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Authors: Jackina Stark

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BOOK: Things Worth Remembering
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“I’ve just started, honey.”

“Please,” I plead. “We might not have time later.”

I know he wants to get the yard done, but I see in his face that he also wants to play ball with me. We’ve played together since the summer before I started the eighth grade. We were sitting alone at the dinner table one evening in July when I asked him if he could get me ready to try out for the basketball team that fall. “Sure,” he said, and in less than a week the mini-court was poured, the goal set, appropriate tennis shoes purchased, and we began my foray into “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” We’d play until we were hot beyond endurance and then we’d hit the pool. When winter drove us inside, we moved from the court—that is, the cement pad off the driveway—to the church gym. I think of the year it began as Mr. Dickens’s “the worst of times,” except for this sliver of happiness.

I learned stamina, teamwork, and overall technique in long hours of practice at school, but I learned how to shoot from Dad. I made more three pointers than any other girl on our high school team, and we won state my junior and senior years. Everyone said I looked like a cheerleader instead of a basketball player, but I was devoted to the game. Basketball came along just when I needed it. I believe my sudden desire to play was sent from God to help Dad and me survive a house that had become too gloomy to bear. I know basketball, among other things, transformed our relationship. Starting that summer, I became a daddy’s girl, and I hoped somehow that would be enough to make up for the son he would not have.

“Just one game,” I plead, holding on to the steering wheel, determined, it seems, to rescue him from the tyranny of prudence. “It’s
tradition
.”

“Tradition, huh?”

I guess that does it for him. I’m happily victorious now that he has turned off the motor. “I’ll get the ball,” he says.

“One game!”

I hug him. “Thanks, Dad.”

I watch him stride across the lawn toward the garage, and though I now have a communications degree, I love him beyond what I could possibly express.

Kendy

The hamburger patties are in the refrigerator, and I’m putting potatoes on to boil when Marcus reappears.

“Taking a break so soon?” I ask.

“Haven’t started,” he said. “Apparently Maisey talked Luke into playing a game of Horse before he mows.”

“My goodness. I thought I heard the mower.”

“He started but didn’t get very far.”

“Well, they love to play.”

“I’ve been watching them. They played ten minutes before Luke finally got an
H
.”

“It will be a battle. They’re very good. Both of them were starters in high school. Didn’t they ask you to play? Three can play.”

“Yes, but they’re out of my league. I’m going to have to challenge your daughter to a game of football and see if I can put her in her place.”

“Or soccer. She can dribble a ball far better than she can kick it. She gave soccer up before she really got started. I thought sports were a lost cause. But four years after she walked off the soccer field for the last time, she picked up a basketball and became a star.”

“She didn’t play at all in college.”

“No, and that surprised us. But she still seems to love it. She and Luke usually play when she comes home.”

“She volunteers as a coach at the Boys and Girls Club. The kids adore her.”

Marcus suddenly seems to recall why he is here and asks for some granola bars for Maisey. When he retrieves her breakfast and returns to the game, I get out what I’ll need to make the potato salad, wishing I had time to watch Luke and Maisey do their thing.

I missed most of her eighth-grade year, when she and Jackie decided to take up basketball, but from the first game of her ninth-grade season until the last game of her senior year, neither Luke nor I missed one of her games, even the ones played out of town. She was joyful on the floor and a joy to watch. Jackie complimented her one night after a particularly hard-won game by saying she was no Spoiley Girl when it came to basketball. Although the girls tended to pass Maisey the ball as often as possible, she was not a ball hog. She was a team player who praised and encouraged everyone else.

I saved all the newspaper clippings from her high school basketball career and made her an album. Each year several newspaper articles, complete with pictures, featured her. I always told her she didn’t take a bad picture even when she was going up for a basket. The album was a love gift, something I worked on secretly for four years, thinking she’d be thrilled to have it. She did thank me, and she and Jackie sat down at the kitchen table and looked through it together the Monday after all the graduation festivities. But I didn’t get the impression she was thrilled. Jackie seemed more excited than Maisey, though pictures and comments about her were scarcer by far. The day we returned from taking Maisey to college, I found the album lying on the bottom shelf of a side table in the living room. I put it in the cabinet with all the other albums, thinking some day she might want it.

It could happen, as Paula likes to say about things that are quite unlikely.

Maisey had loved her baby album. She was in the third grade the first time she saw it. I thought I’d show it to her when she was a little older, but we were snowed in for days and had run out of fun things to do. Luke had stayed in Indy with his parents, not willing to risk getting stuck here, unable to get to the office. Digging out the album had kept me from being furious about that decision. The label
baby album
isn’t really adequate. If it is an album, it is one unlike any I’ve ever seen. It’s a journal, really, containing anecdotes of delightful things Maisey did and said from the time she was born until she started preschool four years later. I suppose I called it an album because many entries are illustrated with pictures. Not working the six years until she started first grade allowed for this, as well as other such extravagances.

I began the album the day Maisey was born. Her birth was an emotional experience for everyone; even my doctor had tears in his eyes when he handed her to me that morning.

In a checkup I had shortly after Luke and I became engaged, my gynecologist warned me that, because of an abnormally small uterus, I might never conceive a child. For some reason, this didn’t bother Luke or me all that much. We were happy and busy with careers we loved, and we simply agreed that we’d look into adoption if I hadn’t become pregnant by the time I turned thirty.

It didn’t make sense, then, when hardly a year after Luke and I were married, I developed a chronic case of morning nausea. I didn’t call the doctor until I had missed two periods and taken two home pregnancy tests, both of them positive. Though I considered them only tentative proof, I put the wands in the passenger seat the day I went to the doctor, testimony that I had several good reasons to bother him.

Luke had intended to go with me, but something “critical” had come up at the office. I cried most of the way to the doctor’s office, partly because now that there was a chance, I wanted very badly to be pregnant, and partly because my husband had allowed something, however urgent, to keep him from what might possibly be one of our most extraordinary moments.

I still remember lying on the examination table behind the tent of a modesty sheet and hearing the excitement in my doctor’s voice when he shouted, “Confirmed!” I hadn’t trusted the pregnancy test, but that simple word finally convinced me.

And thrilled me.

I was so happy that my irritation and disappointment with Luke abated. In fact, I almost didn’t mind that he wasn’t there. I could savor this inconceivably good news before I shared it with anyone but God himself. Luke called me at home later and asked about the verdict he had been expecting. (He had had complete faith in the plus signs.)

“Well?” he asked.

In response, I chose to echo my doctor’s life-changing word. But instead of shouting it, I whispered it: “
Confirmed
. The pregnancy’s confirmed, Luke.”

But the pregnancy was far from easy. I began spotting in my sixth month, and I was told that, unfortunately, along with a small uterus, I have an abnormally small cervix. Miscarriage was very likely. I went straight to bed and spent over two months there reading and praying and gently rubbing my stomach, reassuring my little girl that everything would be all right.

Luke was there the morning our miracle child made it safely into this world, and we held her and kissed her and thanked God for her. When the nurse took Maisey away for a while, I asked Luke to bring me the little notebook and pen in my purse. He helped me sit up as comfortably as I could in the hospital bed, and I wrote the first entry for the baby album. I still recall how it began:
You came to us today, eyes wide with
curiosity, and you snuggled into our hearts and filled them with
a joy we didn’t know existed.

In the album are pictures of Maisey smiling, revealing her first shiny tooth; her face covered with a good portion of her first birthday cake; her sucking on her binky as though it were the source of oxygen; her holding Jackie’s hand in front of the Christmas tree in her preschool classroom. And there must be an even million pictures of her sleeping in glorious peace. For each of these pictures there are stories, and there are more stories without pictures. I had left my camera at Miller and Anne’s the day I walked into Maisey’s bedroom and found her putting Vaseline all over the back half of her rocking horse. “There,” she said, looking up at me, goop all over her fingers, “he feel better.”

She was a happy and hilarious child, and I wanted a record of it so that I would never forget those incredible moments of grace.

Maisey loved the baby album. During the blizzard the year she was eight, we sat together on the sofa, the album open between us, and laughed and cried at the wonder of Maisey’s first four years. We read it twice during those snowbound days—the second time with Clay after he had plowed our driveway—and then I put it away. But we read it again at least once every winter after that—until the year I skipped fall and winter altogether.

CHAPTER EIGHT

Maisey

Dad didn’t go down without a fight. The swim party will begin in a couple of hours, but a long shower is now imperative. First I want to call Jackie. I grab my cell phone from the dresser, lie across my unmade bed, and press five on my speed dial.

“What are you doing?” I ask when she finally answers.

“Well, let me see. Oh, that’s right. I just got up, and I’m trying to get ready to come to your house!”

“No need for sarcasm, sweetie.”

“That’s not sarcasm—that’s stating the obvious. Sorry. If you’ll give me a second, I’ll see if I can find my sensitive side.”

A few moments of silence, something we’ve observed for years. It usually takes a while for Jackie to find her sensitive side.

“Oh, there you are,” she finally says, though not to me. And then after another practiced pause, her sensitive side takes the phone from Miss Brusque and says, “Okay, let’s begin again. Is there something I can do for you?”

“So nice of you to ask, but no.”

“Are you
quite sure?”

“I just thought you might want to come over before ten. Like now would be good. I’ve been playing basketball with Dad, and I’m hyped up, ready to ‘move it, move it.’ I’m getting in the shower, and by the time I’m out and in one of my darling new bathing suits, you could be here! I’d really love that. Don’t you want to come early and beat the crowd?”

“Listen, I could be there right now if you had let me stay there this week like I wanted.”

With no warning whatsoever, Miss Brusque grabs the phone from Jackie’s sensitive side.

“I’m pretty sure I even begged,” she continues. “I could have used a break from Heidi, you know. Of course you know. Plus, you’re going to live in St. Louis for who knows how long.”

“I would love for you to be staying here, but Marcus is staying in your room. I told you that.”

“And I told
you
I could stay in your room with you. For that matter, Marcus could have stayed with you, and I could have had my room. I miss it.”

“Marcus and I don’t sleep together, Jackie.”

“Fine. We’re back where we started, then—I could have shared your room with you.”

“Okay, big mistake. I’m sorry. But come over as soon as you can.”

“I’m trying to get Heidi up, which, as you well know, is not so easy to do. If you’re in such a hurry, you can skip your shower and come drag her out of bed yourself!”

“Just let her come over when she decides to get up.”

“You need to chill, girl. We’ll both be there by ten, just like we planned.”

We disconnect, and I seem held to the bed by an unseen weight. The impulse to “move it” has disappeared as quickly as Jackie’s sensitive side. Actually, Jackie’s finding her sensitive side is our little joke. I accuse her of being brusque, but she’s everything a best friend should be, including supportive. She has supported anything I’ve thought I should do, though I’m guessing she’d draw the line at mass murder. She didn’t even carry on all that much when I decided to go to college in St. Louis instead of going with her and Heidi to Purdue.

“I just need to get away,” I said.

“Purdue is away,” she said.

“Farther,” I said.

She ended up saying she didn’t get it, but at least I wasn’t going to Stanford. I told her thanks for thinking I could get in.

She’s generally curt with her support, of course. But the bulk of her curtness is a persona and one of the things I love about her. I’m lucky that Miss Brusque has been Spoiley Girl’s best friend since we were four.

What she said on the phone just now is yet another example of her support: “Fine.”

That was her typically understated nice. I appreciate her response to my continued and not-so-easy commitment to abstinence. I’ve seen one too many talk-show hosts lately who are not so accepting. Incredulity is the popular media’s typical response. A college graduate, even a high school graduate, who chooses abstinence until marriage is no longer weird but stupid or perhaps flawed. I should have written a research paper on the growing prejudice before I graduated. Except I’m too young to be a curmudgeon. Besides, the consensus would probably be that I need sex.

BOOK: Things Worth Remembering
10.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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