Donald used his last year of grade school as a chance to practice at being an average student. If he gained a better grade in one class, he fell in another. Donald kept this up throughout the school year and remained under the radar and outside of people’s attention with no hope of achieving honor roll stardom. Good practice for high school, he relished. He did not think he could handle having any attention on him while trying to understand new school surroundings next year.
It was good enough having his older sister, a junior in high school, make honor roll. Mother liked this and Papa had Glenda as his favorite. Donald figured he could stay in the background safe from family competition with Glenda’s popularity at home and school.
On a Sunday evening in late April, Glenda pounded on Donald’s bedroom door. He opened it before she knocked it down. “What do you want?”
“You’ve only got the summer to grow up before you get into high school. I don’t want you embarrassing me. It’s my last year and it’s got to be my best.”
Finally, I’m almost as tall as Glenda, Donald thought. “I haven’t even got there yet and you’re complaining.”
“Every afternoon you stand around in the parking lot waiting for your bus not talking to anyone. I don’t want to be known as the one with the loner brother. You’ve got to make friends or people will think you’re weird.”
“Why? I’ve gotten along so far without them.”
“You need to just go up and talk to people. It’s important for you to make friends now. When you get into high school, it’ll be harder.”
“I’m just fine without friends. You stay with your friends and I’ll stay away. No one will know we’re related.”
“We are related. You can’t avoid that. Do something about yourself or else you’ll end up like me getting out in the world not sure who’s your friend.”
“Hah. So, you’re afraid you’ll end up without any friends after high school.”
“You’re being ridiculous. Just go ahead then and stand in that parking lot alone waiting for your school bus.” Glenda spun around flipping her long, dark hair through the stale air of their lingering breaths. Like a saber cutting off further conversation.
All school year Glenda could have picked up Donald in her car after school since their schools sat next to each other. She didn’t do this nor did she offer an excuse for leaving her brother at the mercy of an after school crowd, one of the reasons Donald kept to himself.
That Monday waiting for the school buses to drop off their first load, the air felt more like Fall than Spring. Concerned about rising energy levels, a few teachers came out to referee a football game. With one ball, one field, and limited time there could only be one game.
The teachers picked the team captains who raced through the selection process until it got down to greasy face Cliff, too tall Hank, and Donald. The team captains hesitated. Donald figured he had a good chance to be selected next since he was average and not like one of these non-average boys he stood with. The Team Left captain selected Hank saying he was tall enough to block something. Team Right captain took Cliff muttering about being greasy enough that no one could hold him. Donald stood alone.
The captains watched one of the teachers flip a coin to see who got the ball first. The other teacher pointed for Donald to go to Team Left. Donald trotted toward the Team Left captain who told him to go to Team Right. When he got to Team Right, the captain had already surrounded himself with trusted agents and ignored Donald.
Team Left took the ball first and made it half way up the field with four complete passes. Each time, Donald moved around on defense looking for an escape rather than stopping a pass or run. Boys ran in front and behind him trying to be a hero in front of the girls who decided not to play and had formed a line between Donald and the school parking lot. After the fifth complete pass, Donald saw a break in the girl line where he could slip off the field and behind the teachers who stood guard. One more pass, even if it was incomplete, and Donald figured he could go away without anyone noticing.
As Team Left captain took the ball, Donald trotted back on defense close to his escape point. Boys ran back and forth in front and behind waving their hands in the air to catch or block the ball if it came their way. Donald stood in one place and raised his hands over his head like the others not caring where the ball would be thrown.
He figured it had to be behind him since that was where everyone started to run. Donald reached on his tip toes to make it seemed like he was really trying hard. Really hard. He watched the Team Left captain throw the ball and slip on the grass at the same time. Too tall Hank with greasy face Cliff chasing him ran in front of Donald blocking his view of the ball. Donald watched them until something slapped into his outstretched hands. He pulled it down to his chest.
How Donald wished it had been wet underwear. Instead, he looked down at the muddy football. Everyone stopped running and stared at Donald unsure of what side he was on. Donald stared at them not sure himself what side he was on. Figuring it would be worse to be tagged standing there, he ran forward past staring eyes.
He ran past the old scrimmage line and kept on running with just a few boys standing between him and the opposite goal line. What would he do if he scored? All he could think of was to keep running. Maybe the end of the universe would happen very, very soon.
Donald felt a push on his back knocking him face forward into the wet grass. He let go of the football deciding that he could avoid pain when he hit the ground. He was wrong. He did not think tag football worked like that.
Struggling to get up and looking behind him, a whole bunch of boys and some girls had been chasing him. From both sides.
Donald rose from the ground waiting for someone to say “nice interception” or “way to go.” No one said anything and Donald walked off the field in his muddy clothes not caring who saw him. Two plays later, Team Right scored the only touchdown of the game off his interception.
Donald did not see it, but he heard the cries of delight coming from girls and boys at that end of the field. He sat on the parking lot curb throwing pebbles at the spot where the bus would pick him up, eventually.
“Why didn’t you finish playing football?” Glenda stood next to Donald.
“Average boys don’t play football.” Donald sat on the bus curb with grass stained pants.
“It was a nice interception, anyway.”
“No one noticed.” Donald wanted to ask his sister where her friends were.
“Never mind. Come on home with me.”
Donald thought that somehow he had been the hero of the game. Just no one noticed an average boy except his sister.
Published on May 26, 2014, by Corner Club Press