Today’s Writing Collaboration comes from, Reg Spittle, this piece comes from his memoirs and, as such, is a slightly different challenge to many that I have had so far. For this piece, instead of writing a continuation, or second half, I have decided to write a poem based on it.
Excerpt from Camino Sunrise: Walking With My Shadows
I climbed the stairs to our second-floor apartment, relieved that my cross-country coach had given my team a rare day off. I was the first one home and stopped at my tropical fish tank, turned on its light, and sprinkled TetraMin flakes on the water’s surface. As usual, the angelfish was first to gobble before other, less aggressive fish, got their chance to eat.
There was a knock at the back door, which had a large window so I could see our neighbor, Derek, who held a basketball under his arm.
“Hey, Reg, how about some hoops?” He tossed the ball from one hand to the other. Derek had just moved in next door with his wife. They were in their thirties, and I had helped carry boxes up to their place when they moved in.
Basketball was definitely not my thing, but Derek had told me on move-in day that I looked like a natural. At 14, I was nearly six feet tall, but weighed a scant 120 pounds.
“You’ll beef up in the next few years,” Derek had promised.
“But I am terrible at sports. I am the slowest on my cross-country team.”
“Well, maybe we can go to the school down the street someday and shoot around. No pressure.”
Someday had arrived as Derek and I walked to the blacktop courts that featured chain nets hanging from rusty rims. On the way, Derek asked how I liked Oxnard High.
“It’s okay,” I lied. I sensed I could trust Derek, but part of me was afraid he would tell Mom if I told him the truth. I had shielded her from the extent of the bullying over the previous four years marked by more school changes than I care to remember. I was afraid she would go to the principal, and I knew that would make things worse.
When we arrived at courts, he changed the subject.
“Let’s work on free throws today.”
I watched Derek bounce the ball three times before his free throw, a routine he said helped establish rhythm for the shot.
Over the next few months, Derek patiently taught me how to shoot, dribble, and pass. I was flabbergasted at how quickly I improved and we were soon joining pickup games. Derek declined to accept the credit, saying, “Like I said, Reg, you’re a natural.”
I thought it was Derek who was the natural—at basketball and coaching—but I saw a great deal more in him. Every time we played, I dreamed that I had been born his son.
Just weeks after my rope-climb debacle, my PE class took up basketball. As we divided into teams, I was chosen last, as usual. The first day, I never touched the ball as my teammates avoided passing to me. But on the second day, a deflected pass put the ball in my hands on the baseline, about 15 feet out. I jumped, took a shot, flicking my wrist on my follow through just as Derek had taught me over and over. Swish.
“Spittle! Where did that come from?” one classmate yelled, shaking his head.
My shots didn’t always go in, and I was still clumsy at times, but I gradually became a decent basketball player. It didn’t stop jerks in the halls from saying, “Spittle” by spitting a loogie at my shoes, followed by “tull” when they passed me. But when basketball was the lesson plan, PE was no longer the darkest corner of my school day. Derek and I continued to play a couple of times a week until he and his wife moved away near the end of my freshman year. He had delivered comfort during my first year of high school, just when I craved it most.
Reg Spittle overcame a childhood marked by poverty, bullying and frequent moves to become a professional journalist, political science professor and Fulbright teaching exchange recipient. Always an avid traveler, he had no idea retirement would lead him and his wife Sue on long-distance backpacking treks in six European countries. The father of three adult sons, Reg is the author of Camino Sunrise: Walking With My Shadows.
You can visit him at regspittle.com Or, at the travel blog he runs with his wife: carryoncouple.com
These circles of distraction
Throwing pain into spun perfection
The problems of the world
King of the court
Just like the someones
That pass through
Shooting hope in our direction
Showing us where the net is.