Tuesday, March 21, 2006
This is my brother's fifth and final season of college ultimate. I've already begun planning a road trip to nationals to be there when he proves to himself what he's known for years: he can do this without me. The tournament is in Ohio, less than an eight hour drive from my old hometown of Madison, Wisconsin, and so I wonder what plans my parents have for the weekend, and if they too are planning to be present on what will be one of the most emotional and proudest moments of my brother's life, regardless of its outcome.
They attended last year, after some cajoling and a promise that they'd not only get to watch some ultimate but also spend some time with their eldest- the prodigal son and his then girlfriend, whom he was very excited about. Our time as a family in Corvallis and the way our voices amalgamated into a single unified "Gigo!" made me happy, but as I laid in bed that Friday night I was overcome with melancholy. It's not that I wasn't excited for my brother, but thoughts of nationals two years earlier forced their reminiscence.
Gerics handed me the game disc Dean Bolton had foolishly thrown up in celebration only moments earlier. I had hucked the winning goal. The pile of baby blue bodies grew in the endzone, and while the rest of my teammates rushed to enhance it, I couldn't. I walked to my best friend Tyler and hugged him forcefully. My girlfriend Sarah Grebe came down from the stands to congratulate us, feeling happy for me but slightly out of place in the pull of Hodags that jumped up and down in unison. I found my brother's mahogany Mexican leg within the pile and gave it a tug. I wanted to hold him. It was one of the happier moments in my life, but not for the championship medals which Lyn Debevoise was readying. I was not happy because I had won a championship, I was happy because I had watched and helped my brother win his. His play in the semis and finals, where he lit up their best players like grandpa's birthday cake, had left me beaming.I took violin lessons for five years. Hated it. My parents were at every concert, wincing through a wandering melody and clapping at my hiccupped vibrato. I was in choir in high school, and although fun I sang less for the emotion than the grade I received. Then, writing and ultimate discovered me within a year of each other, a boy famished for something expressive, ferocious, and emotive. And while my writing I kept private and unannounced, everyone with ears knew of my passion for Ultimate and my drive to improve.
And I looked at the stands again. This time not looking for someone, but noting the absence of two people, our parents, who were not there to see their two sons frame their satisfaction and accomplishment in the foreground of a six foot Mexican flag to have their pictures taken.
Yet my parents looked on puzzled, attending with reluctance a few rounds in tournaments in Madison, once at Tune-Up. They didn't get it, perhaps not quite sure what to make of a willing energy emanating from the son who never tried. Maybe they, examining this odd, new sport, felt the fad would eventually be filed alongside baseball cards, rocks, and comics in my history's attic. Taking time to see their sons play a game made sense if proximal, but to leave work and home behind for the same was an inconvenience as pointless as watering the lawn in a rainstorm. So when I first mentioned the idea of a trip to Austin, I received the same dismissive chuckle I'd gotten as a second grader telling them I was going to train my most recently caught pet frog.
Maybe though, their absence was my shortcoming. In the weeks leading up to Memorial Day weekend in 2003 I pushed for them to purchase a ticket. I told them my girlfriend would be there watching cluelessly as well and she'd love the company. I pressed on their brow our chances of winning and told them the pools were aligned in our favor. I visited home and worked out in the backyard, lifted weights in the basement, told them of our plan to etch tattoos into our skin should we win.
"I love you. I love this sport. I love my brother. I want you to come to Austin and watch your two sons be the best in what they love most. It will mean the world to me."
I didn't say that, only scribbled it along the margins of every comment, every hint, every cleverly timed conversation about Ultimate I had in their presence that month. Instead I piled into a car with my girlfriend and two teammates and drove twenty hours to Austin. We arrived on Thursday and three days later I held my brother in one arm and the college championship in the other. I kissed both. My parents heard about it later that evening while sipping wine and dining in our Madison home.
They didn't get it. They said congratulations and understood we were happy. But we weren't happy, we were elated. My brother and I were closer then than we ever had been. My parents hadn't come. I hadn't asked them to.
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