December 26, 2007 | By | Add a Comment

I first started making deals with God during a basketball game the winter of seventh grade. Up to this point, things had been going all right. Actually, things had been going amazing.

Being on the cross-country team that fall had been the best thing that had ever happened to me. It wasn’t because I was such a good runner. As a matter of fact, I was perfectly average. No matter how many people were in the race, I seemed to always place in the exact middle. 50 runners? I finished 25th. 200 runners? I came in 100th place. Not only that, but I seemed to find the seams so that there would be no one in sight in front of me and no one in sight behind me. This gave me time to reflect on something wonderful that I couldn’t believe was taking place.

I had always been a very quiet and shy kid in school. I didn’t say a whole lot but did crack a joke every now and then. I could clearly recall all the moments in my life when I had said something that made the whole class bust out into laughter. Nothing in life made me feel so good. Until now.

There were girls on the cross-country team. Lots of them. 8th grade girls. These weren’t average girls. They were beautiful girls. They were popular girls. They were fun girls. And they liked me. Not only did they like me, but they thought I was funny. Really funny. And they sought me out. And they were gorgeous. And they were really pretty. And they wanted to hang out with me. And they were popular. And fun. And beautiful. Really, really, beautiful.

I remember riding home from school thinking to myself, “I don’t think life can get any better”. I didn’t know how right I was.

* * *

I’ve never seen three sadder people in my entire life than watching my mother, uncle, and grandmother walk back to the parking lot at the time of my grandfather’s funeral. If someone knew what going on inside of me, they might have increased that number to four.

Not too long beforehand, my mother was taking clothes down from the line and sent me inside to get a basket from my grandfather. Grandpa was cutting up strawberries. I told him that mom needed a basket and he gave me the tiny empty strawberry basket to bring to mom. He was always doing stuff like this. I like to think that I got my humor from Gramps.

I never took change well and losing Grandpa shook me to the core. It seems that we’re more sensitive to loss at some points in our lives than others. When they interrupted class in second grade and told us that the Challenger had exploded, it didn’t mean a whole lot to me because I was too young to understand what was going on. This wasn’t the Challenger though, and I wasn’t too young to understand. This was my Grandfather.

It took a very long time for the dreams to go away. Dreams that he hadn’t really died and that the Doctors had made a mistake and that he had been on a long vacation and was coming back. I had dreams of Grandpa coming into the room and waving and smiling that were so real, I could’ve sworn they were true.

It was about this time that I started getting bullied with a lot of intensity at school. When the teacher left the room, I knew I was in trouble. People whom I thought were my friends joined in on the attacks. I didn’t retaliate, because I wanted Jesus to be pleased with me and I didn’t think he would say anything in those situations.

* * *

I handled life by going outside to shoot hoops. Some people watched TV. Some people played games. I shot hoops. I shot hoops when I was bored. I shot hoops when I was lonely. I shot hoops when I was angry. I shot hoops when I was sad. I shot hoops to deal with pain. I shot hoops in the summer.  I shot hoops in the winter.  I shot hoops. And I was good. I was really good. The girl who lived in the next house up the street always told me that I was going to play in the NBA because she always saw me out there. The trouble was that I got so nervous during the games, my touch disappeared and it looked like I had never picked up a ball in my life.

My grandfather’s loss was around the same time as our families move. We were only going to move a block down the street. The old house was no comparison, really. The new house was huge. The backyard was bigger and it was only a few blocks away. Everybody in the family was on board with the move. Except me. I had two problems with this house. First of all, it meant change. Secondly, it didn’t have a hoop.

There is one TV show I did watch. The Boston Celtics. I had their schedule practically memorized and used to trace pictures of the players in my Celtics calendar. I think I did a particularly good job with Kevin McHale. The games finished beyond my bedtime, so I got up early and ran out to the newspaper box. I ripped open the Union Leader and went right to the score. I did this all outside. It didn’t matter that I was standing in icy snow in the freezing cold. I had to find out who won. It’s a wonder I slept at all during the nights when the C’s had a game.

Reggie Lewis was my new favorite Celtic. Bird was always the star, but he was getting older and was often injured and had recently retired. I was too young to remember seeing him in his prime. Lewis was new. He was young and fresh. He had a cool commercial where did reverse dunks. He was athletic and I loved watching him play. Reggie was becoming a star in front of my own eyes. I didn’t have to rely on stories. Everyone loved Larry, but Reggie was special to me. Like a favorite singer that others haven’t discovered yet, he was mine.

* * *

For some reason, my favorite 8th grade girl from the cross-country team was at the basketball game. I couldn’t stop looking up at her in the stands. She was great. And she was beautiful. I had to play well to impress her. The loss of Gramps had made me really fragile. And concerned. Because Grandpa was in heaven, I figured that he could see everything I did on earth. That meant that if I did bad stuff he would know about it.

I cut a deal with God. If he would just let me play well that game and not let Grandpa know about my shortcomings, I would stop doing things I wasn’t supposed to. I was playing that game for many people. I also wanted to prove to myself that I could transfer my skills from the driveway to where it mattered most. There was so much on the line.

The game turned out to be just like all my previous games. God had let me down once again.

Meanwhile, Reggie was leading the Celtics to the playoffs. He collapsed in the first game of the playoffs because of a heart trouble. It was okay though because he was getting better and had just started working out again. For this reason, I was completely stunned and shocked when I heard on my radio that he had died. I took the loss so hard, you would have thought that my other Grandfather had passed away.

Soon, Julie would be going away to college.

The move. Grandpa. Basketball.  The kids at school. Reggie. Julie.

I was losing control.

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Category: Musings

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