turn-around jumper replaces lost testosterone in my box score.
They chatter back and forth between baskets, most likely chastising and congratulating each other for overthrown passes and successful, unintended bank shots.
But I only see Middle Eastern, idealistic, young men scurrying around the court, speaking a language, a code, I associate with bombing.
And I hate myself for thinking they might be enjoying a final pick-up game before becoming martyrs, before trading in Nike logos printed on their chests for suicide vests strapped to their bodies. I’m disappointed that as I was thinking about ways to dominate in the low post, I thought there was a possibility they might soon be carrying out a terroristic game plan of their own.
My team wins every game. Afterwards, we shake hands and bump fists as a sign of sportsmanship
I walk back to my car, satisfied: knowing I could still compete with college kids, defeated: realizing this was a victory I didn’t really earn.
Daniel Romo lives and writes in Long Beach, CA. He’s the author of When Kerosene's Involved (Mojave River Press, 2014) and Romancing Gravity (Silver Birch Press, 2013). He teaches creative writing and is the Head Poetry Editor for Cease, Cows. More at danielromo.net.