The blaze of a childhood summer
burns bright through the darkest of days.
It was one such summer, many a year ago,
bereft of easy pastimes by a stern hand
and an irrational fear of spectacles,
I was shoved, bleary-eyed, into the great outdoors.
And, for want of preoccupation, I
scoured the derelict neighborhood,
a lone wraith of boredom.
A dense grove of oleander
caught my wandering eye,
not quite out of place, a trifle overgrown,
something obscured within, perhaps?
Here it was, then, that elusive beast,
Adventure! and I, craning my neck,
double-checked for idle zealots,
pushed through the undergrowth
to find, nestled in the branches,
a rundown little shack, paint peeling,
creaky asbestos ceiling.
I climbed the side mounted stairs,
to peer through the steel netting on the front,
what if there were scorpions? Or snakes?
One can never be too careful.
I know, no Captain Cook, me.
And inside, I saw a polished floor,
four white walls tattooed with lines of red,
lights strung up on the netting,
the smell of ancient buildings,
but not much else of note,
A silent tomb of times passed by.
Striking up dinner conversation,
I mentioned the location, to learn
it was a squash court, a sport whose few patrons,
along with nearly everyone else,
had packed their bags, moved on to greener pastures
leaving only emptiness behind.
I suppose, said my father, that Mr. so-and-so
still has his racquet and ball, he’ll gladly lend them.
Better than sitting around here all day.
I shrugged. Mine was a life of fads, after all.
And so it was that I found myself, the next afternoon,
black rubber ball in pocket,
pushing the jammed door open with my shoulder.
Having read up a quick guide to the game,
I set forth on a voyage of sounds,
the ping of the ball on the racket,
the thwob it struck on the walls and floor,
the soft squeaking of my shoes,
and the visceral delight of repeatedly bashing
something against a wall with all your might,
until it can barely… what?
No, I don’t have any issues, why do you ask?
Many afternoons passed thus,
and I had discovered, after a while,
the zen-like nature to a solo game of squash,
not having to prove anything,
or measure up to any standards,
you fight not the wall, but only yourself,
and get back from it, therefore,
merely what you have put in.
So, if you cease to struggle,
if you find yourself on the court,
you find a flow, a rhythm in you,
and the ball has to touch the ground no more.
Soon, I would lose track of time,
caught up in the flow,
and, when done just right,
watch myself play from the outside,
breaking free of the body,
stepping out of bounds,
an experience like no other,
A closed room where I felt most free.
I began then, to spend all my time
on the court or anticipating when I would be,
playing for an hour, soon two, why not three?
Of course, if I left just after lunch
and returned only for dinner,
and add to that the time I would have
if I rose early, something I’d never done before,
I could play for a dozen odd hours, half a day almost,
and what was to stop me?
When the summer ended, of course,
I had nothing to answer for it
but a palm-full of blisters
and a grossly overpowered right arm.
But looking back, it makes me wonder,
what would it take to love something so much again?
If I had to pick a day not to forget,
one memory to preserve,
from the gray blur in my mind,
it would be that one,
the day I met you.
I’d been doing the ol’ back and forth,
but slipping up more than usual,
feeling eyes stare at the back of my head,
I didn’t turn around, but sure enough,
in the corner of my eye,
someone stood judging.
I said nothing,
if you don’t acknowledge a demon
it has to disappear.
But you didn’t go,
no matter how hard I tried,
to push you out of my mind,
to forget an existence,
it just could not be done.
And yet I played on,
who knows why.
The funny thing about soles is
how they get worn out so quickly,
even on a slippery court.
And though you think you’re flying,
you’re really not.
Gravity’s a bitch like that.
A perfect split
mirrored neatly by the one in my pants.
A burst of merry laughter,
I’d broken the ice, it seemed,
along with three of my vertebrae
What’s that you say? That’s not very funny?
Well, you had to be there, I guess.
Of course, after that,
it was sunshine and daffodils all the way,
And all those games,
each one the same,
and each one quite different.
I’ve forgotten many of them,
but I remember what they were like,
you would lose
and I would lose
and it never mattered.
Even then, I knew,
this was too good to be true,
there had to be a clock ticking down somewhere.
I’m a little paranoid like that.
And, proving me right,
like all good things, you left.
I wandered the streets once more,
but this time I knew what I was looking for,
and yet, past all the empty houses
and the fish-eyed old ladies
with their meaningless directions,
I found nothing.
Not a trace. Into thin air.
Why? Why dangle a bone before a dog,
if you’re only going to chew it up yourself?
And, whining just a little,
I made my way back to the court,
it just wasn’t the same, I knew,
I’d been here before
and I’d been here not.
Taking my rage out on the wall
didn’t help either, it always did before.
Another fad had passed,
and the court was silent once more.
Days passed, weeks flew,
I tried to avoid the oleander trail,
tried to leave that magical place behind.
But, that had to happen someday,
squash just isn’t that lively
as a single-player game.
Then, one crimson evening,
facing my fears
and that of coke-glass lenses,
I dragged my feet back,
reluctant and spiritless.
And who should be there
waiting, racquet in hand.
A mirage? A dream?
Did it matter?
We played quite a different game that day,
paced ourselves out,
calm leisurely swings.
I was at an odd score,
you were at an even,
and we stayed there,
gaining a point, losing another
Me on the left,
you on the right,
moving little but our arms.
A game, I knew, till the end of time,
that is, until I collapsed.
Textbook case of overexertion,
replied the doctor, you really
shouldn’t play too many games of squash
all by yourself, it isn’t healthy.
Get it, he snorted to the blushing nurse,
because he’s a teenager,
and he’s “playing squash” by himself.
But I heard no more,
my eyelids, too heavy, dropped,
and there I was at the court again,
picking up where we left off,
a game that goes on even today.
ping thwob thwob ping thwob ping