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"The narrator is this guy who says, 'My younger brother Jackie had an accident when he was a kid. We were playing touch football, and he fell off the roof.'" Zack laughed at that, and so did I. "But the brother doesn't cut Jackie any slack. No pity. He's in a wheelchair, but his brother's always yelling at him, 'Come on Jackie, hurry up! We're gonna be late!' Feeling sorry for somebody only makes them feel worse."
"You're right, bud. That is so true."
There are many tragic things in life. What is a missed season? A wounded limb? A chance lost? I told myself those things were inconsequential. That even if they weren't, they were blind bad luck, nothing you could do, move on. A large, hand-lettered sign had appeared on our front doorstep the night before. It read, GOOD LUCK ZACK! GO SCOUTS! BEAT THOSE PIRATES. It was signed, THE VARSITY CHEERLEADERS. They didn't know.
At the game I watched my son stand on the sideline as his teammates rallied to a 30--15 victory over Palatine. He wore his jersey, number 13—was that the cause?—and he tried to stay up with his pals. But when they jubilantly left the field, he was alone, moving awkwardly on his metal crutches.
I thought back to my senior season. Wasn't it yesterday? Under my hometown lights in downstate Peoria, we Richwoods Knights rained down hellfire on those who dared enter our house. There were the seven noble stitches in my chin, the cheerleaders in forest green and white, the white-booted Royalettes, my wise-guy buddies in the stands, the kids in the band, the tubas, the flutes, the swishing pom-poms, parents up high where adults should be, neighbors there too, even dumb-ass teachers. And then there was the football arcing through the velvet sky, under those Friday night lights, a bright, flickering orb of danger and unimaginable joy.
I stand away from the large exiting crowd now, in my blue TURN ON THE LIGHTS T-shirt and think of my son. And for a moment it's almost more than I can bear.
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