“You aren’t shit,” Tim said.
“Fuck you. I am. I am shit. I mean, I’m good. I’m better than you.”
Tim, my best friend, held the basketball on his hip as the Gus Macker three on three fans, players, and onlookers stopped to watch us. He was 5'6, 110 pounds, with a shaved bald head and bony elbows that jutted out like chicken wings. We were both going into ninth grade hoping to make the varsity team as freshmen. We had dreams of college ball. Of the NBA. Of playing together and building links to dreams that could never be broken.
“Check up then.”
“You check up.”
“I am checking up.”
There was a voice inside me telling me to stop swearing and making a fool of myself, but my life was chaos. There was my parent’s divorce. My failing grades. The pressure to make varsity next year. Winning this one on one game was a bubbling geyser of emotion inside me. Tim was better than me and he knew it. He was a better shooter. A better dribbler. A better passer. And both of his parents were there watching us. Both of my parents weren’t even in the city limits.
“I’m going to destroy you Tim.”
“You are, eh?”
Tim started dribbling slowly, weaving the ball between his legs, trying to get me to bite. I knew his game. He was smaller than me but quicker. He had years of experience playing against adults and I didn’t. I had my older brother. The thought of Jimmy and our fight flashed into my mind, his arms and fists flailing at my face wildly as we fought in the basement of our unfinished house in Petoskey. When my head hit the cement, I knew he had won. But I still loved him. I still wanted him to stay with me. With us. The pain I felt lasted a few seconds that day, but when he said he was moving out, something twisted and broke inside me.
It was my fault, Jimmy, don’t leave.
“Make your move you soft bitch,” I said, the blood boiling to the surface of my skin.
“Come get me, shitface.”
But I was angry too. I thought I wanted to bash and punch and fucking murder black birds with pellet guns. I wanted to tee pee and destroy and vandalize my neighborhood. My school. My teachers. I didn’t care what they thought. My blood was searing hot, red viscous betrayal streamlined through my entire body.
But really, I just had no one to talk too.
“You gonna play or just dribble?”
“Sit tight rookie, I want everyone to see this.”
“You can’t score on me. I guarantee it.”
I didn’t want to be alone, the oldest in the house, responsible for the maker of manhood. But when you are 15, shit doesn’t make sense. Adult relationships don’t make sense. No one tells you the truth, because they think the truth will break you. And the life routine set by your parents, your school, your practice, your dinners, your breakfasts, and your middle school crushes, begins to crumble with lies.
Tim crossed over and flew towards the basket, beating me to the left. I sprinted after him like a bloodthirsty pellegrine chasing an escaping pigeon. As he arched his body toward the rim, I did the unthinkable. I sank my claws into his back, felt the flesh, and pushed.
“Fuck you Tim,” I screamed, as his body went horizontal, suspended in time and space in front of the wooden backstop with no padding. Just as soon as I shoved him, I immediately regretted it, even though it felt right to do. It felt good to want to hurt. If I could get rid of this feeling, it felt like a dream would restart, the game would reset, and everything would turn out better this time. My parents would stay together. Jimmy wouldn’t knock me out, and instead, we would go play in the driveway, laughing and grinning like monkeys on a banana farm. My dad would be there rebounding for me. My mom would be holding lemonade in the doorway, grinning. Little Joey would be watching us.
When his face hit the backstop, I knew it wasn’t good. I lost my older brother. My parents were gone. And now, I probably lost my best friend. It was a day I’ll never forget.