The poetry of soccer

"Go ahead and kick it."

"Yeah, you say that, but what if I miss you and it goes in the water?"

The boy looked like a soccer player, though he was young and very small. A pair of maroon indoor soccer shoes and a dusty mop of blond hair gave him away.

His cousin was older--probably thirteen or fourteen--and she was not as comfortable as he was with the ball.

But he kept prodding her.

I looked at Ryan and Heather and remarked on the lack of railing and the small sidewalk, and the possibility of the ball ending up in the sound.

The cousin kicked the ball.

It bounced across the feet of another child, and against the heels of the smallest girl in the crowd. Down the steps it went. In two bounces, it was in the water, rolling over and bouncing through the salty waves.

We were close enough that we could have slipped in to grab it, but we didn't. We figured the soccer child's father was going in. He made motions like he would.

But instead, he leaned close to his boy and began explaining the reasons for not calling his little sister names, though the ball bounced off of her feet last.

She hadn't even been looking.

So we watched the ball drift slowly along the bank. It never came within reach.

It didn't move quickly.

Suddenly, the family pounced into action. The father--young, smiling, and admirable to the three of us as we drift toward a time of life he knows--told the children to get their walking sticks from the car.

They didn't reach.

Ryan and I looked at the ball with shining eyes. We were thinking of how the water would feel, weighing the cold and wet against the glory of retrieval.

"I would probably just tell him that I would get him a new one. It's like a three dollar soccer ball."

"I would have jumped in for it right away, while it was still shallow. We could have grabbed it, you know, without getting too wet."

Despite our words, we hung out over the water, one foot planted against the concrete walkway, one hand gripping the railing, the other hand and foot pointing out across the Sound, toward the Olympic Range, toward the drifting ball.

Further along the walk, the father looked at us with a half smile. Part of him was enjoying this. Another part was wondering what we were thinking.

He climbed down to a three-foot-square swatch of rocks and dipped his toe in.

By this time, the ball was thirty feet out, where we could no longer see the rocky bottom of the sound. It was drifting around a point, headed casually toward Lincoln Park.

The father climbed in to his waist. We excitedly anticipated the rescue. I kept thinking about how much I love to swim. I counted three good strokes to the ball. Three strokes back, and then out.

But the cold and wet were threatening, and I was wearing my change of clothes for the weekend already. I found myself wishing I lived on the beach.

The father jumped up and down a couple of times. Then he looked at his son and said, "there's no way. We're going to have to let it go."

And he climbed out.

Ryan and I scaled a pile of rocks and stood on them like child kings. We threw a few rocks into the water, toward the ball.

The family gathered around a park bench nearby. One small boy had a life-preserver wrapped around his waist and he was running back and forth along the edge of the bank. He was dreaming of the glory of retrieval, too.

"Well, if your ball is going to go, that's a pretty good way," we said. "Into the sunset."

The father looked at us and smiled. He looked at his son and said, "Yeah. Into the sunset."

The boy pointed away from the ball, toward the sun, and said, "the sunset is over there."

We laughed at his objectiveness.

For him, there was only the loss of a ball.

For us, there was the possibility of parenthood, the dream of being wet and cold for glory, and the poetry of the ball's slow drift.

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This page contains a single entry by Jeremy published on July 27, 1998 12:00 AM.

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