I took the first few rough steps out of my car and through the wet grass. There was something about walking on grass when a sidewalk was a few yards away that felt wrong, but I was too tired to worry about destroying the landscape in sacrifice of less distance to have to cross. Besides, after only a few steps more, I was on the sidewalk anyway. So in the end, it mattered null.
A boy played soccer with his father. It was too far away to really tell, but the summer heat had already filled the morning air enough to make it known that all bodies outdoors at the first hints of the sun were overheating and sweating all at once. As if to confirm my heat assumptions, the young boy attempted to wipe the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. Judging from how poorly his foot made contact with the soccer ball, he had not quite cleared his eyes of the salty hazard to his vision.
A man in a ponytail rode silently along on his bike. A car passed, another parked. Men walked their dogs and gawked at shirtless girls doing their Liberty Park Loop. Shirtless girls rolled their eyes and then, once far enough away, let a sly smile escape. Eight o’clock in the morning was a lively time.
“Oh no!” I heard a child's voice. I looked back over to the father and son kicking the ball. The boy had screamed out in a panic. The father had kicked the ball a little too far, and the soccer ball had rolled onto the busy street of 500 East.
“Don’t run out into the road,” the father said. The son froze like a hunting dog taking orders from its master. “That’s okay, buddy.” The father cooed. “It’s going to be okay. I’ll come with you, and we’ll get it together.” I felt my shoulders lower, my eyebrows relax, and my breathing slow.
Sure enough, the father walked calmly over to his son. They walked to the crosswalk, where as if on cue, the son’s hand reached up and found the large papa hand. Hand in hand, the father and son walked across the road. Once the pavement had been safely traveled, the boy squealed and ran to the ball. When picked up, the black and white sphere filled out most of the little boy’s body. The father took the ball, and they turned on their way to re-cross the road together.
It was at that moment that I realized I had stopped on the sidewalk. I stood there, a frozen witness to some miracle in disguise. I probably looked ridiculous. Hair standing every which way from rolling out of bed on a late start. A nearly secret shadow of a black eye purpled my half Asian cheek bone on my left side in such a way that it hurt when I splashed my face with water that morning. A dark purple, more prominent bruise on my right shoulder hurt whenever I flexed certain muscles. And of course, all of this was presented under the soft glow of sweat that the 90-degree weather covered me with.
I repeated the father’s voice in my head: It’s going to be okay. I’ll come with you, and we’ll get it together.
I wondered if I had father issues because I wanted a father to go play ball with me and say that when I would surely make the mistake of letting the ball escape boundaries that had been set. I wondered if I had social issues because I wanted a friend to go outside with me and say that when they had goofily kicked the ball an insane amount too far. I wondered if I had intimacy issues because I wanted a love interest to lean in and whisper comforts to me all the same: Jade, it's going to be okay. I'll be with you. We'll do this together.
Quietly agreeing to myself that the father over yonder in the grass actually had been saying those words of comfort to me specifically, I walked into the tennis shop. I walked out to the courts, set up the baskets and cones. The first regulars rushed out the doors and scrambled on court with the kind of energy only four years olds can manage to have on retainer at all times of the day.
Midway through the clinic one little boy with delicate white skin and the brightest seafoam green eyes wiggled all four years of his existence up to where I stood on court. His eyes looked worried, and was that guilt I sensed behind them? He tugged on my skirt politely and said,“Excuse me, Coach Jade? I accidentally hit a ball over the fence. . . ”
I smiled. I knew exactly how to reply, as if I had been reciting my answer all morning long.