Dear Michael and Caroline,
Only now, though, do I realize how odd it was for us to play football in the street. We lived in the suburbs, after all, with a grassy, sloping park barely 100 yards away. Maybe it was because the street gave us readymade end zones and boundaries, whereas in the park we would have had to create our own demarcations.
Or maybe it had to do with where our parents came from, New York City, mostly the Bronx. In the city, you played mainly in the street, close to the apartment you called home. So maybe we played in the street as some kind of unconscious carryover from our old neighborhoods, an unacknowledged inheritance from our parents.
At any rate, those games represented a special moment in my life. We all came together, me and my chums, to play ball. We huddled and called our plays, our buttonhooks and down-and-outs and our going-longs, and played football all through the January and February afternoons.
Nothing else going on in the world mattered and, as far as we could tell, nothing else ever would. All that counted was to be out there playing a game in the cold with your friends. We came together almost magnetically, gravitationally, without even a phone call first, to test ourselves against each other, to see who would win, to mimic everything we saw the Packers and the Cowboys do on TV.
We all knew each other so well, knew each other’s mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters, had gone to each other’s houses. We took the same classes, had the same teachers. We all loved to play – that was the real common denominator on those winter days. We all wanted to excel as athletes.
I never had anything like that again, a band of friends with whom you could kid around and burp and fart. Never again would I feel so close to other males, in friendships that ran so deep, so unquestioning. I never even came close, neither in college nor at any office.
It was the circumstances that made it possible, I suppose, the time and place and our proximity to each other, all of us the same age. We had something special, irreplaceable, a closeness.
But at least I had that once, and sometimes once can be enough.
It might have to be.