I forgot to title this. Oh well.
[So here’s some other writing, not about the election or the crush.]
My current low level of employment permits more concierge and emotional labor of various kinds than usual. I’ve become the factotum for other people’s busy lives. This fall, that meant attendance at middle school volleyball games. The season lasted eight weeks but they were almost, though not always, scheduled at times of day when my brother and SIL couldn’t attend, and as the girls needed someone to cheer them on, I went to all the home games. This is the third sport (after basketball and softball) I’ve watched Niece A and now, Niece B, who’s old enough for interscholastic sports, play.
These trips always start with the drive out into the country, and no matter how non-linear and postmodern my perceptions have become in the interval since the last trip, the next one always reintegrates me into the cycle. I drive level west into the sunset, which bleeds as it descends below the windshield. In the winter, it’s the snowy fields I observe; in the summer, it’s the lush cornfields; and in the fall, it’s the gradual yellowing of the corn at the end of August, and then, eventually, the progress of the harvest. I don’t always see it at first as much as I start sneezing — my nose has some issue with corn tassels and after a certain point, I always hope for a quick freeze.
The state maintains a map of where a driver is most likely to collide with a deer, and as my route traverses a path marked “red,” I can’t ever really relax while driving. Deer nibble on the ripe corn and I have to watch the edges of the fields in case they move. I’m always a bit alert when I arrive under these circumstances. I’d like to drive off, dozy into the sunset, but I shudder a bit when I pass the place where a family friend survived a head-on motorcycle – deer collision thirty years ago. In this way, the drive always mobilizes the firming up of the inchoate in my mind, and I always feel like writing afterwards, even if I don’t manage it most days. Perhaps it’s that I’d rather live most of my life in a place where these cycles don’t matter. It’s like the trip is the hush before the sacrifice. The cycles will always churn, and I can’t ignore them completely. I, too, am a rare pattern.
The pattern imposed from outside seems especially evident in this gymnasium, which is becoming so familiar now. The seasons are there, too, accumulated in the bodies of the girls. The seventh-grade teams often include sixth graders (who are allowed to stand closer to the net), and the girls are a mixture — some are still short and a bit chubby, but most of the farm girls will reach their full adult height before they are confirmed (usually at 13 / spring of eighth grade). The seventh-grade teams are a haphazard collection of shapes, but the eighth graders are fully embarked on puberty — they have breasts to account for in their aerodynamics, they are taller. The seventh-graders still giggle or even cry when they serve badly but the eighth graders have learned to focus. The seventh-graders are still girls. It’s harder to describe the eighth-graders. B still cried a few times this season, but A sticks out her jaw.
A is average at basketball and above average at softball, and it’s gratifying to me on various levels, and I’d cheer her even if she was lousy at it — but both A and B are stars at volleyball, A in particular. I am humbled by how precise A’s aim has become. She crouches slightly, and then tosses the ball as she rises and watches it fall, almost lazily. My breath catches as I think she can’t possibly hit it anymore — and just after I think she’s missed it, she flicks her hand across the ball and it travels, skimming the net by an inch or two, then dropping immediately into the center forecourt on the other side. Then she drops into the crouch for the rear of the court. B also has a precision targeting mechanism built into her serve, but she tends to serve at the side court boundary, so that the whole team hesitates before they realize the ball isn’t going to go out. Ace.
A hasn’t studied physics, she knows nothing about projectiles or trajectories, force, resistance, she doesn’t watch it, like me, from the side, and wonder how to direct one’s hand and spin the ball to make it happen, but I know and she knows and everyone watching her knows: It’s deadly. Several times this season I watched her deliver seven or more unreturned serves. Late in the season I watched her make fifteen points in a row with her serve, across three substitutions on the other side and two time outs. So it’s not just that she can aim — she also holds her concentration. She doesn’t often need the crouch she drops into after serving but she has excellent reflexes (this is also a family thing; our nerves are all set just a tick too high, we are all just a little jumpier than the average bear) and no problem digging in to return a spike. She’s not as good at spiking herself but I suspect this will come as she gets used to the fact that she’s grown three inches in the last year. And B is fourteen months behind; she only gets substituted in to serve, but I also think she will learn the other roles. It’s perhaps the fate of the younger sister to be noticed less, but that’s not true on this team; the Servetus girls could probably win these games with their serves alone.
It’s dumbfounding to watch A, particularly in a family as disinclined to play sports as we are. So it’s hard for me to express entirely how odd, disorienting, it is to hear an audience of a hundred or so spectators all yelling your niece’s name at once. Both girls have names that let themselves be chanted rhythmically, forcefully. The sound alone — the chant that precedes the serve, then the collective in-breath in the gym until the ball falls — skidding off the side of the opponent’s hands, thunking into her chest, passing the defender entirely, unreturned — and then the cheer. And it repeats itself.
We’re not an effusive family, which is maybe a mistake and maybe not, I don’t know. I always wait around afterwards to congratulate the girls; a few times I drive them home, but they’d rather hang out with their friends and they don’t exactly prefer my lame radio choices. I’m try to stay out of the hard things, but I had to ask once.
“You know that time when you served seven in a row in the first game?”
It seems like no big deal for her.
“I’m not sure how to ask this but–”
“Do we have to listen to NPR?” A is in the front seat.
“We’ll be home in a second. But, om, A? Did you” — I’m feeling really awkward — “Did you aim at that girl?”
I can see B in the rear view mirror and she’s looking out the window.
“Yeah, of course,” A says, matter-of-factly. “That’s what you have to do, if you want to win. Serve at the weakest point on the other side. It’s not personal. I want my team to win.”
“Oh,” I say. I drop them off.
I think about the pattern as I drive home, leery of the deer, and wonder what A’s pattern will be.