Responsibilities of Being a Man
by J. C. G. Goelz
Table of Contents|
1, 2 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Kelvin Stoddard is 15 years old and in his second year of high school in Laramie, Wyoming. He feels highly loyal to and protective of his family, particularly his younger brother, who is about half Kelvin’s age; his father, who has been severely injured; and his sister April, who is more than a year older than he.
Kelvin is keenly suspicious and critical of schoolmates he considers pretentious and potentially dangerous. Cautioning his sister April against them is futile; she is as strong-willed as he is, and no younger brother is going to tell her how to lead her life. Only Kelvin’s intense feelings of fairness and justice keep his temper in check. That is, until actions incur consequences.
I had to walk through the locker room to get to the equipment room, and the guys saw me walk past.
“Fresh meat!” said Jesse Simpson, the big senior linebacker and offensive guard. He had a scholarship at Wyoming, poor guy, less than twenty miles from home.
“Dead meat!” said Ed Reed, a three-hundred pound senior nose guard and offensive center. He had a scholarship at Oklahoma waiting for him.
Jimmy had told me he already received letters of interest from over forty universities, five games into his varsity career. High-school tapes went all over the place, and he already had several plays loaded on YouTube. The best schools he got letters from, from my way of thinking, were Stanford and Wisconsin. Jimmy probably wasn’t going to be an NFL star, so he needed a good education. If he was going to a top twenty-five football team, he needed to make sure it was a top one hundred, at least, academic school. Stanford would probably be all over his nuts before he graduated, since he’d actually meet their entrance requirements.
Jimmy helped me get my equipment adjusted, and we were a bit late. The other guys were warming up, but Jimmy went right out to the front of them, after getting me situated, and started leading the calisthenics. Near the end, he was doing jump-ups until hardly anyone could keep up with him. I had to quit before he ended.
Ed Reed had been lying on the ground for quite a while before I quit, though. Like I said, Jimmy and I had been pretty competitive, but his football workouts had gotten him in much better shape than me. I’d have to catch up to him before baseball started.
Then Coach had everyone line up, starting on the ten-yard line, and we were supposed to run a forty-yard dash, once one way, then the other. I had worn cleats before, but these football cleats were different from baseball cleats, and I was used to running on dirt, not on grass, since I’m a shortstop. Well, to make a long story short, the cleats caught in the grass, and I fell down. To make things even worse, Sterling was running to my right, and saw me fall. When I picked myself up and got to the fifty-yard line, he was waiting for me and called me a retard, and said that faggot retards shouldn’t be on the football team.
Have I ever mentioned that I didn’t like Sterling Richardson very much?
On the forty-yard dash in the other direction, I kept pace with Sterling. I think I inched ahead of him, but it was close enough that that egocentric son of a bitch probably thought he was ahead of me. I’m about five-nine — oh, OK, five-eight and five-eighths — and one-twenty-five, and that bastard was six-four and over two hundred, so I’d take a draw, particularly since he was four years and two grades older than me.
We ran a few drills, of which I was not an essential participant, then it was time to run plays. Either it’s first-team offense against second-team defense, or vice-versa. There were a few players that were first-team offense or defense and second team of the other variety, but they’d worked this all out.
Most of the first-teamers went both ways; that is, they were first team offense and defense, except that Jimmy played only quarterback, because they didn’t want him to get injured playing defense, and there was a sophomore offensive guard who was a second-team defensive end.
Our punter was one of our offensive ends, but our kicker was a specialist, being an emigre from the soccer team and, it seemed, somewhere in eastern Europe. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Odessa, Texas. Some of the full-time second- and third-stringers had a role on special teams.
On the very first play. Coach made this big deal about my appearance with the first-team defense. He told this long-ass story that was a little funny, about how they’d finally convinced me to play football, suggesting that I woke up one day and finally had some hair on my scrotum, and he wanted to make sure I got in on a play, in case I turned out to be a pussy and quit after one practice.
I lined up just outside the end, and everything played out just as Jimmy had said. Maybe it’s a lot easier when you know what the other team is running, but it was all happening the way Jimmy had lined it up with French fries at lunch.
I’m not sure exactly about the rules. It happened pretty fast, but I swear I was flying through the air before Sterling threw the ball. I’d like to remind you that Sterling was a hell of a lot bigger than me. A helmet-to-helmet contact was not a remote possibility. I knew how to tackle, though I hadn’t practiced it lately, and I flung myself into him, drove and wrapped up.
I swear I didn’t think much what I was doing when I was wrapping up, but both of my hands found Sterling’s cheeks when I tried to pull him towards me. The crown of my helmet — well, Jimmy told me at lunch what I had heard a million times, turn his cup inside out — so it hit him right there.
I de-cleated that son of a bitch, and he went flying through the air, but I was pulling him towards myself, and the top of my helmet hit him right in the groin. The thing is, I was pulling tight, I wasn’t going to let up one bit, and when we fell to the ground, my head was between his legs, and my hands were on his ass.
But that’s not all.
It seems that when Sterling got his equipment, he did not think the plastic cups that everyone else got were sufficient protection for his manliness, or pussy, more likely. He demanded that he receive a plastic-coated, stainless-steel cup.
I’m not sure that the whole “turn his cup inside out” directive to tackling had ever happened. Until now.
I don’t know exactly where Sterling was on the discomfort-pain continuum, but he was definitely uncomfortable and embarrassed when he tried to get up.
He pushed me off with, “Get your head away from my cock, you motherfucking queer.” But he immediately grabbed his crotch and tried to negotiate his supporter to a more comfortable position. I never understood how he related homosexuality and motherfucking, but many things about Sterling made no sense to me.
I was a little bit dizzy, so I didn’t catch everything he said, but I know he said everything to me that could possibly offend a gay man. Fortunately, I’m not gay, and pretty much everyone was laughing at him. Sterling had to leave with an equipment manager, which actually was about a fifty-fifty proposition that he was gay, to procure another cup for his supporter.
Coach brought in the first team offense, and I moved over to cornerback. Like Jimmy said, I was out of my depth. Sometimes I covered my opponent well, but Jimmy put the ball in exactly the right spot, and the damn ends were bigger and taller than me. What really pissed me off is that, when I didn’t tackle them, they would drag me, or I bounced off of them. I felt like a little kid among men, and I didn’t like it.
Coach wanted to work the first-team defense once Sterling came back, but Sterling was yelling how he needed protection and his fullback wasn’t any good. I volunteered to be fullback, and it was kinda fun, particularly since Sterling always assumed that I would whiff when I tried to block a rusher. His paranoia went through the roof, but I actually did a good job, although I got steamrolled a few times. It was fun, but I was beat at the end of practice.
Some of the guys slapped me on the back and told me, “Welcome to the team,” but there was no hazing or anything. I think that they were used to guys trying out in the middle of the season, but quitting after a week or so. I wouldn’t be a real member of the team until I played in a game, if I ever did.
When I was tying the shoelaces of my street shoes, Sterling leaned over, and said to me, real quiet, “That’s just one more thing I’m going to get you for. Your ass is mine.”
When he stood up, I turned around and said, “You’re taking a much too personal interest in my ass, Richardson. I hear tell that boys that habitually call other boys gay are often closeted gays themselves — not that there’s anything wrong with being gay. I’m sure the rest of the team will respect you if you finally admit you are a ho-mo-sexual.”
“Just wait till you see what I do to your sister Amy on Saturday night.”
That was enough right there, and I jumped up, even though I was only wearing one shoe, but a couple of guys grabbed me, and Jimmy intervened, pushing me back down on the bench. Sterling just laughed as he walked away. He probably could have beat the crap out of me, but sometimes a man has to stand up for something, and April — even though she was an inscrutable pain in the ass and was probably scheming my demise at that very moment — was my sister, my family.
We didn’t have any confrontations the rest of the week, but we almost did. On Thursday, I was running around the back of the school, by the loading dock, on my way to practice when I saw two people in a stairwell. A tall boy, and a girl with shoulder-length black hair. It was Sterling, and he was getting a blow job.
I’ll admit it. It felt like my world was spinning out of control. I lost my balance a little bit, and I stopped running, and my breath came in irregular gasps. Goddamn it, April! You couldn’t even hold out until you were on an actual date? I didn’t know who I was angrier at, April or Sterling. I didn’t know if I wanted to scream or attack them, or just run away.
She must have noticed me, because her head turned a little, and she was looking at me out of the corner of her eye, still deep-throating Sterling the whole time. It wasn’t April. It was Cheryl Carmichael. She had been Sterling’s official girlfriend for about three days during the first week of school.
Jimmy told me later that Cheryl gave Sterling head two or three times a week, but she reserved fornication for her current boyfriend, who was twenty-four and worked on an oilfield somewhere. I really didn’t know what to think. What would compel a girl to act that way? She was only a sophomore, like me.
I was still pretty shaken through practice, but it was mostly a run-through in preparation for the game tomorrow, so I didn’t have much to do, other than be a warm body.
I told April about what I saw, but she didn’t believe me. I didn’t think she would. I didn’t tell Dad. I don’t know if that was a mistake or not.
The game on Friday was exciting, although I didn’t get a chance to play. I was pretty sure I’d be playing this year only if we had a rash of injuries or had an insurmountable lead with just a few minutes to play.
We were behind 38 to 34 and had the ball on our 24-yard line with 3:42 to play. Jimmy led the boys down to the four-yard line with eighteen seconds to play and no timeouts left. This was a John-Elway, come-from-behind, legend-making kind of drive if we got the TD. Everyone was screaming. I don’t know how anyone heard him call for the snap.
He called a triple option, which was dangerous, because time might run out if we ran the ball and didn’t get in. Jimmy faked throwing a fade to Nelson Jimenez, our top receiver. He had eleven catches already, and the opponents were double-teaming him because their defensive backs were shorter than Nelson.
Then Jimmy faked a deep pitch to our tailback, Eddy Jameson, who had already scored two touchdowns in that game. Jimmy just pulled back the ball, planted his foot to make a cutback, and glided into the end zone.
The defense was over-pursuing; the most a couple of players could do was get a finger on him as he slid past into the end zone, standing up. I’ll admit it, the excitement got to me. I was screaming, and I had some tears rolling down my face, but it’s OK for a man to cry over football, I think, if they are tears of joy.
Jimmy had a great game. He threw for two touchdowns, and ran for two more, and he’d had another game without committing a turnover. We had just beaten the third-ranked and highest-scoring team in the state, so we would at least move up that high, if not higher.
Jimmy was a god. There was not one person on our side of the stadium that didn’t love him, or maybe only one. Sterling Richardson still hated our guts.
With his newfound god status, Jimmy literally could have gotten laid by any girl in school. Well, maybe not my sister, but even the big girls on the softball team might have been willing, if he asked nicely. So what did he do after the game? He went over to my house, and we put a frozen pizza in the oven.
My dad joined in while we debriefed about the game and wound down. My little brother Billy stood around in rapture of the football hero; he even had Jimmy sign his youth football with a sharpie. My Mom kissed me on the cheek, and Jimmy on the top of his head; he was almost family.
April even poked her head in the kitchen and told Jimmy, “Good game.” Maybe he could have had her? After a while, we played some Call of Duty. Of course we played on the same side, not against each other. We’d compete to get the most kills, but we’d do it on the same team.
There’s a saying: “Act like you’ve been there before,” referring to celebrations when you score a touchdown. In other words, don’t act like a fool when you’ve done something good. I’ve always thought it should be: “Act like you’ll be there again,” because no matter how often you’ve done something before, if it was the last time you’d ever accomplish it, you might want to celebrate while you had the chance. Jimmy was just a sophomore. He expected he’d have a lot more big games to celebrate.
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Copyright © 2019 by J. C. G. Goelz