The Day Jennifer Smiled

Almost a Love Story, Almost a Basketball Player

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In order for a guy to get the girl he has to do something heroic.

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My chance came in a basketball game in eighth grade. She was a cheerleader named Jennifer.

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Do you ever look back and wonder if your life could be different if you had an extra half second?

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The ball leaves my hand at half court. The crowd goes silent and time stands still. The impossible happens. It goes in!

The fans were cheering. The cheerleaders were cheering. What an incredible feeling.

The only problem was that there was a whistle. I turn around to see the referee waving her hands.

“No good.”

Time had run out before the ball left my hand. My chance to impress Jennifer had morphed into an embarrassing failure.

I was furious. Compounding the rage was the fact that the referee was also my teacher, Mrs. D.

I felt betrayed.

Luckily I could draw. It sounds strange, but that was how I coped with the pain of being a teenager. Looking back I realize it was therapy because it gave me a way to channel my rage. After the game I went home and started drawing.

First, I drew the open mouth of a crying baby I found in a magazine. I added Mrs. D’s head, a whistle, and the body of a referee. There was a word bubble with a rude statement that escapes my memory. The next day before school I showed it to my friends.

It went viral.

Everyone wanted one. For a little while I was a celebrity. Somebody photocopied it. It might have been me. I might have even sold them for a dollar a piece.

Somehow Mrs. D. got wind of the drawing.

I can honestly tell you that her anger surprised me. The “brilliance” of my plan was supposed to be that Mrs. D. couldn’t get mad at me. If she did she would further reinforce the cartoon image that my drawing parodied. Turns out, she didn’t appreciate the irony when she laid in to me that day.

I had to turn over the original drawing and all my friends had to give her their photo copies. All money was returned. My fifteen minutes of middle school fame had passed.

End of story?

Well, not exactly. There was a rumor that somebody still had a copy of my drawing. My heart skipped when I learned that Jennifer had somehow managed to keep her copy. Did this mean she liked me?

Jennifer lived up the street from me. I always held my breath when I rode my bike past her house on my trips to the gas station to buy baseball cards. I never had the guts to stop and visit her.

Finally, I had an excuse. I gathered my courage and rode to her house. I must have been shaking like a leaf when I rang her doorbell.

She came to the door and I told her that I heard a rumor that she had kept my drawing. She said it was true and asked if I wanted to see it. The next thing I know I am in her room. There on the wall, taped in between photos clipped from teen girl magazines was my drawing. And I saw her smile.

I had won blue ribbons for my drawings in the past, but this was the highest honor my art had ever received. Basketball didn’t matter. If Jennifer thought I was a good artist, I was king of the world.

I persuaded Jennifer to let me borrow her copy so I could reproduce one for myself. She agreed.

I couldn’t risk getting caught with the art at the photo copier, so instead I traced the drawing. The process of redrawing it gave me a chance to fix some of the flaws and transfer it to “good paper.”

As an act of defiance I decided to tape the drawing to the bottom of my desk at school. For the rest of the year, whenever Mrs. D. yelled at me I could put my hand under my desk and feel my hidden masterpiece.

The drawing survived the year undetected. My feelings for Jennifer also remained hidden. I never had the nerve to tell her how I felt.

The school year ended, summer passed, and high school introduced Jennifer to another basketball player named Doug. He couldn’t draw, but he could play ball. Meanwhile, I failed to make the freshman team.

Again, I found peace through drawing. Without art class I am not sure I would have survived high school. Seeing your girl with a better basketball player is devastating. It rips a sensitive kid to shreds.

In hindsight you start to see patterns in the way life plays out.

Some lives are defined by the bounce of a ball.

Some lives are defined by failure to tell people we love them.

Some lives are caricatures that conceal their humanity beneath a facade of satire.

Some lives are defined by how we respond to people who want to turn us into cartoons.

Some lives are defined by rebellion and acts of anarchy.

I was lucky. None of those things ended up defining me because I had a skill that got me through the hard times. I could draw.