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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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.
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
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
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
"Why didn't I know about
this," I said, eyeing him suspiciously, "and why didn't she invite me
Matt looked back at me
sheepishly. "Well...she did. She called you a couple of weeks ago. I
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
"Okay. Sorry. When does it
"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,
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
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
eyes; Ruben, a buff Latino kid who lived not far from Matt and was
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