Letter #4: DC
I remember you were from Nebraska. Omaha. I remember this for three reasons; first, you looked the part—blonde, with eyes in a permanent farmhand squint, and a big nose that was rounded at the tip, second, you were obsessed with the Cornhuskers, and third, you talked about it a lot and with a great deal of pride. I find it funny how children of a certain age either take pride in or feel ashamed by their distinguishing characteristics. For you being born in Omaha was like being smiled upon by God. I remember you and another of our classmates, Brittany, were coincidentally born the same week in the same hospital in Omaha. This united the two of you. But you were always much more vocal about your Nebraskan lineage. I remember you had sweatshirts and t-shirts and baseball hats emblazoned with the Cornhuskers logo. All red. In fact some foundational part of me associates red crew neck sweatshirts with you.
I remember you as a happy child punctuated by very brief periods of darkness, like clouds passing over the sun, during which time you'd isolate yourself. You were never mean. You smiled a lot. You were a natural leader. I remember your laugh as an airy, gee-hucks type that most people grow out of. I remember you lived on Tamarack Street. Your name and your street’s name, Tamarack, blended in my mind early on, to such an extent that I cannot hear one without immediately considering the other. Perhaps it’s the sonic qualities of the two words–they sound sturdy. Which is fitting, as I remember you as a sturdy person. I remember your mother made you mow the lawn twice a week in the summer. For me this was an important distinguishing characteristic; not only did my mother think mowing the lawn was too dangerous for a child my age, she wouldn’t dream of giving me such an adult responsibility.
I remember you had two older sisters. Becky, who was perhaps five years older than us, and Kendy, who was much older. Kendy had a child at a very young age. Eighteen or nineteen. His name was Scott (we called him Scotty). Scott looked almost exactly like you. It was strange. Being that Kendy was young, Scott spent a lot of time at your house. I remember we would play with him and it was like playing with you and a much younger version of you. I remember you referring to yourself as an uncle, and it being positively mind-blowing that a person could be an uncle at our age. In third or fourth grade your mother had another child, Jordan (I think), scrambling my understanding of the potentials of a family unit. How Scott could be older than Jordan – his uncle– was, for me, a logistical obstacle course.
I remember your formidability in sports, Dan. Your future as a kicker for the Miami Dolphins was, in many ways, predetermined as far back as kindergarten. When we played kickball I remember you being able to kick the basketball-sized red rubber ball twice as far as any of us. I remember watching with co-opted satisfaction the fielding team back way up as you got to the plate. I remember the sound of your foot contacting the ball on a good kick.
But you were also great at soccer and basketball, I remember. It was sensational to be in the presence of such a preternatural talent. I remember once during a basketball game—it was the only sport at which I could possibly compare to you (we were always the leading scorers)—your mother, whose name I believe was Pam, told one of my parents that although her son was good, I was beautiful to watch, and much more talented. Now, as then, I scoff at such an assertion. Even as a child I knew she was being kind and humble in compensation for her son's gifts.
I remember you used to stick out your tongue when you were deep in concentration. Whether on the court or field or in the classroom, with your upper mandible you would lightly pin your tongue onto your folded-in bottom lip. It was charming. I remember this was in the days of Michael Jordan’s reign as the greatest NBA player, and I remember he stuck out his tongue as well, but I never interpreted your doing it as an affectation. I believed it was genuine.
I remember your house was a split-level – painted, like mine, a pale yellow. The front door opened onto a landing where one could bear right or left down or up seven carpeted stairs. I remember your basement as being somewhat dark and having a smell I associated with my imaginings of a rural Mexican cantina. Or perhaps we once watched a film that was partially set in a Mexican cantina and the two amalgamated. I remember playing a rudimentary computer game that involved wizards with you in the basement. I remember your kitchen as being predominately yellow-tan-brown in color. I remember you looked a lot like your mother. I never met your father, whose name, I believe, was Ken.
I remember playing basketball in your driveway. Your driveway, I recall, was long, and connected to Tamarack at an angle. Your hoop was affixed to your front deck, which was wood – a dark brown shade, almost black. I remember the hoop as being several inches taller than the regulation ten feet, and that being irritating to me. I remember standing on your deck and dropping the ball through the net. I remember drinking lemonade or Kool-Aid on your deck when we got too hot.
I remember in fifth grade you were the first to own Adidas Sambas, the indoor soccer shoe, which were invariably the coolest shoes a person could possibly own. I remember the sprezzatura with which you wore them to be deeply enviable. I remember you would fold the tongue so far over the laces that it would almost reach the toe of the shoe. And this being almost cruelly cool. I remember when I bought Sambas, in emulation, that the tongue of mine barely covered the bowed double knot, and wouldn’t stay folded down. I remember stretching it feebly, continually kneeling to re-fold it down. I remember I interpreted this to be a defect in my capacity to be cool and natural, not simply a different model of the same shoe.
I remember when I used to sleep over at your house, Dan, that we used to sleep on a kind of cot or folded down couch in your basement, beside the stairs. I remember there was a nightlight that emitted a bluish light. On one of these nights, I remember, something happened that I couldn’t then explain and even now I cannot entirely piece together. It was late and we were lying there. Neither of us could sleep. I was facing away from you toward the computer and the desk. I remember you began to move behind me, sort of fidget. I remember freezing, like prey, and then I remember feeling your knees come up and brush my back in turn. After that you reached down into the covers, and, I think, retrieved your underwear, which you threw over what you believed to be my sleeping body and onto the floor. I remember nothing happening after that—nothing overt or untoward (we were very young)—nevertheless I remember barely being able to breathe, and being afraid, or uncomfortable, or an unnamed cousin of the two.
I remember, Dan, losing touch with you in entirety throughout the years. I cannot remember speaking to you at all throughout middle or high school. I remember you always seemed nice, however. I remember in college hearing of your achievements as a kicker for the University of Montana. I remember you made a record game-saving kick of over fifty yards—this was possibly a championship game. I remember not being surprised at all. You never appeared to feel pressure. When, in my senior year of college, news spread of your being drafted to the NFL, I remember I sent you a message on Facebook. In the message I remember I congratulated you, recalled the nicer memories of our childhood, and wished you the best of luck. I was very proud of you. You never replied.