8.31.2016 Journal Prompt

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Photo by Martin Parr

August 31, 2016: The last best day.

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4 thoughts on “8.31.2016 Journal Prompt

  1. Dave

    “Johnny hurry up” Marcy’s voice broke his concentration as he walked down the hot sand of the dune to the water’s edge. An occasional grassy knoll clinging to the wall of sand would give him respite from the heat of the sun baking the soles of his feet.
    “Johnny get the hell out of the way I’m coming through.”
    He quickly paused his lumbering progress down the 200 foot dune stepping aside into a welcome shade of a wind twisted tree just as a blur of sand and arms and legs went flying by him. It was Marcy doing her show off somersaults down the dune. Johnny stood watching in admiration as she took on the drop with one back flip after another with the grace of a sea bird only gently touching the sand before flipping over again to the next, and the next, and the next. Working her way to the beach to the cheers of surprised sun bathers making way for her.
    There were three standard ways to get down the face of the huge dune near his house. The older folks wear shoes to protect their feet and stumble sideways down the steep cliff-like sand often cursing all the way to the beach. Little kids on the other hand will run headlong arms outstretched most of the way down before collapsing on the sand and rolling the rest of the way down covered in squeals and giggles. Then there’s Johnny and his football buddies. They would take giant steps into the air to come crashing down onto their next step, big leaps that make them feel like giants in the sand.
    But Marcy and had a gymnastic approach to the 200 foot challenge. She would defy the limits of the human body and back flip her way all the way from the crest of the dune to the bottom. Then pick herself up, take a breath, and run up to the top to start over.
    He hadn’t noticed her at first, so focused on his own exercise program. Johnny’s football coach had promised him a spot on the squad in the fall if he could ” bulk up.” “Maybe walking in the sand dunes will strengthen your legs so you can push better on the line,” coach had said. So all summer he had been practicing.. Climbing up the hill. Walking back down. And up again.
    But in the last few weeks with summer’s end fast approaching he couldn’t help but notice her speed down the hill.
    “I look like one of those old folks walking down in their socks and shoes next to you and your flips,” he finally confided to her.
    Marcy looked up into his face with a glare not caused by the sun, and said “if you wouldn’t be such a football dork I could show you how it’s done!”
    And so began what would become a month long training program for them, Johnny learning how to do a head handstand, and Marcy learning patience with the dork. It was hard for both of them. It defied gravity to turn Johnny’s nearly 200 pound frame upside down in a position to even somersault, let alone a back flip. He was finally able to get in one somersault, but then would crash land on his face, filling his head with sand.
    His team friends showed up to observe, and of course thought it was a riot. “Coach is going to love having you back to get all that sand washed out of your ears,” they would yell out to him. But Marcy with her tiny frame confronted the entire front five with “let’s see which of you is man enough to try it. Go ahead.” They all quickly moved on to their distance training.
    Johnny and Marcy hadn’t always worked together so well. “That crazy girl down the street,” or “crazy girl,” for short, was what he called her growing up. He was always “that dumb football dude,” or “football dude,” to her. Then one day they had to get along. It was an assignment in tenth grade biology class. A team report on the life cycle of a frog. And suddenly crazy girl and football dude had to work together. And cooperate on a project in front of their friends and the teacher.
    “Marcy how we gonna do this,” Johnny asked with a hint of desperation in his voice. He saw nothing but trouble, like a blocked kick in the end zone. But Marcy would have none of it.
    “Johnny we are going to ace this thing and we are going to do it together. I’m not doing the whole thing by myself, and you’re not going to drag us down.” Marcy quickly wrote up a chart and together they collected some readings, and sketched out a schedule. “Where do you want to pitch in,” she asked. There was no changing direction. He agreed that he could try to give the final oral report to the class with Marcy’s help after they completed all their research. This is how it happened that Johnny, who had never spoken up in school, was able to give a ten minute talk in front of the whole class. “Hey, my legs were shaking through the whole thing, but I made it,” he said giving Marcy a little hug.
    After that Marcy the crazy girl and Johnny the football dude were tight. They dated some and went to movies and school dances together. But mostly they learned to trust.
    “I know you’re always there for me,” Marcy got used to saying.
    “I’m learning you’ve got my back,” Johnny heard himself say.
    They returned to the dune every summer afternoon to work on Johnny’s new skill. Marcy would show him how to do a handstand, then a somersault, and finally a forward flip, landing on his feet arching his back. He could manage parts of it but then would collapse in a pile of curses and sand. “Dammit, I get so close, but then something always goes wrong. My arm gets twisted, or I can’t get my butt high enough in the air, or even my head gets in the way.”
    “You gave it a good try, don’t give up now,” Marcy would shout into the wind.
    “Easy for you to say, Marcy, but this flipping over and back is tough for me.” Johnny knew he was whining but it somehow felt right. “And you’ve had all that training on the balance beam.”
    Marcy was not to be put off.
    “Johnny you’ve had a lot of training yourself. But in a different way. You’ve been lifting mega weights and pushing into punching bags to get yourself stronger for the front line. But this is different. It’s different that’s all. And you can do it. You have to focus on balance. Balance not strength.” By this time Marcy was up against him again toe to toe. “You can’t quit now,” she was pleading now. “You’ve come so far.”
    “She really is crazy” Johnny was thinking to himself. “Crazy for trying to help me do this.” And he said finally “OK you’re right Marcy. I can’t let this thing beat me. We’re almost there.”
    They entered their final push.
    “Let’s try something different: how about doing our forward flips along the beach,” Marcy said. “Maybe it’s the height of the dune that’s throwing you off.” The two of them moved to the water’s edge. Johnny doing his hand stands leading to forward flips landing on his feet with the waves coming in over his feet. “I’m getting it, Marcy. I’m getting it,” Johnny exclaimed.
    The next afternoon was the big moment. Johnny was ready for the dune. Marcy said “We’ve worked at this long enough, Johnny, and we’re going to try it again.”
    “I know it won’t be pretty but I’ve got nothing to lose,” Johnny sighed. “I know I’m going to collapse half way down.””
    Marcy came right back at him. “You might surprise yourself, Johnny. Don’t give up before you’ve started.” She gave him a pat on the back. “Don’t forget I’ll be right there with you. And it won’t matter if you stumble. You just get yourself up and keep going.”
    Johnny was right about his first attempt at forward flips down the dune. Halfway to the bottom he wound up entangled in a thatch of dune grass. But Marcy was right there. Just like she said she would be. “Keep going Johnny, keep going.”
    What else could he do but continue on, collapsing once more, getting up, and continuing down the dune. Then once down to the water, Johnny and Marcy took a celebratory splash in the waves, then back up the dune with Marcy dragging him. “No football workout has ever been this hard,” Johnny said under his breath.
    Suddenly the cool evening breezes and long shadows of late August arrived. Johnny and Marcy were each looking at their class schedules, and how they were going to manage the return to school.
    And they scheduled their final week of training, the dreaded back flip down the face of the dune. Johnny had so admired Marcy’s agility earlier in the summer, and desperately wanted to get to that level.
    ” Marcy you just arch your back into the air, reach out into the sky like you’re grabbing for a cloud, then just fall backwards and you’re on your way. You make it look so easy.” And to himself he said “here we go again.” He pictured himself crashing into a sapling or a pile of grass.
    “Johnny we’ve come this far together. We can’t quit with just another week left.” They had spent more time on the beach with Marcy carefully spotting him, again and again. “Arch your back, arch your back.” And help break his fall as he fell into the waves, two of them hugging and kissing in delight.
    So now here again at the top of the dune. Marcy calling out “You can do it Johnny, you can do it.” And as he hesitated, “Picture where you’re going, not where you’ve been. Trust yourself. Trust yourself.”
    Johnny tried to form the words to answer, but before he could find the wind to say anything he was on his way down. Back arched, arms out to reach the sky, falling backwards into the air, hands down on the sand, springing off his hands to flip over to his feet, and then once again back arched, arms reaching out wide. And again and again. So fast, so fast. Head tucked in, shoulders relaxed. Over and over like a pinwheel. And suddenly bam! He was down at the water’s edge flat on his feet. Marcy close behind. Twin pinwheels on the face of the dune. Nothing could stop them. “We did it, baby, we did it,” Johnny cried out in delight. “No you did it Johnny!” Marcy hugged him hard, the kind of hug you give when you don’t want to let go of someone. “I helped and pushed you along, but you are the one who believed. You are the one who trusted and made it happen.”
    As a small crowd gathered they went back up the dune and flew back down. Again and again to their cheers. Graceful like seabirds getting ready to land, then touching down and taking off. Over and over and over. At summer’s end it was a finale to the season, like a last sunset full of color. The last best day of the summer.
    Among the crowd was the team. His old buddies who had made so much fun of his ballet on the sand. And with them was coach, wearing a big smile that told Johnny that he approved. As the team gathered to congratulate the couple on their balancing act, coach blurted out “well I suppose you heard that Charlie injured his shoulder last week in practice, and I need a receiver bad. Looks like we’ve got our new receiver for the season. Johnny, watching your agility coming down the dune I know you’ll be great in that position. And Marcy you’ve been a great coach for him. Congratulations to you both.”
    As coach walked away from a stunned team and even more surprised Johnny, the team gathered around the couple with the team huddle and shouted their approval. Next summer they would all be practicing flips on the dune, pinwheels in the air.

    It’s all about balance

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