If you are at home visiting your parents for Christmas and you grew up in a small town, you might be tempted to bring your husband, who is not from your town, to a basketball game at your former school. And because he is a good sport and can only spend so much time visiting with your grandmother, he will agree to go. He will probably drive you there and park the car, which is wonderful. But once you get there, how can you explain the nostalgia you feel when he parks the car in the spot where you once kissed Jacob Washburn in October after play practice. It wasn’t your first kiss, but it was your first time really making out in a gross, memorable and public way and thinking about that moment and the many years that have passed since then make you feel old and young all at the same time.
And then you will walk with him through the doors of the school into the lobby where you spent your teenage years waiting for the bus to pick you up, waiting for your parents to pick you up, waiting for your boyfriend to pick you up. And your eyes scan the walls, knowing that your name is on that plaque and your picture is in this trophy case, but because you have lived a rich and full life in the time since high school, you don’t need to point these things out to your husband. He only knows you as an adult and so explaining how at 18 you had imagined coming back to this school as an adult and rubbing your fingers across your name on the brass plates would seem silly. You could still could reach up and touch the letters of your name but doing so might close a loop that you would like to keep open at least for a little while longer.
So you pass through the lobby and into the gym and you see Doug Sharpe and he nods at you and you nod back, and your husband asks who it is and so you tell him that Doug Sharpe is the athletic director and your former health teacher. Which is true, but he is also the teacher who publicly humiliated you in your middle school health class when you were the only one to get a perfect score on a test that asked you to label the penis, urethra, testicles, vas deferens on a large black and white diagram. When you look at him today, you can still see the way he raised his eyebrows and announced to the class that you sure did ‘know your way around the male reproductive system’, and you remember how you weren’t sure if he was implying that you were promiscuous (which you weren’t) or nerdy(which you were). But how can you explain the long resolved emotions of a fourteen year old to an adult man who now knows you to be only headstrong and sure to a fault?
And so you find your seats and the game begins and your team takes an early lead, which is great but then the other team shoots and makes a three point shot and your husband claps and then weakly excuses himself with ‘it was a good shot’ when he feels the stares from the crowd. And in some cases, it is good sportsmanship to clap for the other team, acknowledging a particularly nice play or move, but the team we are playing against are the Golden Knights, the school that was your father’s biggest rival and your biggest rival and the school that you lost to in playoffs your senior year when everyone thought you had a shot at a title. Jamie O’Neill, the girl who shoved you to the floor with both hands during a varsity basketball game was a golden knight. Your cousin, who was so beautiful and talented that all of your friends wanted to date her was a golden knight. And your longest standing high school crush, who never cast his light your way was also a golden knight. So regardless the arc of the shot or the swish of the net: you will not clap for this team.
Then halftime comes and at half court a little girl draws a raffle ticket out of a bucket. Your husband might comment about how cute she is and you’ll agree, but you’ll leave it at that instead of explaining that she is the daughter of your friend Christa who you first met when her pet goat was in the living nativity scene that you were part of in front of the bank one December in elementary school. And that later you and Christa drank Boone’s Farm Apple Wine in her tent which gave you the courage to then climb over the fence of the athletic director’s house (mentioned above) and then go skinny dipping in his pool by the cover of darkness. Or that when Christa’s sister died of cancer you kept your distance which is something you have always felt bad about and maybe that is why when you see Christa and her cute kid, all you do is smile and nod instead of hugging and catching up.
So the winning number is drawn and everyone cheers for Cathy Westford because she gets to take home $200. But you keep your hands in your lap because two summers ago, it was Cathy’s teenage daughter who was driving home late at night and crashed her car into your parents’ Tahoe nearly killing your mother and your brother and though she wasn’t drinking, she had beer in her car that she tried to hide before the police showed up. You know that it’s a stretch to connect the car accident to the 50/50 raffle but when you only see these people once a decade or so, it’s easier to make these leaps.
After halftime, the third and the fourth quarter pass quickly. Your team wins and the players are excited and so in the moment that they have no idea that this game will fade away into the past. It will blur into the next game and into the next season until all that is left is a smear of memories punctuated by a few clear images of kissing in the parking lot, lost friendships and moments of glory and humiliation. Likewise for you, as you leave the gym after the game, just like you have done hundreds of times before, the memory of tonight is already drifting away. By the time you drive away, the time warp has ended and you have moved on to thinking about what to do when the lease on your car ends, making year-end charitable donations and how each year seems to come to an end more quickly than the one before.