Self Recognition

I was ten and playing catch in my yard with my best friend, Palmer. I loved football. I particularly liked catching passes, tracking the ball through the air, aligning my hands and eyes and body so the ball and I met at precisely the right moment. I was like a dog who could never tire of fetching sticks. I got pretty good at it, which is usually what happens when you do something again and again for no other reason than you want to keep doing it.


We were using where my driveway met the yard as a makeshift sideline, practicing keeping our feet in bounds the way Fred Biletnikoff would on his trademark come-back route. Palmer threw me a quick out, but led me a little too far. I planted my toes at the edge of the grass and leaned out, stretching my arms as far as they could stretch, feeling that tension between feet and shoulders as I hung out over the driveway just long enough to snag the ball with my fingertips. Freddy B. couldn’t have done it any better.

I turned to Palmer, triumphant. A catch that good deserved a moment of recognition. But Palmer just stood at the other end of the yard, waiting for me to throw it back to him.

“You see that?” I said. “You see how far out I had to lean?”

Palmer smiled and came over to me. “Yes, Billy. I saw it. It was an excellent catch.”

As I said, he was my best friend. He knew me well. Maybe this wasn’t the first time I’d gone fishing for some recognition. Still, I thought to myself, that was a hell of a catch.

I thought of that catch years later when a literary agent I’d met at writer’s conference asked to see the first few chapters of my memoir. After she read the pages, we met to discuss the project. “Of course, you’re a beautiful writer,” she said by way of an opening.

How odd, I thought. I felt like I’d been waiting two decades to hear exactly those words from exactly this sort of person, and as nice as it was to hear, it meant strangely little to me. Somewhere in that time I must have recognized something in myself and not even known it.

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