What you need to know is that I can't tell you with much certainty about anything that happened ten years ago; I just don't spend much time there, and frankly, I have grown to be very lazy with respect to the recent past, focusing instead on the monuments I have built within my memory, neural structures that stand in for moments from my childhood, and even that strange dark period of pre-childhood where my recollections are rarely if ever my own. Maybe this is just how my brain is supposed to work: my overdeveloped limbic system scanning for moments in which I was vulnerable and in danger, reliving my slow construction of a world that shifted in its meaning, ebbing between the mundane and the baleful with some joy undoubtedly scattered throughout. I don't think it does me much good to stay in that place, not for as long as I tend to stay there, and not at the exclusion of the other little wormholes I keep buried in my mind. It is better, I have been told, to live in the moment—a compelling concept to be sure, but one with which I haven't much applied experience. I am at my best, I think, when I am shifting back and forth in time, passing in and out of the dark membrane surrounding my childhood while visiting the medium past and participating in the present, and there is something about basketball that lets me do just this. The hours I spent with Aaron, shooting around in the gym at the University of Illinois would bleed into those on the blacktop at Columbia Elementary where we wouldn't call a foul unless someone started crying or could point to a bloodied elbow. Later, Aaron and I found a group of other guys who liked to play and so we'd meet them on the court at Clark Park which was a few blocks from my house and not a mile from that blacktop, its hoops since torn out to make space for a parking lot. When we played together, I would feel myself gravitate toward them, these men, their bodies pressed close to mine and then not as I manned the post, as I blocked the lane, as I bricked a layup, as I practiced dribbling in the gravel driveway beneath my bedroom window, trying and failing to pass the ball between my legs. We don't always need to comfort one another in order to be a comfort. According to my email inbox, it was on June 10, 2010 that I first rallied the guys to shake off their rust and hit the court with me. We all sucked, and it might be fair to say that I sucked the most, my moving screens the topic of some heated discussion that day and in the days that followed. I can't tell you much at all about that game itself as it has blended in with all the other games we have since played, but because the internet keeps track of these things, I can say that the weather that afternoon was clear with temperatures in the mid to high eighties, and according to my email, Tony had to back out at the last minute, which evened our numbers out to four on four. A substitute might have been nice, as we played the half court, all of us too out of shape to run full. If I had to guess, I would say that Matt hit his fair share of clutch jumpers, and that Seth pump faked on every shot he put up, and I am certain that Doug talked shit for the duration of our outing. And I can tell you that we were exhausted in that heat, and that when we took a break, we sat beneath a maple tree next to the tennis courts and drank from our water bottles, letting our muscles cool down, and that when we felt our bodies starting to ache from the length of our rest, we reshuffled our teams and went back to our game.
Caleb Curtiss’s writing has recently appeared in the Gettysburg Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, and Southern Humanites Review, and is forthcoming from Harpur Palate and Denver Quarterly.
He encourages you to donate to Eastern Illinois Foodbank.