Growing up with an older brother, I quickly understood that sports were the cornerstone of an enjoyable childhood. If I wanted to stop watching, I had to learn how to play. If I didn't want to be left out, I needed to learn. If I wanted to be seen as more than an inconvenience, I must learn.
While most girls played with dolls and tea sets, I was learning the intricacies of the footwork in soccer, the complexity of keeping two feet inbounds in football, and the proper shooting form in basketball.
Every Sunday morning, we would go to our religious center and afterward, all the boys got together for a game of football in the parking lot. With trash cans established as end zones, shoes scuffed the concrete as they tried to get open and avoid their defenders. The ball flew through the air, past all the parked cars into the open arms of a waiting receiver.
Every Sunday morning, I would watch and hope one day, I would be picked on a team. But my standard spot remained on the side, sitting on the curb, chin in my hands, eyes wide open, ready to absorb everything I could.
Then one Sunday morning, I got ready early, my hair tied back in a ponytail, Nike shoes double knotted. I waited and waited and finally, it was time to choose teams; the moment of truth had arrived. I waited and waited, anxious to hear my name spoken over the rapid beating of my heart. An eternity passed, names were called, and suddenly, I was the only one left. The boys started walking away, chatting with their teammates. I felt the heavy weight of tears forming in my eyes.
Head down, I started trudging back to the curb, certain I would never get the chance to be more than a spectator on the curb.
I whipped my head around at the sound of my brother's voice. He smiled and waved me over.
"Someone on my team has piano lessons so he has to leave. Do you want to play?"
The smile on my face could not have been bigger. I nodded vigorously, tightened my ponytail, and retied my shoes. I lined up against the 15 year-olds that towered over me. And then I heard my cue, "Ready, Set, Hike!"
I ran as fast as my short legs could carry me and found myself in the end zone, unmarked and overlooked. I jumped up and down, trying to catch the attention of my brother. He lets the ball fly and I see it, I see it, here it comes, I've got it, I've got it, it's coming fast, here it is, here it is. I got it! I got it! I jumped up and down and did a little celebration dance. I had done it.
As I'm jumping, I see little red flecks out of the corner of my eye. The skin on my arm had been shredded by the concrete. On the car ride home that day, I was told not to play football on Sundays again. I stayed silent and smiled to myself; nothing and no one was going to keep me from playing in that parking lot again.
But I did learn a few things that day.
1. Diving on pure concrete to catch a football for a pick-up game is not a great idea.
2. It was the best idea I'd had that day.
For a little bit of pain and a few weeks of bandages, I earned the respect of my brother and all his friends. No longer would I sit on the curb, I had a place on the field. I could keep up.
Come Sunday morning, my ponytail would be tied back, shoes double-knotted. I was ready to play.