8. Catching the Wave

So I crashed and burned with Staci. But with practice for fall sports gearing up, I didn't have much time to mope about it. And in any case, there were two side benefits: losing my virginity gave me loads of confidence with girls. And losing it to an "older woman" did some good things for my reputation among my peers, both male and female. All in all, between sports and sex, my entrance into high school was like catching the perfect wave, one that I'd surf all the way through my high school years.

It started late that summer, less than a month before school started. In my neighborhood people were returning with their families from vacations. You'd see more and more kids hanging out at the mall and the movies again, starting to shop for clothes, starting to talk about the upcoming year, catching up on what everybody did over the summer. Word got around about my relationship with Staci. I wasn't looking forward to talking about it much; from my perspective, it had been a pretty spectacular failure. Unlike Matt, who fell into heavy infatuation spontaneously, I was pretty reserved emotionally. Staci was the first girl who'd ever gotten to me. I'd given my heart to her, and had gotten dumped. But as word got around about my summer fling, suddenly my friends were asking me all kinds of questions about my opinions on the upcoming year. And guys I'd known only casually were coming by or calling up to say "hi" and to find out what I thought: who was going to have it going on this year? Did I think they had any chance on making first string on the freshman team? What kind of activities should they get involved in? And especially, who were the coolest upperclassmen?

Even more intriguing, I was getting more and more phone calls from girls who were "just wanting to talk," inquiring about my summer, asking me when I had lunch period.

The whole thing struck me as ridiculous. All this from dating an "older woman"? Or was it that I'd scored with her? I didn't know. All I knew is that I was still smarting from the experience. I didn't feel in any way qualified as either Freshman Stud or as expert on Happiness In High School. Still, the upside of such absurdity registered strong with me: there was a freshman dance scheduled for the first Friday night of the school week, and it dawned on me that I wasn't going to have to worry about getting a date.

So began my first lesson in making my way through the high school "scene."

Apparently, it didn't matter that I didn't get it. How did getting dumped qualify as "success"? Who knew? But apparently that didn't matter. So I decided it would be stupid not to take the ball and run with it; let people think what they wanted to think. If they wanted me to be the expert on how to be a freshman success, I wasn't going to disillusion them. Somebody had to fill those slots, and I'd understood firsthand up to now the perks associated with popularity in school. I wasn't just going to hand those over to someone else. So I just faked my way through it, pretending I knew what I was talking about when somebody would ask me some unanswerable question about the upcoming year. People were looking to draw lines, define who belonged where in the coming year. I wasn't going to notch myself lower just because I didn't understand how I'd gotten a jump start.  And along with that, on the playing fields of summer, the same sort of stratifying process was going on. As we watched each other handle ourselves on and off the field, we sensed, without really knowing how we knew, that these same kinds of lines were being drawn.

The summer months from late June onward had been devoted to intense training for all the guys who intended to be fall-season jocks. Club soccer season was about to start, and for most of July I was sweating through team workouts. Meanwhile, Matt was pestering me about football. One particularly hot evening about three weeks before school, he met me coming off the soccer field after practice and started in on me.

"Okay, Phillips, you got your spot on your little pansy-ass soccer team; now you gotta set your mind on freshman football.  Practice starts tomorrow, dude."

I grimaced and shook my head at him. My group of friends from the junior high football team had gone out for the freshman team during tryouts the previous spring. Those of us who had made it were given a conditioning program to follow over the summer; we were scheduled to begin two-a-days a few weeks before school.

I was a little concerned about balancing all my extra-curricular involvements with my schoolwork in the coming year.  In particular, I dreaded working at two fall sports, each of which seemed to demand my body's total commitment. I'd been following the football conditioning program even before the summer soccer workouts were in full swing, so I was in shape; still, I'd already warned Matt that I might not have time for two sports in the fall.  Matt, for his part, wasn't having any of that; he was constantly in my face about it. So today's harangue wasn't anything new, but at that moment I was too exhausted to listen.

"Fuck, Matt, give it a rest," I said, stripping off my sweat-soaked jersey and throwing it in his face. "I haven't exactly been lying around jerkin' off today. I'm tired and thirsty and the first thing I run into when I come off the field is your sorry ass raggin' on me about goddam football. I told you I'd have to think about it, and in case you haven't picked up on it yet, now's not a good time."

"Don't you sass me, boy," he said, imitating his mother. "Duty calls, so you gotta step up. You got no more time to think about it.  Anyway, you know you want to." Dropping behind me a couple of steps, he snapped my bare back with my jersey.

"Ow! Goddammit!" I cried out, grabbing my jersey back and returning him a wicked sting with it on his right upper thigh. "Would you just fuckin' leave me alone if all you're gonna do is give me grief?"

He stepped back, a little surprised at my hostility. "Okay, okay; I'm sorry! Geez, who put the twist in your panties?"

I was about to go at him again, when the image conjured up by his words began to do its work on my funny bone. Pretty soon I was having to work to suppress a chuckle, and before long I was in a laughing fit. "God, you are such an asshole," I said.

"Yeah," he grinned back at me, "but you know you love me! And anyway, I just need to know you're in, 'cause I got plans for us."

"What plans? What are you talking about?"

"Here; go long," he said, cocking his arm back as he palmed the football he seemed to take everywhere with him that summer. Dutifully, I took off down the now-empty soccer field, and watched Matt sail a beautiful spiral bomb right into my waiting hands.

I ran back and tossed the football to him. "Nice throw," I said.

"Nice catch," he responded. "See?"

I furrowed my brow. "See what?"

"Hand and glove, Phillips; I know your moves and you know mine. I got plans, dude. I'm gonna be the QB of this fuckin' school and it starts with making QB on the freshman team. And trust me, I'm getting that spot. Nobody's keeping me from it. We can be awesome together on this team, dude. I need you on the team as my go-to wide receiver."

"Nobody said I'm gonna get the first-string spot," I replied. "We got guys from the other junior highs now and some of 'em want those spots too. I'm not the only wide receiver coming up from junior high."

"You're gonna get it, Phillips, and you know it," he said matter-of-factly. "You know how to run a route better than those guys. You catch everything I throw at you and you always have. You're a smart player and you know how to get open." He looked at me intently and said, "I need you on this team."

I sighed. I wasn't that good. I ran well, I guess. I wasn't particularly fast, but I ran smart; evasive moves come to you after a while when you play soccer, and I guess some of that translated into my ability to get open on the football field.

But none of that mattered. What mattered was this: Matt wanted me on the team with him, and as much as I'd resisted it, that fact decided it for me. When was I ever able to turn Matt down? "Oh, all right," I said, trying to sound exasperated. "I guess I was gonna do it anyway, and I can tell I'll never fuckin' hear the end of it from you if I don't."

"Okay, then. That's more like it," he said. He paused for a minute and added, "We're gonna fuckin' rule this place; don't you wanna be the Big High School Stud? You may think you're 'all that' from your little romance with Staci, but there's no way we'll get the rep if we don't do football."

He was right. In Texas high schools, if you have the ability and the body for it, you go out for football. And regardless of what else you do, that gets you an upper spot in high school's cruel hierarchy. It also assures you of being able to get with the best-looking girls.

With that in mind, I muttered, "You're thinking with your dick."

"No, I'm thinking of my dick," he grinned, "and I'm thinking of yours, too, and trust me, both our dicks are gonna thank me for it."

He started laughing like a maniac over his remark. Sensing the opportunity to catch him off-guard and take the upper hand for once, I grabbed him around the neck and put him in a headlock. He pushed me hard and broke away, yelling, "Jesus, Phillips, you stink. Go home and take a fuckin' shower."

"Nah, man, that's my cologne," I quipped; "Calvin Klean Soccer Musk. Whatsamatter, don't you like it?"

"You're sick," he said. "Anyway, I mainly came by to tell you that a bunch of us are hanging out at Kathryn's tonight. Her dad's cooking dogs and burgers by the pool and she wanted me to tell you you're invited; but dude, you'll kill the party if you smell like that."

"I don't know, Matt, I'm fuckin' tired," I said. "Who's gonna be there?"

"Everybody," he replied. "Freshman football team; freshman cheerleaders; other assorted girls. She got some kind of list from her mom. You know, she's a freshman counselor. We'll get to meet a bunch of the kids from the other junior highs."

"Why didn't I know about this," I said, eyeing him suspiciously, "and why didn't she invite me herself?"

Matt looked back at me sheepishly. "Well...she did. She called you a couple of weeks ago. I was over and you were showering. I answered your phone and took a message."

"Goddammit, Matt, now you tell me. Why didn't you tell me that day?"

"I forgot, okay? Gimme a fucking break. You think just because you have ADD that you're the only one who forgets things?"

Ouch. I didn't appreciate the reference, but he made his point. I'd been struggling with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder since I was young, and didn't ask anyone to cut me any slack for it, but I did tend to treat others as if they shouldn't display any of those focus-and-attention weaknesses that plagued me.

"Okay. Sorry. When does it start?"

"You're supposed to be there at seven," he replied. "Dress casual, bring swim trunks and a towel."

"Seven? Shit! It's six now! Okay, I'll see you there."

"You better," he said.

I unchained my bike from the stand and took off.

We had a great time at the party. There were probably fifty kids there; it was all good clean fun, with plenty of chaperones, but we enjoyed it anyway. I met a girl named Stephanie from one of the other junior highs. She was blonde, blue-eyed, and beautiful. We hit it off really well and spent the evening in each other's company. Somewhere during the course of the evening, I decided that not only did I like this girl a lot, it would also look studly to take a date to the upcoming freshman dance from outside our usual circle. I asked her and she accepted.

It was going to be a great year.


Football practice started the next day.  Two-a-days in the 100-plus-degree Texas sun make for quite a toughening program. The coaches were scrupulously committed to keeping us hydrated, because Texas schools had been known to kill a few young football players in the summer with heatstroke. Even with that caution in place, though, and even with frequent breaks, the experience is numbingly oppressive. The sun is merciless, and the coaches are relentlessly tough on the kids. That kind of intensity, of course, solidifies the camaraderie among those who have to suffer through it, so during those first few weeks of two-a-days, the guys seemed to fall naturally and spontaneously into smaller groups of boys who were similar in heart, mind, and personality.

In my case, this crew of friends became my "posse" for the entire time I was in high school. There was Matt, of course, with his dark hair, tanned skin, and piercing ice-blue eyes; Ruben, a buff Latino kid who lived not far from Matt and was also vying for the coveted quarterback position; Ryan, a towheaded, blue-eyed blur who became our running back that year; and Ethan, a blue-eyed, redheaded cornerback who had attended a different feeder junior high from mine.  Rounding out the pack was Justin, from Ethan's junior high, whose pale white skin contrasted strikingly with his jet-black hair and dark brown eyes. Like me, Justin was also a wide receiver, and he was the team's resident funny man. My comic act, for which I had been somewhat infamous in junior high, couldn't hold a candle to his. He could have us all in a belly laugh with a mere facial expression or a well-timed three-word quip. I gladly gave the "comedian" title over to him because in that area he was clearly the better man.

These guys became my comrades-in-arms throughout high school. Teenage guys tend to travel in packs, and my pack came from my football team.  Even though soccer was my favorite sport, the boys who played club soccer with me came from all over the Dallas metroplex and went to different schools. It was my crew of football brothers I knew best, and who knew me best, during the years of my adolescence.

I was set: I had my friends, I had my place in the high school "universe," and I had one good man to watch my back.  Bring the wave; I was ready to ride it.
Copyright 2004 by Adam Phillips.  You can email me at aaptx28@yahoo.com