September 2, 2009

J.S. Graustein


The rules were simple. Toss the frisbee as far as you could toward the woods, then be the first person to snatch it from the brush. Tackling was encouraged. Biting and scratching were right out. Play lasted until we could no longer see or our mothers called us in. Last one with the frisbee won. And of course, games were always co-ed.

Games started with a whole gang. That's when it made the most sense: one person to throw and nine to race. But then Charlie usually gashed his leg and would run home to get his cut cleaned. His mother always worried about flesh-eating bacteria, so Charlie worried about prompt wound care. Jeff usually left with Charlie since they were best friends. Then we'd be down to eight.

But eight still made a fun pack. One to throw and seven to race. The crush of bodies at the landing spot was the best. The boys' bruised elbows and knees tangled up in the girls' long hair, left free of pig tails on purpose. At 13, we'd use any excuse for physical contact—any excuse that had nothing to do with the real reason we played.

The real reason? Curiosity. Jenny wanted to know if Kevin's bicep felt as strong as it looked. Kevin wanted to know how soft Stella's shirt felt, just below its v-neck. And Stella wanted to find Ricky's tickle-spot. But no matter how many hours a night we played, no matter how many times Jenny bounced off that bicep, no matter how many times Kevin brushed his cheek against that shirt, Knowledge eluded us.

Everyone else swirled around each other in a curiosity whirlpool, but Todd and I focused solely on each other. His were always the first hands at my waist when I neared the frisbee. Mine were always the first fingers on his arm as he reached to pluck that plastic disc from low branches. And while we never knew when we'd be called in, there was always the hope that someday we'd be the last two players.

One night the full moon came out early, before the sun disappeared. This strange arrangement must have confused our mothers, because it was the only time Todd and I were the last ones out. Playing with two created a problem we'd never encountered. If one threw and one chased, there would be no tackling. Might as well just play catch with the frisbee, but where was the fun in that? No contact. No anticipation of contact. So we decided that one of us would throw, then both of us would chase; you know, to keep things interesting.

Five tackles like that and we discarded pretense. We sat on the grassy bank at the edge of the oak scrub, watching the full moon. His arms around my waist. My head against his chest. Forever wrapped in five minutes. But just as Todd discovered the benefits of whispering in my ear, our mothers called us in. We leapt apart, felt around the grass for the forgotten frisbee, and climbed the bank toward our homes. We'd broken the old rules, created new ones, and played hard with the outcome an unexpected victory: Knowledge was ours.


J.S. Graustein writes in flannel, a stuffed frog nestled in her lap. A list of the resulting works may be accessed here. She also plays Managing Editor at Folded Word.

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