The Fisher of Stories

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Let us not forget Lloyd’s eyeball, lost in the battle.


“Defeat, my Defeat, my deathless courage,You and I shall laugh together with the storm,And together we shall dig graves for all that die in us,And we shall stand in the sun with a will,And we shall be dangerous.
– Kahlil Gribran
One more.

One more trip to Oklahoma City. One more trip to the Big House. One more game. One more piece of hardware for the trophy case.

You gave that to us, Mustangs. You did. You gave us one more.

When you walk into the hall, there are still streamers and small basketballs hanging from the ceiling. There is still paint on the door, telling you to go get the gold. There are still signs on your locker that say, “State Bound.”

All of these reminders of what happened on Saturday night. If I had to imagine, painful reminders. I’m here to tell you they shouldn’t be.

You gave me one more chance to go see my favorite team from my favorite school play in my favorite place: the state final.

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And let us not forget Coach Clark’s tie, which remained the entire game on Saturday.

You gave me one more chance to hang out with friends I hadn’t seen in forever.

You gave me one more chance to tell your story.

You also gave me one more chance to spend approximately $250 on food for the weekend, but we’re not going to focus on that, believe me, my beautiful and loving and kind and forgiving (did I mention beautiful) wife has focused on it plenty.

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You can’t see it very well in this pic, but that bucket had a lid on it.

When the final horn sounded on Saturday night, I didn’t see anyone on the floor hang their heads. I didn’t see anyone cursing, throwing a fit, or mouthing off to the other team. I saw what we all hope to see in the young men who represent our school: dedication, not defeat; pride, not self-pity; and sportsmanship, not petulance.

You gave me one more chance to be incredibly proud of my school, my town, and my students.

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Marcus literally cannot believe how high Caleb is jumping here.

Also, can we be honest, just for a second, and say that you almost gave me one more heart attack on Friday night? No one had hopes of winning that game. I do not care what anyone tells you, no one thought you would pull that off. But you did, and you did it in such a way that gives this amazing town one more story to tell about that time in the state tournament when a miracle happened.

You also gave one more chance to someone to score a basket in a state final. You did that. You gave that to him. He will never forget it, and neither will anyone who saw it.

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“Travis, I’m sorry, I tried to take a good picture but I was crying.” – Alicia
So was I, babe. So was everyone.

As an aside, I would also like to thank the Ft. Cobb-Broxton players who helped make that happen.

So, Mustangs, if I see you in the hallway with your head down, I will address it. I will remind you that greatness is not measured in the color of your trophy, but in your character, in your work ethic, and in the way you represent our town. And for those, Mustangs, you get the gold.

For those, you are number one.

Thank you.

“Between the pavement and the stars,
beneath the weight of years of scars,
burns the same soul –
paint the sky blue.
Hallelujah,
you’re still you.” 

– Reese Roper

Two seconds.

Specifically, 1.9 seconds. But I’m rounding up because it’s my blog and my story. So two.

Two seconds separated the Okay Mustangs from a loss in the semi-final round, packing up and driving home.

If you were there, you know what happened. If you weren’t, you probably still know what happened. It was, in my opinion, the single greatest two seconds of basketball I’ve ever watched, and I watched Christian Laettner hit “the shot” in 1992.

I have hugged, I believe, everyone at the Big House this evening. I have done irreparable damage to my heart. I got real close to saying a bad word on Facebook.

And I sent this text before it happened.

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I know I should be ashamed. But I’m a pragmatist.

It’s now 7 a.m. on Saturday morning. Everything above this was typed when I got home last night, on an adrenaline-laced jag that made for great Facebook posts, but not so much in the inspiration department.
So now I’m sitting here, staring at the computer, and hoping that somehow, words will appear on the screen the way the ball appeared in Caleb’s hand last night. I guess I could set a timer on my phone for 1.9 seconds and add a little pressure.
If you follow me on Facebook and Twitter, you know I do a lot of talking about pure moments of happiness. Hopefully, everyone reading this knows what I’m talking about; hopefully all of you have experienced one. A moment in your life which causes so much joy, it temporarily blocks out every other thing in your life. You are lost in that moment.
I believe these moments can’t be directly obtained, they have to be gifted to you. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a few given to me. Last night I got another one.
It had gone terribly, the end of that game. We built a lead, then lost it, and then to top it all off made a couple of bad decisions late that took some wind out of the Mustang sails.
I watched fans head for the exits. I don’t blame them, I was mentally preparing for the drive home, thinking about whether or not I wanted to spend another night in the city. I sent Alicia the above text. I checked out.
I vaguely remember Ben Smith looking over and saying, “Anything can happen.”
The stage was set for Pond Creek-Hunter. They had overcome the number two team in the state, and they were headed for the championship game. I’ve seen a news article that said Chad had told the team not to contest the pass, then changed his mind. I can’t tell you how valuable it is to have a coach who won’t give up. I played for one.
I’m not sure when the moment happened for Caleb Riggs. I’m not sure if it was the walk out to the floor to finish a game he probably didn’t still want to be in, or if it was something in the PCH guy’s eyes that triggered it. Maybe he never doubted, I don’t know. I can definitively say he was not preparing himself to be on every highlight video the OSSAA makes for state tournaments from now until the end of time.
The referee blew the whistle, handed the ball to the kid from PCH, and what happened next was something the town of Okay will talk about until we’re all old and gray and wear the bottoms of our trousers rolled.
A bad decision. A deflected pass. A hopeful tip. A scoop. A jump. A release.
Time stopped. The collective intake of breath from both sides of the stadium could have vacuum sealed an entire year’s worth of saltine cracker packages. And then…
Anything happened.
If you’d like to see it from more angles than a dodecahedron, you can click here.
As an educator, an English teacher, and a “Literary Man,” I feel it very important to maintain a firm grasp of the English language at all times, both to keep up appearances and because of some sort of inner piousness, I don’t know, don’t judge me.
But after that shot, I lost the ability to make words with my fingers.

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All caps because, well, the situation warranted all caps.

On March 4, 2016, I typed these words: “Book the hotel rooms, Mustang fans. We’ll be back next year. And I hope Fort Cobb-Broxton is there in the final, Goliath vs. Goliath, four or five moments away from another shot at a gold ball.”
Well, Fort Cobb is in the final, just like us. Waiting. Gunning for their third title in a row, and with the chops to do it.
But we have guys who don’t give up. Gritty players and coaches who stare loss in the face and defy it, challenge it, who beat the odds and overcome.
Our little town of Okay was once known as Rex. Rex is Latin for “King.” Author F. Scott Fitzgerald said there are no second acts in American lives, and I beg to differ. The Kings vs. Goliath, Act II happens tonight at 7 p.m.
Last year I closed by saying how proud we all are of you, Mustangs, and that pride is still there. We are grateful for the moments you’ve given us, and we’re standing behind you tonight.
Now finish the job. 
“You may write me down in historyWith your bitter, twisted lies,You may trod me in the very dirtBut still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?Why are you beset with gloom?‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wellsPumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,With the certainty of tides,Just like hopes springing high,Still I’ll rise.”
Maya Angelou

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Three.

Because I am first and foremost an English teacher, it seems only natural that I should begin this with a word you probably don’t know.

Triskaphobia. A fear of the number three.

There are superstitions about the number three: death comes in threes, if you take a picture of three people the person in the middle will die, and that it’s bad luck for three people to light a cigarette off the same match.

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Y’all look, the “S” is missing in Students.

It would appear that for some, the number three is a bad thing, a thing to be feared. It’s portentous, malicious, and terrifying, particularly if it’s the amount of Christian Grey novels you have to read before you’re through.

The Okay Mustangs headed out on a three hour bus ride yesterday, for the third year in a row, to try to win three games in three nights. If you’ve got triskaphobia, you might want to stop reading this now.

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If you take 11 from 14 you get…well, yeah.

In education, if you stay somewhere for three consecutive years, you get tenure. Tenure, simply explained, means your position goes from temporary to permanent. You can stop wondering if you really belong, and you are able to approach your duties with a sense of security and a newfound purpose.

The Okay Mustangs belong in the state tournament. They’re tenured.

Last night I watched our boys hit three pointers, saw our fans lift three fingers in the air proudly, and witnessed three incredible quarters of basketball (that fourth one got scary y’all). I watched a lead form by what can only be described as a dog fight, observed a blowout, and suffered heart palpitations as Cyril did exactly what good teams do: fight back.

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I honestly had no idea number three was in this pic until I decided to caption it.

In the end though, one-third of the goal was accomplished, and the Okay Mustangs walked to the locker room with heads high, with tenure.

Pond-Creek is waiting for us today, hoping this is their year, and you can bet they were up late last night, nervously contemplating how to stop the Okay Mustang three, how to defend Okay Mustang number thirty-three, and how to saddle all our players with three fouls in the first quarter.

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33 + 3 = mad hops

The best things in life come in threes. The Holy Trinity, The Lord of the Rings, the Musketeers, BLTs, Destiny’s Child, and the number of times that are charms.

Personally, I like the first one and the last one the most.

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There are three players in this picture. I know, I’m reaching, but Caleb looks too good here.

Let’s go boys. Triskaphobia be damned. This third time is our charm.

And when the dust settles, when you’re hoisting the gold ball over your heads, we’ll all hold a single finger over our heads instead of three.

 

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maybe, maybe, maybe
you’ll find something that’s enough to keep you
but if the bright lights don’t receive you,
then turn yourself around and come on home.
 Matchbox Twenty

Sixty hours ago I was throwing my backpack into my truck and headed to go get Nate. 
As we made the trip to the State Fairgrounds, I kept checking Facebook and seeing all the statuses about heading to Oklahoma City and how excited everyone was.
I was excited too.
The State Tournament. The Big House. And the Okay Mustangs.
Those words aren’t used together every year. Volleyball, maybe, but not basketball.
Since no one bothered to tell us about the massive construction project on I-40 (shoutout to all you chumps), we got to the game just a few minutes before it started. Okay vs. Velma-Alma, two schools that, had you conducted a poll anywhere but there, no one would have heard of.
Our boys made it look easy.
That’s not slighting the Comets, that’s simply a testament to the shooting performance our boys gave. Shots were dropping like gas prices during an election year, and it was fun. After a certain point, it didn’t even seem real anymore.
I’ll be perfectly honest with you and tell you I wasn’t sure how they’d handle the big stage.
Turns out they didn’t need me to believe in them.
A twenty-point win and a drive back to the hotel, where I swam in the pool and thought about the game. Where I thought about Chad, and how he was back where it started for him in 1998. About that time I played thirty seconds in a state tournament game and had one rebound and one turnover.
I seriously think I told that story to whoever would listen. I was pulling hotel maids into the room and reenacting the rebound, making Hayden and Nate play defense every time I told it.
Enter day two. 
A 10:30 a.m. game against the number three team in the state. A team that had also been up by twenty points in their first game.
I was, yet again, worried, because that’s what I do.
Turns out they didn’t need me to believe in them.
The shooting performance they put on Friday made Thursday’s show look like me trying to dip two McNuggets into a painfully small hot mustard packet.
I honestly think at one point I made a three. And if I live long enough I’m sure that’s how the story will go one day. Three-pointers were flying through the nets like a…well, listen, I’ve watched my two favorite teams lose today, so I’m at a loss for a simile.
They got hot.
They won by ten, but it was really by twenty.
In the meantime, Fort Cobb-Broxton was busily winding their way through the bracket, making it look as though the OSSAA had mistakenly assigned a 5A team to the A tourney.
And then today happened. Day three. The championship game. 
A Facebook post informed me earlier that Okay has been a school district for 97 years. In 97 years we’ve never once had a basketball team in a state championship game.
But by God we did today.
I was worried. I watched Fort Cobb play both nights and I was worried. I tried to contain what I felt but my celebrations were muted, my conversations heavy with the weight of my pessimism.
Turns out, they didn’t need me to believe in them.
Our boys—Our Okay Mustangs—went out onto that floor and from the very first tip worked their butts off to bring home a gold ball for our town. They ran off screens, they dealt with bumps, they hustled for loose balls—all for us. All for Okay.
Those shots that fell the first two games didn’t fall today. And you know what? That’s okay, and here’s why.
My children teach me things all the time. Just when I think I’m the smartest person in the family, one of them will innocently say something so full of wisdom that I know The Lord is trying to knock me over the head with a lesson.
I pulled into the driveway this evening, emotionally exhausted, upset, and proud all at the same time.
Aven, my eight-year-old, was playing in the yard and came up to the truck as I got out.
“How was basketball?” he asked. 
“It was a lot of fun,” I replied. 
“Did you win it all?” 
“No, son, we lost in the championship game.” 
“Oh…well, that’s really that bad though, right?” 
I looked up, and saw my beautiful wife, who I’d missed very much, coming outside to kiss me hello.
In that moment, the entire weekend sped through my mind like a highlight reel on fast forward. The jump shots. The three-pointers. The conversations with people I’d grown up with. The celebrations. The hustle. The silver ball. The first second-place state tournament ever for our basketball program. The beautiful game of basketball that I love, played by young men that I love, coached by two men I admire and respect, administrated by a principal and superintendent that I think the world of. It all came over me, baptizing me in the sheer fun of the weekend.
And I realized that my son is wiser than I am.
“No, Aven, it’s really not that bad.” 
Book the hotel rooms, Mustang fans. We’ll be back next year. And I hope Fort Cobb-Broxton is there in the final, Goliath vs. Goliath, four or five moments away from another shot at a gold ball.
Thank you, boys. Thank you, Chad and Steve. Thank you to the fans, to the town that raised me, and the town that is letting me help raise their students.
November can’t get here quick enough.
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“The game can kill you with hope.”  – Kevin Baker
Well, they’ve done it.
Yesterday, while battling to maintain a lead against the No. 3 ranked team in the state, the Okay Mustangs were suddenly up 20 points, and I’m still not entirely sure how it happened.
I mean, yeah, 70 points from Caleb and Darius Riggs probably did it, but still.
Remember yesterday when I said I wanted Goliath vs. Goliath? Well, I watched Fort Cobb’s game with Seiling yesterday thinking that I was an idiot for writing it.
But I’m not. The whole season has been leading up to this point. Two teams, both Mustangs, across the state from each other, and each doing the kind of work it takes to be successful in this glorious game of basketball.
And now we’re in the finals. School history has been made. We all got to see it. We all get to see it.
This small group of boys from a town no one has ever heard of have given hope to thousands of people.
hope
noun — the feeling that what is wanted can be had.
It’s such a simple word. One syllable and four letters with an ocean in between each one, and a gold ball waiting just after the “e.”
You know, you’re going to laugh, but I finally went to see Deadpool last night, and I think I can actually use part of a scene from that movie to teach something here.
Colossus, a member of the X-Men, stops Deadpool from shooting someone by saying:
“Wade! Four or five moments.”
“What?” 
“Four or five moments — That’s all it takes to become a hero. Everyone thinks it’s a full-time job. Wake up a hero. Brush your teeth a hero. Go to work a hero. Not true. Over a lifetime there are only four or five moments that really matter. Moments when you’re offered a choice to make a sacrifice, conquer a flaw, save a friend…” 
Now if you’ve seen the movie you know that quote immediately loses relevance not long after, but I think it maintains its relevance here today.
Okay Mustangs, go be a hero today. Live in the four or five moments of this game where you’ll make a choice, play harder than you thought you could, or sacrifice a shot for a better one. Live in the moments where you’ll be a hero.
Something I struggled with as a player and now as a coach is being told/telling kids to “leave it all on the floor.” I understand the sentiment, but if you leave it all on the floor, where’s “it” going to be for the next game?

Today, there is no next game. Today is the one day I agree with “leave it all on the floor.”


I’ll be in the stands hoping. I’ll be in the stands believing. Thousands of us will.
In the moment of hope, there is no doubt. There is no room for doubt. So hope breeds confidence, and confidence breeds happiness. You’ve made the town of Okay and your families very happy. You’ve already accomplished something enormous that will never be forgotten.

Thank you for that.

Now finish the job.
“hope is the thing with feathersthat perches in the souland sings the tune without the wordsand never stops at all.” – Emily Dickinson
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It’s just after 7 a.m.

Light is slowly filtering through the blinds of our hotel room—a hotel room that Hayden booked 400 miles away from the stadium—and I’ve already been down to have breakfast, which was crap.

I woke up excited.

My roommates, Hayden and Nathan, are still snoring softly in the bed behind me, which they are sharing because I told them I’m a cuddler.

I woke up excited because the Okay Mustangs made school history yesterday.

Yesterday wasn’t a great day for our state or our nation. You see, schools took yet another budget cut. A budget cut that will mean the end for some. There’s some small school in Oklahoma that will have to close its doors thanks to the idiocy we’re seeing at the state level.

Hundreds of thousands of people were taken off Medicaid, something I don’t quite understand, but expect to soon.

Last night during the presidential debate, politics were eschewed for penis measuring, which, I suppose, is really the basis of all politics anyway.

Yesterday wasn’t a great day for our state or our nation.

But it was a great day to be a Mustang.

I wish I had a cool action shot to post here, a picture worth more than a thousand words, showing the hustle and effort our boys put forth into bringing home the first Okay State Playoff win in school history. I wish I had a picture of Darius shooting three pointers from the parking lot, or Paul Taylor checking into the game and in the first five seconds driving in for a layup. I wish I had a shot of Caleb or Austin shooting jump shots with the confidence that Donald Trump has in his hair, but I don’t. I was busy in the stands updating my Facebook every three seconds for the folks back home.

I’m told the boys’ bus ride back to the hotel yesterday was silent. They weren’t celebrating their win. They realized that although they made school history, all they really won was the chance to fight another day.

Today. This day.

Most probably haven’t even woken up yet. They probably haven’t gone downstairs to gorge themselves on homemade omelettes and all-you-can-eat bacon (I’m looking at you, Hayden). Some of them might be up though, thinking about the game, doing the mental preparation that is oh so important in this game, yet so often overlooked.

Our opponent opposite the bracket found themselves in a close one yesterday. Everyone talked about how they hoped there would be an upset, and I joined in that conversation. But truthfully, I don’t want an upset. I want 1 vs. 2 out there tomorrow. I don’t want to see David and Goliath, because we all know how that goes, and sometimes Goliath wins anyway. I want to see Goliath vs. Goliath.

But they aren’t there yet. They have to win today.

And you know what? Even if they don’t, even if they lose today, one day they’ll look back and say, “Remember that time we won a game at state? That hasn’t been done since, has it? Remember how many points I scored? Remember how proud the town was?”

You’re damn right I’m proud. This town, this Okay town, is my life. I will empty all I am into it until it shines or until I die, and I’m even prouder to say that I don’t stand alone in that objective.

So go fight today, boys. Go win the chance to take on that other Goliath. You’ll hear us in the stands, and if you don’t, feel free to come over and remind us that we’re not Okay.

We’re freaking great.

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One of the facets of the mission trip we’re on is teaching kids basketball skills. I’m not helping with that, and maybe after this blog you’ll understand why.

As part of our visit, it was arranged for us to play a Latvian university team in a friendly game of international hoops. From what I understand, this can be a pretty important game to the Latvians because they enjoy beating the Americans in anything, and I mean, come on, who doesn’t?

I somehow coerced my way onto the American team, which I might add was full of actual college basketball players. They aren’t exactly 31-year-old ex-high school athletes with a protruding gut and an inability to make good physical decisions, in other words.

But I demanded my playing time, and then in what I can only describe as a coup, I got onto the starting rotation. To be fair, the kid whose spot I took is a Kentucky fan, and they don’t really have souls, so it’s okay.

I’m not going to lie to you folks, these Latvians were some big dudes. Three or four of them were at least 6’9″, and they all had meat on their bones. Big, muscly meat.

And then the tip happened, and we start our journey into what has turned out to be one of the most disappointing ways I’ve ever represented our sweet, sweet land of liberty.

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What the viewer should observe here is honestly how good I look. The shirt fits well and is black, so it’s slimming, and I basically look every bit the part of an American hero on the court. Traveling down the body we see Duke shorts, so I’m representing the only college team that matters. Further down we see muscular calf muscles, toned and taut from walking 758.9 miles a day on this mission trip.
Further down is where the problem is. The shoes I’m wearing are low tops. Just out of this frame are a pair of basketball sneakers I brought and an ankle brace, neither of which I gave any thought to whilst plotting to be a starter. This will cause me a significant amount of embarrassment in about three seconds, because after the gentleman caught the ball, he shook me harder than an Oklahoma earthquake.
I just want you to take every opportunity to see how good I look before you see this next picture.
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I know what this looks like.
You’re thinking, “Oh, Travis decided to do some push ups on the court to get good and loose for the next drive. Well, I hate to shatter any previous misconceptions you might have, but this is unfortunately what I look like when I’ve taken two quick backwards shuffle steps to stay in front of a giant Latvian, gotten turned around on accident, tripped, and am in mid-fall.
I’d like to tell you all that this is as far as it got, that I was able to stop myself here, get back up, and make a good hustle play in the end. But unfortunately I can’t.
But I would like to say that as far as push up form goes, if I was doing a push up, that is absolutely perfect, spot on form.
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Right. We’re at the bottom of the push up here, only it’s not a push up. You know the air conditioner slogan “It’s hard to stop a Trane?” Well, yeah. That applies to Travis too. You can see the cause for my condition, number 8, continuing to play as if I’m not in the middle of what will eventually earn the nickname of “Scorpioning,” and my teammate with the midriff showing is desperately trying to pull down a board without stepping on my kidney. God bless him for that.
Again, in still motion, this form looks incredible. Like I do nothing but push ups all day every day. The gentleman in the striped shirt is looking back wondering what happened, but you’ll notice a complete lack of concern on his face. I’d think that in Latvia, a fat white man falling would cause a little more concern for the integrity of the playing surface, but obviously no.
Now it gets bad.
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Go ahead. Finish laughing then come back.
Done? Okay.
Let me tell you something about a synthetic rubber basketball floor and friction. They are like fire and gasoline. In essence, I’m a 340 pound match. On a normal wooden basketball floor, you slide. Your jersey is soft, the floor is somewhat slick and smooth, and in a situation like this you glide towards the wall, get up, dust your self off, and no one thinks anything of it. That’s the American way.
But not this court. Not this country.
Here, you hit the ground in a perfect push up and then when you expect to slide, you stop completely, and your legs, which are somewhat short and white and not hairy, start to rise up from the ground, all because some douche named Albert Einstein decided that something in motion should stay in motion, and then named it physics. So if there’s really anyone to blame for this, it’s this Latvian number 8 guy, Einstein, and physics. Also the floor.
And sadly, it’s not over.
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And here it is. The “Scorpion.”
My legs are completely over everything else I own, my chin is currently pulling rubber chips off the court, and I look like a giant seesaw.
I can’t exactly tell you what was going through my mind at this point, but I think it was probably the court. Some people have said it looked like I was doing my best worm dance. Again, notice the complete disregard by number 8 for having put me in this little incident and causing the old U.S. of A. a serious dip in jingoistic pride.
I hurt so bad right now typing this up. It’s been 20 hours and I feel like I’ve been in a car wreck followed by some really bad yoga positions. My knee has invented an entirely new term for swollen, and my back is tighter than the jean shorts Seth tried to wear on the first day. I’m hurt real bad guys.
But. Here’s a lesson for you young folks. Frame Six is about picking yourself back up. Frame Six is about dedication, heart, moxie, determination, grit, and the dogged American spirit. Frame Six is “We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight!” Frame Six is the essence of never say quit. Frame Six is Rudy, Rocky, Hoosiers, and Michael Jordan in Space Jam when it looked like the monsters were going to enslave him at their little amusement park.
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That’s what perseverance looks like. That’s the American way all summed up in one glorious shot of a man’s incredibly well developed backside. That’s what you young people need to learn about, and I think I showed a lot of Latvians how resilient Americans are by hopping on the struggle bus called getting back on my feet.
I’m sorry about the fall, America. But I’ll never quit. And one day I’ll reach the top.
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Here’s a gif of the experience for those of you who’d like to see it.
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All photography credit once again goes to Nick Luttrull, who is brilliant behind a camera, but I think maybe could have passed up the opportunity to take this many pictures of my worst international basketball performance ever. 

For those of you who don’t know, I played Church League Basketball.

If you read that and wonder which one I am, I am the quintessential Washed-Up Ballhog.

Our team was the First Baptist Muskogee Green Team, and well, we were what you’d call “suspect.” As in, “I suspect that at one point these guys were probably all really good, but I’m not sure at what, and they definitely aren’t now.”

Our team consisted of a couple of ex-baseball stars turned pharmacists, a man who makes shopping carts, an inventory lackey, a guy who does something with rugs, a farmer, an auto mechanic, and yours truly, an extremely overweight newspaper reporter/peon.

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The only person we were missing is this guy. Jackie “Love Me Sexy” Moon.

At one point during the depressing first stages of our season, a Sunday School classmate approached me one evening and said, “Travis, I have a friend here who wants to play on a church league team, could y’all use him?”

I looked at his friend, who was maybe 6’4″ and weighed a solid 175. He looked like he was in really good shape, he had hands the size of a satellite dish, and he was black. Then he looked at me and said, “I have another friend that’s wanting to play too, would that be okay?”

You know how when you fall in love all at once and all you can think about is just being with that person day in and day out and conquering life together and taking on the world and hell with a water pistol and at the end of each day you look each other deep in the eyes and tell each other that you love one another more than life itself?

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Well that’s kind of what happened to me only it was with a basketball context. I just stared at him in what was I’m sure a bit of a creepy way and nodded.

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Stanley was hands down the best character on that show.

Since I was in church when all this took place, I took the opportunity to thank The Lord for His sudden and glorious contribution to a failing team. We were going to be the miracle of the season, the proverbial Bad News Bears of church league basketball.

PRAISE BE TO JESUS ON HIGH WE LANDED SOME TALENT.

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For the sake of privacy, I will change their names. Let’s call them Kip and Jerry.

We signed them to a contract on Sunday, and Monday we had a game. We knew it would be a difficult game, but since we had signed our stars, we felt a little more confident.

Let me tell you folks. Kip and Jerry could HOOP.

They ran our team like Durant and Westbrook. Like Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith. Like Jordan and Scottie.

They were shaking people and breaking ankles and doing that thing where they almost dunked but didn’t dunk because it’s church league and you’re not allowed to dunk because they value self-esteem more than anything and getting dunked on in church league could really hurt your self-esteem.

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Kip and Jerry fearlessly led our group of overweight has-beens clear through till the end. I’m here to tell you, we went on actual fast breaks. Fast breaks! We had transition buckets! Anytime any of us got in the slightest trouble, we’d kick the ball out to Kip and Jerry and BOOM! Buckets!

To put it mildly, they made it rain.

Then, to top it all off, they put together a string of successful and quite marvelous basketball plays that ultimately lead us to victory, 73-72.

WE HAD EMERGED VICTORIOUS.

The other team was stunned. No doubt they’d received scouting reports on our miserable performances and sloppy victories from earlier in the season, and I think they were expecting to beat us by 40 points and then go home and brag to their wives and children about how they embarrassed someone in church league because that’s what those kind of men do.

When I say that we beat a team by one point who should have beat us by 40, you can understand how glorious we all felt in that moment. You know the end of Hoosiers where Jimmy takes that shot and everyone starts going crazy? That was us.

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My excitement was short-lived.

Fast forward to the night of our next game. As I was sitting there mentally gearing up for a gruesome thirty six seconds of actual trying, I got this text message.

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My world collapsed around me like a Lisa Loeb song.

Apparently these boys were some local college hoops stars, and if there’s one thing church league rules clearly don’t allow, it’s actual good players. My world came crashing down around me. I knew what came next.

I had to break up with them.

I called the friend who had introduced me to them and desperately pleaded with him to do it for me. “Don’t let them show up tonight,” I said. “Please tell them I’m so sorry, and it’s not them, it’s us.”

My friend said alright, and then both of them showed up at the game expecting to play.

I can remember it clearly, like it happened yesterday. We were in the hallway just off the basketball court and near the locker rooms. The clock was ticking off the seconds until the game would start, and I was stalling for time trying to find the right words.

“I’m sorry boys, it’s over. You play college basketball, and they won’t allow it.”

They stared at me. You could see it in their faces, emotion etched into their eyes, each of them holding back tears while mine flowed freely down my face.

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It got real bad.

I explained the rule to them, and one of them, in a desperate attempt to salvage the whole thing, said, “But I’m not going to play next year.”

I wanted to hug him. I wanted to reach out and hug them both, rub their backs, tell them everything was going to be okay, and that all we needed was time to pass to sort this all out.

But I held back, and told them that they were of course still welcome at our church, and how I wished they’d come back to see us sometime, and I must have apologized 25 more times.

And finally the buzzer rang that signaled the start of our game, and I gave them one last look, turned, and walked through the door and on to the court, and I haven’t seen either of them again since that day.

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And that’s the saddest thing that’s ever happened to me in a break up.

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Change the “him” to a ‘them” though.

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It started the same way at both of the houses I lived in growing up. My father paid a ridiculous amount of money, which I’m sure we didn’t have, to have a cement truck come out and pour the concrete slab. Then he would set to work smoothing the concrete, working it until it was just right, keeping us kids away from it, telling us just to wait, wait, it would be ready in a few days. Then he would set up the goal, and he would always make sure the rim, at it’s tallest adjustable height, was exactly ten feet from the slab…

Saturday was a busy day. I woke up sick, my sinus cavities clogged with anger at the fickle Oklahoma weather we’ve been having.

I had a trainer session at 8 a.m. Bright and early. I blew my nose, I drank my disgusting pre-workout shake, and I headed out.

My schedule for the day included the workout, then driving home to shower and change, then head out the door for a writing assignment that was an hour’s drive away from my house, and that started at 11 a.m.

The one thing I simply did not have time for was my son’s basketball game at 9 a.m. It just wasn’t possible. Even without the workout, it still wouldn’t have been possible.

If the weather was nice, I’d usually be outside on that slab, throwing up shot after shot. It was the place I hit my own personal “The Shot,” and I loved being out there. Every once in a while after dinner, my dad would walk outside to the slab, look at me, and ask, “What’s it going to be tonight?” I’d usually pick a game called “Around the World,” where each person shot from nine different places around the “court.” Every single time, I would think to myself “This is it. This is the night I beat him.” My dad would flip me the ball and say, “You go first…” 

The Missus sent me a text Saturday morning. “Are you going to Aven’s game?”

“I really don’t have time.” 

She didn’t make me feel guilty, she understood.

And really, if the truth be known, I didn’t feel guilty about it. I was too busy. There was too much going on. Plus, I’ve been to every single other game he has had this year, and let’s keep it perfectly real, Aven is terrible at basketball.

Don’t get me wrong, he can shoot, barely, when he’s practicing. He’s working very hard on his dribbling and he’s coming along nicely there…in practice. Yes, he’s five. Yes, he is appropriately horrible at the game for his age and experience level.

But at the same time, I knew I wasn’t going to miss anything big.

I’d miss the first shot. I’d always miss the first shot. You had to stand under the goal and one arm it up and in, and I did not have the coordination for it yet. Since you got a “chance” shot every time, you could always take two shots on the first and not have to worry about starting over. So I’d try again. I’d usually miss. I’d groan, knowing what was about to happen. My dad would get the ball, and the beating would commence…

I was driving home from the workout, and I was feeling pretty proud of myself for going in even though I was clearly on my deathbed. I was thinking about things the day held, and how I was going to divide my split shift for the day into workable segments.

Not a thought in my mind was occupied with Aven’s game.

Then the text came in.

“Aven just made his first basket in a game!”

I missed it.

I f*$&#*@g missed it.

He didn’t miss. He never missed. He would go the entire way around the “world” and not miss once. Every. Single. Time. I don’t know how my dad shot so well. I don’t know if he played in school, I don’t think he did. I’ve never heard of him being a hoops legend on the street courts of Coweta, Oklahoma, in his heyday. In fact, I don’t even really know why he liked basketball to begin with, but I know he did. After his first circuit, he’d look at me and say, “Alright, now I have to go back around.” And somewhere in that trip, he’d miss. 18 years later, I’ve finally figured out he probably did it on purpose…

I’ve felt pretty bad about things in my life. There are times I’ve had where I realize how wrong I was, or how stupid I was, and then I usually have the obligatory pity party, where I steep in self-loathing almost as completely narcissistic as the original act I’m “punishing” myself for.

But Saturday, it was different.

I missed it.

Yeah, Aven will have other “firsts.” He’ll have his first game where they actually keep score, his first assist, his first high school game, his first start, and maybe more. There will be a lot more firsts.

But this one was more important to me than anything else.

And I missed it. Why?

“I really don’t have time.” 

I’d get my second chance, and I’d get going. After the first shot, the next two were easy. Then the corner shot loomed. This was the shot that would make or break me. I just had to complete one circuit, and this was the keystone on which success or failure was built. Most of the time, I’d miss. Then I’d usually take my chance, and I’d usually miss again. My dad would laugh and say something like, “You won’t beat your old man today, son.” Then he’d rip off five or six straight shots to win the game. After, he’d flip the ball back to me. “Let’s go again.” He gave me another chance… 

Aven walked in the door right as I was about to walk out of it for my assignment. To tell you the truth, I had been praying I wouldn’t see him before I left. But he walked in. He looked at me, all ready to go, and all thoughts about his shot left his mind.

“Dad are you leaving already? I never get to see you!”

I turned around, bit my lip, and forced myself to smile. I turned around, and The Missus, thinking quickly, said, “Don’t you have something to tell him?”

“DAD I MADE MY FIRST BASKET!”

I hugged him, fast, before he could see the tears. I said, “I know son, and I’m so proud of you.” I turned, walked out the door, into my busy life.

Yesterday at church, Aven met his assistant coach on the walk to door. The coach walked up to him, high-fived him, and said, “Aven! The scoring machine!” He and Aven laughed, and the coach said, “And you had everybo…your mom and your sister there to see it!”

I have no doubt his intentions were pure and it was a simple slip of the tongue. No doubt whatsoever.

But I wanted to tear him apart.

Then, that afternoon, my family gathered at my mom’s house for dinner and the reading of my youngest brother’s letter, which will be another blog this week. As we walked in the door, the talk of the room was Aven’s first basket. Everyone congratulated him, high-fived him, and my brothers were joking with him and in general just making me feel a little more sorry for myself.

I missed it.

I missed it. I always missed the first shot. Then history would repeat itself, and we’d walk to the house, me as the loser, him as the winner, the universe in perfect harmony. He’d always slap me on the back and tell me to keep working. “One day you’ll beat me.” Oh that the “one day” would come! Even though now I would trade a lifetime of losing to my dad to get him back, then all I wanted to do was win. All I wanted was to be a good…

Dad. That’s all I want to be. A good dad. Not great, not spectacular, not anything special. Just good. I want Aven and Akeeli and any other children that might come along to say, “My dad was a good father, and a good man.”

So I kept working. I don’t remember the day I beat him, but I know I did. I’ll never know if he let it happen or not, but I don’t think my dad was that kind of person. My hard work paid off. I kept trying, and I made mistakes, and I kept getting chances, and that’s exactly how real life works too. I’ll keep getting chances at this “dad” thing. I’m sure this won’t be my last big screw up, because it’s certainly not my first. This one just hurt more.

Time.

Whenever I think of the word, my mind flashes back to the movie Man on Fire with Denzel Washington.

“I wish. You had. More time.”

After a discussion in my Sunday School class yesterday, I’ve discovered I’m not the only person who struggles with managing their time. We’re all busy with work, school, church, family, friends, hobbies, and a billion other things that cause us to lose focus and never complete any one thing with care.

I’ll learn. I’ll figure it out.

My job at the moment is not something which cannot be manipulated. If I have an assignment, I have to take it, because it’s work, and I have to contribute to this family somehow. Could I have chanced being a little late and maybe caught Aven’s first basket? I don’t think I could have. Does that change the way I feel about missing it? No it doesn’t. Not one bit. I feel terrible.

But I get to keep working with at the game. I get to teach him little things I know, and encourage him to try harder.

Aven doesn’t watch the ball when he plays. He watches us. He’s always looking at the sideline, disregarding all the basic principles of the game, eschewing them for us. For our approval.

And my life’s goal is to always be there, looking back at him, waving my hands like crazy, telling him for the love of God just get back on defense, stop looking at us, pay attention to your coach, GO!

As much as I hate time, it provides us with the one thing we all so desperately need.

Second chances.

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As some of you already know, I play church league basketball. About four years ago, I retired from The League, citing my overworked knees and my tendency to get really competitive and angry during games, resulting in decidedly un-Christlike behavior. Then we started going to a new church, and our Sunday School class decided to put a team in the “recreational” division of The League. We’ve played together for two years now, and in that time I’ve noticed that all the teams are pretty much made up of the same nine guys. There might be fifteen on a team, but it’s really only nine personalities out there.

Here are those personalities.

1. The Angry Guy – This is the guy that’s probably had a really bad day at work. Maybe he got yelled at by his boss. Maybe he IS the boss, and his employees are only marginally more competent than a stick of room temperature butter. Maybe he came home from work to grab a quick bite before the game and his wife told him that their four year old had choke slammed a kid at school resulting in their suspension and now they have to pay the choked out kid’s medical bills. Regardless of what happened, the dude is angry, and he’s going to release that anger on the court. Some might be passive aggressive and elbow you when no one is looking or call you ugly under their breath, but others will downright try to hurt you. They see you as the person who shot their pet turtle that one time in the fifth grade. They are what is traditionally known as a “live wire.” They are probably already taking baby aspirin, and are a choke slam away from having that first heart attack.

2. The Show-Off – This gentleman is usually the best player on the team, and he knows it. He also has it in his mind that there are actually NBA scouts in the stands, and if he plays well enough he’ll get a contract. He probably had a shot at college basketball at one point after high school, but he blew it in one way or another and he’s still bitter. He’ll give a post-game interview to anyone who cares to tell him “good game,” and he’ll usually try to get his teammates to run at least one play that he’s seen the Lakers run. He’s really not a bad guy, and all he wants is his picture in the paper.

3. The Mediator – The Mediator is the person who spends most of their time yelling encouraging things at BOTH of the teams. Peppy stuff, motivational stuff, and helpful stuff, reminding everyone that it’s a church league and that Jesus is watching. He’s the first one to break up any arguments that might happen, and he’s the first one to explain to the referee that The Angry Guy’s kid choked someone out in school today. He’s the guy that will tell you it’s all in fun when you’re down fifty points and have absolutely no hope of winning a single game during the season. Everyone loves The Mediator, but everyone also secretly wants him to validate their own emotions by seeing him punch just one guy, one time.

4. The Competitive Guys – These folks can be broken down into two groups. The “Skinny/In Shape” guys and the “Fat/Out of Shape” guys.
The Skinny Guys are the ones who dive for every loose ball, foul you hard in the paint when you think you’ll get an easy layup, try to get you to run a 1-3-1 defense, and just in general think that everyone should be playing as hard as them. These guys aren’t angry, but they more than likely have an actual training plan for the church league basketball season that includes a strict diet and exercise regimen.
The Fat Guys are the ones who really want to run that 1-3-1 and who will still foul you hard, but they just can’t get up and down the court the way they used to. They’ll play with the heart of a lion for about thirty six seconds, and then they’re huffing and puffing and pretty much just praying to God above that they’ll be in the right place at the right time. At some point during the game, a Fat Competitive Guy usually turns into an Angry Guy.

The Stalwart Defender – No one else knows when it happened, but at some point and time in the Stalwart Defender’s younger days, a coach looked at him and said “Son, you play really good defense. DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS, SON!” This guy could tell you the year, the month, the day, and what they were wearing when their coach told them this. They despise all things zone, and by the end of the evening can tell you what flavor of gum you’re chewing. If you get stuck being guarded by a Stalwart Defender, your only hope is to try to check into the game when he’s on the bench, which will probably be often, because his jumpshot looks like something out of a Michael Bay film. When he comes on the court, he immediately yells “FIND YOUR MAN!” followed by “I’VE GOT THIS GUY!” while tugging on your shirt like you’re a puppy about to go for a walk. This is probably the most annoying guy you’ll ever play against, but you want him on your team.

The Third Referee – Every sport has this person. The person who thinks they were born with a striped shirt and a whistle in their hand. The person who seriously considered listing “NBA Referee” as their five year career plan, or even worse, used to be an actual referee. They aren’t the referee in this game, but you wouldn’t know it except for their jersey. Their favorite line is “OVER THE BACK!” but they don’t limit it to that. They’re constantly trying to get a three second call on someone. They explain to the officials how that really was a foul. They scream “WALK!” after the referee has already blown the whistle to call a travel. They’ve usually been warned about it in a church league game and have been kicked out of their old high school’s gym for insulting an official’s mother. He’s the only person on the team that will actually try to take a charge. He is also more than likely…

The Crybaby – This person may not try to be an official, but they aren’t happy with ANYTHING they call. “Their foot was on the line.” “That was probably a foul.” “I want more playing time.” “I just can’t get it to fall tonight guys.” “Honey, I can’t believe you don’t come watch me play.” These are all things a Crybaby says. They are pouting when they come in, and they are making excuses after the game. They would rather miss a play on defense because they’re trying to get the ref to notice that the way the point guard is dribbling is actually carrying than just suck it up and play hard. At some point during the game, The Crybaby will say, “I got Powerade in my eye guys, give me a sec.”

The Washed-Up Ballhog – This is the guy that had a so-so high school career but was never actually good enough to get into college. He’s played church league almost exclusively after that because he feels like he’s better than everyone except The Show-Off. If you pass this guy the ball, he is GOING to shoot. Ball movement never enters his mind. He’ll shoot 23% on a great night, and 12% on an average night. He doesn’t understand how people can manage to block his shot or steal the ball from him without fouling him first. He probably tried to “retire” from church league at one point and got talked into coming back. He tells people he’s out there for fun, but when it comes down to it, he’s a choke slam away from being an Angry Guy as well. He’ll make little noises on the three point line to let someone know he’s open even though the guy with the ball has a higher shot percentage and a better shot. At some point during the game he’ll yell “GIVE ME THE ROCK!” Also, he calls a basketball a rock.

and finally…

The Guy Everyone Wants To See Make It – If there was a “Most Improved” award, this guy would get it every year. He’s never played basketball a day in his life, but he got sucked in by all the “It’s gonna be so fun!” talk, and decided to cough up the money to play. At some point you’ve probably had to explain to him that he can’t play in work boots or flip flops. When he gets the ball, everyone yells at him to shoot it, no matter where he is on the floor. He is, in fact, the only person that will ever have a screen set for him. The entire crowd is breathless when he chucks the ball at the hoop, and if it goes in…pandemonium ensues. At least one time during the season he’ll have an asthma attack, and he can probably give you a complete run-down of the stats for the entire team.

So that about wraps it up. These nine guys step out on that floor at some point during every game. It may only be church league ball to you, but for everyone out there, it’s forty more minutes of trying desperately to hang onto what’s left of the Glory Days.

To them, it’s The League.

I got this idea from Sal over at You. Me. No adult supervision. If you aren’t reading her blog, you should be. Obviously these words don’t count towards my 100. So shut it. 

There were 3 seconds left on the clock, we were down by one. The time out was over; the play had been drawn up. I needed to be positioned under the basket, acting like I didn’t want the ball.
The truth was, I didn’t want the ball. Responsibility loomed, an eerie dark figure in the shadows.
But I got it.
0:03 the ball is inbounded.
0:02 the point guard looks up and sees me, wide open. The pass flies through the air.
0:01 I grab the ball, turn around, and put the ball on the glass.
0:00 it goes in.   

(Hey y’all. This little thing is called Memoir Monday, and I’d be thrilled if you gave it a shot. Just jot down a story about yourself, grab my code down there, and I’ll link you up to be read by all my wonderful blog buddies. The only rule? It has to be true. I am personally doing what I can to help cure your case of the Mondays. Thanks for playing along!)image
Some of you may be shocked to hear this, but I was not really a popular guy in high school. If you had to class me, I’d probably have landed squarely in the middle, as so demonstrated by this senior class picture.
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What’s that ladies? A close up? Well hell yeah I can do a close up.
imageRing on, arm on the knee, gut sucked in, that’s the pose. Don’t hate. I was way cooler than you, and I dated your wife. She totally made out with me. 
However, while I didn’t fit in any one clique, I was pretty much friends with everyone. I could wander from group to group, having something to say to everyone, and making every person laugh.
I was also a basketball player.
imageFlaming balls. Yeah. I was WAY cooler than you.
I was legit, son. I scored almost a thousand points in two seasons, and I was MVP my junior and senior year. I could take pictures of all my various accolades and achievements, but trust me; the blog doesn’t have room.
“The greatest thing about me is my humility.” -Will Smith. (& Travis Sloat)
All basketball players have to practice. At least the good ones do. If you’re Kentucky, you can play ball on sheer talent without working hard, but you see where that gets you, under 50% from the free throw line and a humiliating bus ride back to NBA draft after West Virginia makes shooting 3 pointers look as easy as dunking on a kid goal.
Anysuck, back to my practicing.
It was a light practice day, and I had decided to try my luck behind the 3 point line before the bell rang. I only made three or four from behind the arc during my illustrious high school career, and those were pretty much all luck.
In walked Kara. Kara was a breathtaking young thing that I had a typing class with. The typing class I took that had nothing but freshman girls in it. The typing class that was the best class I ever took.
So Kara walks into the gym, and on a whim I shout out, “Hey! If I make this, can I get a kiss on the cheek?”
“Oh Travis, you’re so funny… Yeah…”
I shanked it. She walked off, and I tried again the next day. I kept trying until I made it. Then I got my kiss on the cheek, and it was glorious. This of course made me shoot the long ball with wild abandon anytime she was in the gym.
One day I got brave. I asked her for our usual deal, then I insisted that she wait until I made it. I made the shot, and she moved in for the kiss.
As she did, I quickly turned my head so that my lips were facing hers dead on.
As she pressed her lips to mine, time stopped. It was a magical moment. I was kissing Kara, the cutest freshman there was. I’m pretty sure a rainbow sprouted up, and no telling what else sprouted as well. Butterflies flew by. A light breeze came up…
SMACK!
The rainbow went away, and so did any other condition caused by the glorious moment. Turns out the light breeze was stirred up by her hand heading towards my face. My ear was ringing and the whole side of my face was numb. She slapped me so hard I actually think I went blind in one eye for a few minutes. Out of the two times I was slapped in high school, it was definitely the worst.
Was it worth it?
Hell yes it was worth it. That was the single greatest three point shot I ever hit.
P.S. I saw you in Mazzio’s the other day, and it made me think of this story. If you ever read this, I just want to say that I’ll never apologize for it. I hope it was as good for you as it was for me!
Other Non-Slapped 3 Point Shots At Life This Week: (GO READ THEM!)
Joey’s Memoir Monday: My Writing Peaked In The 5th Grade.

Micki’s Memoir Monday: My First Black Eye.

Shany’s Memoir Monday: How To Scare The Living Sh*t Out Of Your Mother.

Ed’s Memoir Monday: We 3 Little Kings.

Barb’s Memoir Monday.

Angel’s Memoir Monday: About My Daddy.

Madmother’s Memoir Monday: Madmother: Stuntwoman Extraordinare!

Erin’s Memoir Monday: Even Stay At Home Moms do Karaoke.