Boy21 - By Matthew Quick

SOMETIMES I PRETEND THAT shooting hoops in my backyard is my earliest memory.

I’m just a kid, so Dad gives me one of those smaller basketballs and lowers the adjustable rim. He tells me to shoot until I can make one hundred baskets in a row, which seems impossible. Then he goes back inside the house to deal with my pop, who has recently returned legless from the hospital, clutching my dead grandmother’s rosary beads. Our house has been silent for a long time and I understand that my mother is not coming back, but I don’t want to think about what happened, so I do as my father instructed.

At first, I can’t even reach the rim when I shoot, even though the hoop has been lowered. I keep shooting for hours and hours, until my neck is stiff from looking up and I’m sweaty. When the sun goes down, Dad puts on the floodlight and I continue to take shots, because it’s better than being inside listening to my pop cry and moan—and, also, it’s what Dad told me to do.

In my memory, I shoot through the night and don’t stop for days and weeks and months. I don’t even break to eat or sleep or use the bathroom. I just keep shooting hoops, zoning out, pretending that I will never have to go into my house again—that I will never have to remember what happened before I began shooting hoops.

You can lose yourself in repetition—quiet your thoughts; I learned the value of this at a very young age.

I remember the leaves falling and crunching under my feet, the snowflakes burning my skin, the yellow long-stem flowers blooming by the fence, and then being scorched by the powerful July sun—through it all I kept shooting.

I must have done other things—like go to school, obviously—but shooting hoops in my backyard is the only thing I remember from childhood.

After a few years, Dad began speaking more and shooting with me, which was nice.

Sometimes, Pop would park his wheelchair at the end of the driveway and sip a beer as he watched me perfect my jump shot.

The rim was raised every so often, as I grew.

And then one day a girl appeared in my backyard. She had blond hair and a smile that seemed to last forever.

“I live down the street,” she said. “I’m in your class.”

I kept shooting and hoped that she’d go away. Her name was Erin and she seemed really nice, but I didn’t want to make friends with anyone. I only wanted to shoot hoops alone for the rest of my life.

“Are you ignoring me?” she asked.

I tried to pretend she wasn’t there, because back then I was pretending the whole world wasn’t there.

“You’re really weird,” she said. “But I don’t mind.”

My shot clanked off the rim and headed straight for her face, but the girl’s reflexes were good and she caught the ball just before it smashed into her nose.

“Do you mind if I take a shot?” she asked.

When I didn’t answer, she fired and the ball went in.

“I play a little with my older brother,” she explained.

Whenever I shot around with my dad, the shooter got the ball back after a made basket, so I passed the ball to her and she shot again, and then again, and again.

In my memory, she hits dozens of shots before I get the ball back, but she doesn’t ever leave my backyard—the two of us keep shooting for years and years.


“A question that sometimes drives me hazy: Am I or are the others crazy?”

Albert Einstein


ONE WEEK BEFORE OUR SENIOR YEAR of high school begins, Erin’s wearing her basketball practice jersey and I can see her black sports bra through the armhole, which is sort of sexy, at least to me.

I try not to look—especially since we’re eating breakfast with my family—but whenever Erin leans forward and raises her fork to her mouth, her right armhole opens up, and I can see the shape of her small breast perfectly.

Stop looking! I tell myself, but it’s impossible.

I don’t hear one word that’s said over our eggs and sausage.

No one notices my staring.

Erin’s so charismatic and beautiful that my dad and pop never pay any attention to me when my girlfriend’s around.

Like mine, their eyes are always on Erin.

When we get up to leave, my legless pop yells from his wheelchair, “Make the few remaining Irish people in this town proud!”

My father says, “Just do your best. Remember—it’s a long race and you can