Growing up in a small town is a gift and a curse.
It’s great when you’re twelve and the future is bright, and everyone knows your name and smiles as you ride by on your purple, ten-speed Huffy.
You walk into Gary’s Sandwich Shop and he knows your order by heart—plain hot dog and mozzarella sticks dripping with grease.
You walk down to Front Street by the train tracks where it smells like hot metal and stone and get your hair cut by old lady Debbie who runs a salon out of her blue bi-level.
You walk to the park and meet up with whoever is hanging out and play pickup basketball or capture the flag until the sun sags from the sky.
The town is alive with the smell of asphalt, the feel of the warm breeze on your face, the sight of the flickering lightning bugs. All breathing and whispering in your ear, telling you to savor these moments—but you’re living way too carefree to hear them.
You’re eighteen and everyone still knows your name, but they also know about that redhead girl from down the street whose heart you broke. They know about the underage DUI.
No one smiles anymore when they pass you on the street.
You’ve outgrown your rusted, purple bike—so it rots in the backyard.
On the weekend you go into the sandwich shop and Gary casts you a sideways glance because he heard about you and your friends getting caught shoplifting at the mall.
You manage to finish high school and straighten out enough to get a full-time job at a pharmacy. It pays well enough, so there’s no need for college or any sort of long-term plan at the moment.
You’re in your twenties and you go to Super Cuts now, because old lady Debbie died of cancer.
You haven’t played basketball in ages—or spent much time outside at all for that matter. You spend more of your life on social media than you do in the sun. You have the extra pounds and pooch belly to show for it.
You think about going back to school. You think about getting a better job. You think about a lot of things...
You’re in your thirties and you’re bored so you drive around town. You pass the sandwich shop, but Gary is retired and now the building is an insurance office.
You stop at the park, but the weeds are overgrown, and your old friends are all long gone. As a matter of fact, there aren’t any kids playing outside at all. Just a boy sitting alone at the edge of the basketball court, with his face buried in his cell phone.
The town looks different. Tired. Outdated. You look at yourself in the rearview mirror, and you look the same way.
You stare out the window at the boy—early teens, thick glasses. You get out of your Subaru, pop the trunk, and take out the basketball you haven’t touched in years.
Dribbling across the court you call out, “Hey kid, wanna shoot some hoops?”
The boy looks up confused as if no one’s ever asked him to play before. But he slowly stands up, drops his phone into his pocket, and says, “Um, sure.”
You play one-on-one and the boy is terrible at basketball, but he’s still all smiles and laughs and says, “Sorry, I don’t really know what I’m doing.”
You stop and smile for the first time in a while, panting and out of breath. You pat him on the shoulder and say, “Me neither, kid, me neither.”