Articles From the August 1994 Unification News


A Lesson in Passing

by Richard Van Loon-Falls Church, VA

"Pass it to me! Pass it to me!"

It was my best friend, Jamie. He was standing at the foul line. I darted forward, stopped short, spun around in the clear and shot him the ball. All the guys on our team started shouting, "To me! To me!" but as soon as he got the ball, Jamie launched it. It hit the backboard high and to the left. The other team got the rebound and passed the ball down court.

Peter ran up alongside me. He punched my shoulder right to the bone with his big knuckles.

"I thought I told you not to pass to Jamie," he panted.

I winced. Then the other team laid one up and the pain in my arm gave way to a pain in my heart.

I didn't pass to Jamie for the rest of the game. No one else on our team did either, except when they were in a jam and he was the only one in the clear. And although Jamie shot the ball every time he got it, he never scored.

After the game, Jamie and I walked home together through the woods bordering on the schoolyard.

"You know why we lost, don't you?" Jamie said, bouncing a stone off a tree with a thud. It was one of those questions you don't answer. No team work, that's why," he said.

He smacked another tree. I watched the stone veer off through the speckled sunlight. Another one of Jamie's shots ricocheting off the backboard.

"Mike scored a lot," I said. "And Benji too."

"I know, stupid. That's because every time they got the ball they shot I'm talking about team work."

I couldn't believe it! First of all, it was not like Jamie to hog the ball. And second of all, he was accusing the others of the same problem he had. Suddenly in the thick, filtered light of the forest, the truth seemed far away.

Now I had known Jamie practically all of my life and before I had never hesitated to tell him what was on my mind. But this time it was different. One of his stones seemed to have gotten stuck in my throat. We walked along in silence until we came to Jamie's street. We stopped and looked at each other for a moment, then he turned away.

When I came up the drive Dad was unloading groceries. He was sorry we had lost and wanted a play-by-play account, but I still didn't feel like talking.

"We just lost, that's all," I said.

He carried two fistfuls of plastic sacks into the house. I grabbed the handle of a box of laundry detergent and hoisted it out of the station wagon.

Dad came back.

"So the other team was just better, huh?" he said, putting his hand on my shoulder. I nodded and then carried the box inside.

Something smelled good. I put the detergent down while mom handed me a cupcake.

"How was the game?" she smiled.

"We lost," I said, unwrapping the cupcake. It was sweet and warm and pushed the stone down out of my throat.

"Mom? Why do people accuse others of having the same faults they have?"

Mom asked me what I meant, and I told her about the game and about Jamie. She squatted down and ran her hand softly through my hair. "That doesn't sound like Jamie. Maybe something's troubling him," she said. "But whatever the reason is, it's never easy to admit when we're wrong. That means we have to change. Instead, we blame everyone else."

I took a quick, painful look inside myself. Mom was right. "If he doesn't stop hogging the ball, no one will want him on the team," I said.

Mom looked right through me with her sparkling eyes. I knew what she was gonna say.

"You're his best friend, Alex. Why don't you tell him? After all, isn't that what best friends are for?"

I felt the stone coming back into my throat. "Mom, can I have another cupcake?"

Whatever Jamie's problem was, he was sure making things difficult for I finally got around to talking to him a week and three more me. disastrous basket ball games later. We were heading back to class after lunch and our latest defeat. As we crossed the grassy field, memories of Jamie and me filled my head: cruising through the quiet streets and along the forest path on our bikes; fishing in the lake at summer camp; pillow fights sleeping over at each other's house. They were wonderful memories but they had an edge of sadness around them, like the memories of our dog Willie after he'd got run over.

So now I was trapped. Good friends were hard to find, and I was closer to Jamie than to anyone. But like my mom said, if I was really his friend, I'd tell him. I looked down at the scraggly green field splotched with patches of brown and felt my stomach go tight.

"Did you see that shot?" Jamie said. "I thought for sure it was going in." He kicked an empty juice carton.

"You shoot the ball too much," I blurted out.

Jamie glared at me. "Oh yeah? Well how about you? I don't see you passing the ball around."

"I do too," I protested.

"Not to me you don't."

"Nobody passes to you unless they have to. That's because you always shoot the ball as soon as you get it."

"Oh yeah? What about Benji? He always shoots the ball." "Benji's a good shot," I said.

Jamie glared at me again, more hurt now than angry. "Some friend you are," he said. Then he ran away.

Jamie and I were walkers. We usually walked home through the woods together after school. But from that day on Jamie went ahead without me. He avoided me in class, too. And during basketball games he was worse. He hounded everyone who had the ball, no matter which team they were on. One day he was all over Deryk Anderson. Deryk pushed him and they almost got into a fight. (Lucky for Jamie they didn't.

Deryk would've creamed him.) And although no one passed the ball to Jamie, he still managed to get his hands on it. When he did, you'd hear this "Yes!" go up from the other team and a groan from ours. His shooting was more reckless than ever. Sometimes he even missed the backboard completely, almost as if he'd done it on purpose.

Mom said to give him time, that he'd get over whatever it was that was bothering him the way he'd get over a skinned knee. This was no skinned knee, I told her. This was a torn ligament.

The worst of it all was the way Jamie ignored me. Every day hurt just as much as the day before. My only consolation was knowing that I had told him the truth for his sake, not mine. But that didn't lessen the pain any.

There was a rule in school that when a kid had a birthday, he could bring treats for the class, but if he was having a party at home, he wasn't supposed to hand out invitations at school. That way kids who weren't invited wouldn't feel bad. Of course, if you weren't invited to a party, you'd find out quick enough, but that was the rule.

That's why when Jamie handed out invitations to his birthday party just before class one day to practically everyone but me, I couldn't help feeling that he was doing it to hurt me. All day he kept giving me this weird grin, his chin sticking out and his eyes closed, the kind you'd like to ram your fist into.

That was a Friday and the next day was the longest, most miserable day of my life. Mom kept making suggestions to keep busy. She brought out the expensive clay. She set up the badminton net in the backyard. We played Monopoly and Chess. She even had Dad take me to Chuck E. Cheese. But not even pulling Chuck E.'s tail could push away the fact that my best friend hadn't invited me to his birthday party. A funny thing though. I never once wished I hadn't told Jamie the truth.

The following week, whenever anyone on our team had the ball, Jamie would yell, "pass it to me, pass it to me. I invited you to my birthday party, didn't I?" So the guy would pass me the ball instead and since I wasn't invited Jamie would quiet down.

Later that week, Benji recruited a guy from the other fourth grade class to play with us. When the teams were picked, Jamie was left out. Boy, was he sore.

Jamie went into the woods ahead of me after school that day, but when I came around the first bend, he was waiting. I didn't stop, just kept walking as if he wasn't there. He fell in step alongside me.

"Can you believe it?" he said, his voice friendly, as if nothing had happened between us. "Benji getting that kid from Mrs. Burk's class just so they could dump me? It makes me wanna throw up." I kept walking. If all he felt like was throwing up, he was getting off easy. Still, I was a softie. I knew I was gonna forgive Jamie, but not that quick. I walked a little faster, looking straight ahead, while Jamie tagged along.

"Who does Benji think he is?" Jamie continued. "All of them, they're all like that. Don't trust 'em, Alex. They're scum bags." Then Jamie kicked at a rock. It must've been buried deep for he let out a yell and grabbed his toe. I kept walking, with Jamie hobbling along behind me. Then I stopped and turned.

"Don't you get it?" I said. "You're such a lump head. You talk about team work, but you're the one who doesn't cooperate. What's the matter with you anyway?"

This time Jamie didn't get upset. He looked at me with this helpless look, just standing there, favoring his stubbed toe, his black, wavy hair falling tangled on his forehead, his big cow eyes looking sadly down. Then the forest got unusually quiet, as if time had come to a standstill.

Jamie looked up. His eyes were filled with tears.

"Dad's in the hospital," he said.

My eyes nearly popped out and mom's words about something bothering Jamie exploded between my ears like a freight train howling through a canyon.

"What happened?" I asked.

"He has colon cancer," Jamie said and his face melted into tears.

I asked him when that had happened, knowing before the words had even left my mouth what the answer would be.

"A month ago," he said, exactly when he had started hogging the ball.

I put my hand on his shoulder and he cried it all out.

"I'll do it," he said with a brave sniffle.

"Do what?" I said.

"I'll pass the ball. You know, not just shoot it all the time." We both laughed and Jamie wiped away his tears. Then he reached around and took something out of his back pocket. It was a small white envelope. The corners were all turned up and it was curved, like he had been carrying it around in his pocket for a while.

"Here," he said. "I...I forgot to give you this."

"I thought you didn't want me to come," I said.

"That's because I thought you weren't my friend. I was wrong, Alex. You're the best friend a guy could have." Then he smiled. His face looked so natural and sincere, like he had just taken a bath or something. It felt so good to have my friend back, all my pain completely disappeared. "And Alex, I'm sorry if I made you feel bad," he said.

"Forget it," I said. But it was I who owed Jamie an apology. I had judged him too quickly.

"I'm sorry, too," I said. Jamie gave me a bewildered look, like Goofy in those cartoons. I started to laugh. This set Jamie off laughing, too, then both of us erupted into one of our unstoppable sessions. We laughed 'till our sides ached and we couldn't breath anymore. Then, arm in arm, we went home.


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