A Shared Story
The most impossible story that I can think of is how we’re born. Where an organism part of a teeming swarm of billions manages to, against all odds, travel tremendous distances (relatively speaking) in order to find an egg. Where two separate organisms (people) join together and form an entirely new being. A unique person that experiences the world differently from everyone else. Even more impossible is how all of us, regardless of the barriers we impose between us, have taken this journey. In our own way we have experienced it.
If you need a solid reason to respect all life this is it. Because we’re all impossible beings when you think about it. And without any of the billions of people born before us, none of this would be possible.
Let me tell you a secret.
You are beautiful.
Whether you’re black, white, gay, straight, bisexual.
Whether you are smart, dumb, or incredibly quiet.
Whether you’re impossibly in love with your best friend.
Somebody out there cherishes your smile, and gets butterflies when you walk into a room.
Someone out there can’t stop thinking about you.
You are beautiful.
Don’t ever believe differently.
For my National Novel Writing Month novel this year, I decided to try out a new format. Instead of just a continuous story, I’m going to intersperse short stories. Some of them will be about main characters, and I think some of them will be about supporting characters. They will be stand-alone short stories, but they will also contribute to the main story.
I decided that Story Time Saturday is the perfect time to write said short stories.
So thanks to Andrea for the inspiration, and thanks to everyone else in my life who supports me while I do this thing.
We have no business being here—everybody says it. They’ve been saying it all season long, no matter how many games we’ve won. The thing is, they don’t need to tell us. We know it better than they do.
Week after week, win after win, when they predict our fall, we congregate in the locker room and we agree.
“We got lucky last week,” Coach tells us. “Those guys were better than us, they out-played us up and down that field. We didn’t beat them, they beat themselves. They got cocky, started making mistakes, that’s the only reason we won. We aren’t gonna get that lucky again, I promise you that. You boys, you have heart, and you have the determination. But our execution is so sloppy it makes me want to puke. We gotta pull our crap together this week, boys, or we’re shut down.”
Sometimes, it isn’t about our execution. Sometimes, we get out there and we play just like we’re supposed to, but we’re simply outmatched. We’ve gone up against several teams that are bigger, faster, stronger. They’re just better players than we are.
“We aren’t gonna get a break like that again,” Coach says. “I can’t complain, I really can’t. You boys did good. You went out there, and you did everything I could have asked, but they were just better ball players. They got their parents bringing them in to that school specifically to play for that team. We had no business pulling a victory out of that mess, and I’m glad as hell that we did, but we’re up against the same thing again this week. Now let’s get out there!”
What Coach lacks in motivational speaking, he makes up for in volume.
We’re a team of freshman, and the most experienced guy on our team is David Smalls, the center who is a sophomore and spent most of his freshman year on the bench.
We have no business being here, but here we are. Week after week, we see the newspapers, we hear them talk on the radio, watch the sports guys on the television. They talk about how we’ve gone against the odds, they talk about we’ve pulled a win out of our hats.
And each week, they finish with the same sentiment: Impossibly, we’re still going.
Impossibly, meaning not possible. That’s what drives us the most. Impossibly, meaning it cannot be done. We hear that crap every week, and most of us think it. Hell, Coach even says it, quite a bit. Our fans have taken to holding up signs that say it. “Just give up! It’s impossible!”
The cheerleaders chant it: “Ey Em Pee! Oh Ess Ess Eye Bee! Ell Eee For A Vic-tor-y!”
All the sports guys are talking about scouts this week. They’re going to be there, looking at guys to recruit for college ball. Doesn’t matter for us, because we’re all too young for that, and none of us are smart enough to get out of high school early.
It doesn’t matter to any of us as far as being recruited, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter to us. The guys on the other team are going to be trying hard to impress those scouts. They’re going to run as fast as they can, they’re going to hit as hard as they can. They are going to win.
This is the State Championship, and we have no business being here.
These guys, they’ve been predicted to win State since the season began, and week after week, they have delivered. They don’t make mistakes, they don’t beat themselves, and they sure aren’t going to let a tiny team of freshman walk onto the field and take home the Championship.
We’re sitting in the locker room before the game, and Coach is pacing back and forth, he’s been doing that for about ten minutes now, not saying anything. Just trying to get his thoughts in order, I guess. We sit silently, waiting, thinking about how incredible it is that we’re here.
Even the sports writer for the local paper, who always tried to be supportive, fell into it, there at the end. “Impossibly,” he wrote, “We’re going to State!”
Impossibly, we’re here.
Coach stops pacing, and looks at us. “You fellas all look like you’re about to crap your pants, and I don’t blame you a bit. If my wife wasn’t starving me, trying to get me to lose weight for the pictures in the newspaper, I’d probably be crapping my pants, too, right now.
“None of you boys are idiots—well, maybe you, Daniels, but we don’t hold that against you. You know I’m not the best at talking you up before these games. When this season started, I seriously thought about transferring—it looks bad to get your ass stomped all season long, and I didn’t really want that on my record. I thought you’d lose every game this year, and I thought you’d lose every game by a pretty big margin. I’m glad I didn’t transfer. You boys proved me wrong, you proved them wrong, and I think it’s safe to say that you proved yourselves wrong.
“I don’t have any hopes of you boys winning out there tonight, and nobody else does, either. But you’ve been doing it all year long, no matter what people expect. I just want to tell you that I’m proud of you, you don’t know how proud I am. So all I ask is you go out there tonight, and you play your best, and you try not to get hurt too bad. Let’s get out there.”
“Helluva speech, Coach,” Jim Hill says.
“Shut up, Hill.”
It’s the final thirty seconds of the game, and impossibly, we’ve got a chance to win. We’re one field goal behind, and we’ve got a chance for a touchdown.
They’ve been kicking us around the field all night long, and we’ve suffered some pretty serious injuries—Todd Miller got hit so bad that he broke three ribs and an elbow, and David Smalls has peed his pants twice from getting slammed so hard. He’s terribly humiliated by it, but we wear dark uniforms, so I’m the only one who knows.
It’s pretty awful to reach down between his legs for the hike every time, but I get a chance to wipe it on the guys from the other team just about every play, when they’re knocking me on my ass.
We’re all bleeding, and we probably won’t be able to walk straight for at least a week, but we’re hanging in there. The harder they beat us down, the quicker we get back up. We’re too stupid to know better.
“You boys know they’re gonna make a movie about us, right?” I say in the huddle. “So what we need to decide is if it’s one of those shitty movies where they make it to the very end only to lose, or if we want the audience to cheer as we make the final play and win the game.”
“They make a movie about us,” Jeremy Donovan says, “I bet I can get Meagan Fox to blow me.”
“Yeah, but your mom would get all jealous,” Jim Hill says.
“Enough of that,” I tell them. “We have to win it first.”
“We can’t win this game,” Smalls says. “You know we can’t.”
“Of course we can’t,” I tell them. “But we have to do something with this last thirty seconds, so we might as well try to get the ball across that white line.”
I call the play and we break huddle and take our places at the line. I glance up at the crowd. They’re all going crazy. I haven’t looked up all night, because I was scared that it would terrify me and I’d freeze. But I want to remember this.
Sad as it is to admit, this will probably be the greatest moment of my life, win or lose. I hold up my finger. It doesn’t mean number one, not to us. For us, the single finger is an I that stands for “Impossible.”
They go wild, and I can’t help smiling. I see my family there, jumping up and down, screaming so hard their faces look like they might explode. I see my friends, my teachers, my town.
And I see him. I must have noticed him because he’s the only one not going nuts. He’s standing there near the steps that lead down to the field. He’s not much older than me—maybe in college, but probably only a freshman or sophomore. He’s not wearing colors for either team, just a black jacket with the hood up, and blue jeans. He’s looking right at me, and for just a second, I feel my stomach try to drop out my back quarters, which would make David’s couple of accidents look noble in comparison.
“Time clock’s running!” Jim yells into the side of my head as he changes position.
I nod, and take my position. The crowd isn’t important, my family isn’t important, and the stranger in the black jacket isn’t important.
The only thing that matters right now is the last seconds of this game, and what we choose to do with them.
David snaps the ball into my hands, and both sides of the line erupt. I step back and look for my receivers, but they’re covered, and it doesn’t look like they’ll be getting clear any time soon. I see the monster from the other side—the guy who’s been sending me sprawling most of the night—coming right for me, and I realize that the game is over. We’re going to lose.
But then Smalls is there, and it’s the monster’s turn to going flying back ass over teakettle. And impossibly, I’ve got an opening.
Everything slows down as I take my chance. I’m running, but it feels like I’m in a dream, moving through syrup.
That white line, that’s all that’s important, and with time moving slow as it is, I get a step closer to it about every ten minutes or so. But I’m getting closer.
I see him out of the corner of my eye. Some giant, dressed in blue and white, which describes pretty much everyone on their team. He’s got nobody between me and him, so it all comes down to if I can get to that line before he gets to me.
I dive, because that’s the only chance I have. I feel him hit my legs, and something breaks. It’s a bad one, and as I spin, I realize that I’ll never play ball again. I’m upside down for a second, still moving in slow motion, and I watch as the white line passes over my head. Still spinning, I see the ref throw his hands up. Touchdown.
And then I hit the ground, and there is only black.
I open my eyes, expecting to see the ceiling of a hospital room. Instead, I see the lights shining down on me, and I see the field goal post. Everything’s quiet, so I must not have been out long. There’s this special moment of silence, when a player goes down, and everyone is waiting to see if he’s going to get back up.
I want them to know I’m okay, and I want to bask in the roar as they see me stand, but for a second, I can’t move. Part of my mind screams at me that I’m paralyzed. The fact that my leg doesn’t even hurt supports that theory.
But then I’m sitting up.
I expect to hear the cheers, but instead, there is only his voice.
“Good game, man.”
It’s the kid from the stands, the one in the black jacket.
He’s walking down the field towards me, and he’s the only thing moving. Everything else is completely still, frozen in time.
He reaches down to help me up. I’m too confused to do anything other than accept his help.
“Thanks,” I say. “What’s going on?”
I’m suddenly scared. Terrified.
“Don’t be afraid,” he says. “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
I glance down and see my body on the field. My head is bent at the wrong angle, and so is my knee—sure enough, that guy broke it when he hit me—but I’m still holding the ball.
I’m suddenly not afraid, but I feel like I should be.
“It’s time for the next part of your journey, yes.”
“My mom, my dad, my sister. This is gonna kill them.”
“No it won’t. It’ll hurt them, but that’s all a part of life.”
“Who are you?”
“You know who I am.”
“For lack of a better name, yes.”
I look around at the field. I want to remember it, if that’s possible wherever I’m going next. “It really was a great game, wasn’t it?”
“You guys were incredible,” he says.
“They’re gonna make movies about us.”
“Yeah they will.” He puts his arm around my shoulders and begins leading me towards a white light that I hadn’t noticed before. Everything else is getting dim. The color of the field—which had seemed so green right before the snap—is practically gray.
“I hope it’s at least a good movie,” I tell him, and then I step into the light.