[For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Anna gave me this prompt: "It was a joy just to see her fly." I gave Debbie this prompt: "Getting everything you want has nothing to do with anything." -Thom Yorke]
"Why don't you see if Tom can do it?," I heard as my heart sank. My wife was trying to include me, constantly assuring her daughters that while I wasn't Daddy, I was someone, and I could occasionally be of some use. Jessica knew I ached to help, and while we all felt our way along in this new world family unit, she was always trying to shoehorn me in. I appreciated the effort, but I couldn't shake the feeling they just didn't want me there.
Marissa was there, standing at the door of our bedroom, her body half hidden by the door as if she didn't want to be seen. The older one of the two girls, she had her mother's impervious outer walls and sheltered, soft center, with the red, tangled hair of a Pixar heroine and the temperament that went with it. I was pulling my shoelaces taut, ready for a post workout afternoon of chores and televised sports.
"Uh, Tom?," she said softly.
"Yes?," I said. It was like defusing a bomb with her. Hormones and all that didn't help, but there was another anger there, a rage against the universe that nothing ever seemed to quell. I never knew quite what to say, so I kept my statements even and neutral.
"Can you...uh....can you rebound for me? I need to shoot." Marissa was determined, against all odds, to make the high school varsity as a freshman. She seldom admitted to wanting anything, because wanting implies weakness, that there is something lacking.
She disappeared from the door without a word. I tied my sneakers tight and followed her downstairs. I raised my eyebrows at Jess as I walked by, who caught my eye and gave me a quick thumbs up before returning her focus to her younger daughter and her struggles with math.
It was a pleasant day, still warm with the shadow of fall sneaking in along the sides. I heard the familiar echoing bounce of the ball on our driveway. Marissa, her hair pulled back, was bouncing the ball with grim determination near where the free throw line would be. She shot me a look as I walked out, already impatient to start.
She pushed a shot up from her waist, and it bounced away hard from the backboard. I nearly winced at her form, all full of mismatched effort and strength. She kept shooting, and I started fielding the errant bounces and feeding them back to her, strong bounce passes so she could shoot again without pausing. She was tall, almost as tall as me, but newly so, her brain still unsure where all of her limbs were. She was not content, frowning as the ball bounced away, hard and graceless.
After 8 or 9 straight misses, I said softly, "Would you like a little advice?"
Her hair was beginning to stick to her shirt, her cheeks red with exertion. "OK," she said uncertainly.
"Hold the ball like you're going to shoot," I said, and she did. I adjusted her form, getting her to hold the ball out away from herself. I recalled my ancient time at Dave Cowens' Basketball School, all the drills about footwork, about clean releases and flipping the ball off of your fingertips. I gently guided her elbow into the right position, correcting her when necessary. Her mouth was set grimly, but she followed my advice.
She kept shooting, and I kept retrieving the errant ball and feeding it back to her, keeping her rhythm going. The ball started making a different sound, the lighter, gentler ring of a shot that was carefully placed. The shots started to fall then, her first make greeted with a half smile and an open mouth, and then the swish of more baskets falling.
She was getting her feet underneath her, going up strong, seeing the ease that jumping gave her. She went up straight and strong, flicking the ball instead of forcing it, her elevation making it increasingly easy to make shots. I watched success reinforce good habits, her joy at each made shot increasing as I slipped the ball back to her for another try.
I encouraged her to move around, letting her brain make the calculations automatically, the different angles and trajectories subtly adjusted. I reminded her gently to keep her arms out and her head up, to let her body gain the muscle memory of successfully jumping. I started to sweat, marveling at her energy, her hair whipping around in dark ringlets now, leaving moisture behind in the air like a boxer.
I kept her going, watching her face tighten with effort and try to hide a small smile as she made shot after shot after shot. I cheered her, trying to tread the line between praise and sucking up. She was gliding now, her body moving elegantly in space, the sweat equity paying off in practiced, smooth grace. I could see her colt thin legs moving with assurance and strength. She was getting it.
"Lunch!," my wife called from the doorway, and Marissa was gone, her last shot falling with a puff through the white netting, her confidence so high she didn't need to watch it. I caught the ball as it fell through, watching her take the steps in one long bound, her ponytail. slick with sweat, trailing behind, a last reminder of the effort expended. I felt certain I had taken a step closer to her, even though she would probably never admit it.
It was a joy just to see her fly.