Please don’t ever bring me to a sporting event. I’m very serious when I say this. Given that I inappropriately sport my red, white, and blue flag sweater professing that I am an AMERICAN in capital letters year round, and that I usually cheer for every team, regardless of whether or not I know the rules of the sport, you probably wouldn’t want me there anyway. I feel there’s something magnetic about the drama of sports watching and perhaps this has to do with the fact that I’ve always been too small and uncoordinated and scared to actually play them well myself.
My younger brother Jon, a sophomore in high school, soaked up most of the Lazar Family’s Athletic Skills Reserve Tank and that’s fine with me. He also got the elusive height gene that I clearly got passed over for, which is not so fine with me. Excelling at every sport he plays, he settled on track and field, and started pole vaulting last year at the Catholic high school he attends. Watching pole vaulting, the reedy sticks propelling even reedier young men into the air, is not for the faint of heart, but when someone jumps well it’s one of the most beautiful things you’ve even seen, I promise.
I went to watch my brother jump at a meet the other day and, upon arrival, “Born in the USA” began blaring out of the speakers. Surely this was a sign. I was tempted to run back to the car and pull on my AMERICA sweater for spirit but talked myself down. Jon’s school colors are maroon and white. Not the time. I surveyed the premises, taking in all of the different events. I saw limbs splayed out in all directions from a spectrum of jerseys, streaking the track with springy rubber shoes, thrusting batons into the shaking hands of teammates, crumbling into hot balls of color against mats.
My mother and sisters set up lawn chairs as I leaned into the activity, absorbing the team unity and watching people move in slow motion through finish line tape like majestic animals in wildlife documentaries, but this was better than cable, better than watching defeat and triumph play out across a screen. Boys crushed through the bar on their way down from the pole vault and rotated like second hands around the track. Some leaned against the fence and breathed their failures in and out, some leaned into the sky, waiting for the gun to start their races. Because it was an all-Catholic school track meet, I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised to see people praying quietly. It was just something to see prayer in the chapel of the great lawn or in the dust of the clay track. I said quietly to my mom, “I wonder what it’s like to be good at sports. I bet it feels nice,” but her eyes were focused on my brother who was on deck to vault. I saw that he was chewing his thumbnail the same way my sisters and I all were chewing ours, all consanguineous, all focused on the same event about the transpire.
The pole was against my brother’s shoulders and he dragged it like a cross. His Jesuit education was proudly displayed across the back of his jersey and his hair ripped at the sky, shredding it the way a thorn tears a sheet. He walked to the line and began. The run, the charge, a wind he created propelled him up and up and up. His amber eyes were obsidian with focus.
He was Hermes, I could see the wings budding from his filthy sneakers as he pressed off the clay ground, a perfect jaybird, an apostle to the track gods. He jumped the way a tree bends, swaying and snapping his trunk, twisting like a ribbon curl to a sharp point. His feet were twin rabbit ears. He climbed higher and higher into the sky; his toes taking him there.
I wished I had his tenacity, his grip on the pole like his grip on everything else, dogged and unyielding. He was gold with the knowledge of his determination. He grasped at the fibers of clouds, yanking them to Earth like sopping pillows until he reached the sun and never came down.