Somewhere in mid America there is a boy who has never touched the soccer ball. He goes to a small private school with a blacktop parking lot out back where the kids have fifteen minutes of recess after lunch. The boy’s first grade class spends their recess playing soccer.
On a particular day in 1992, the first graders pick their two teams, each player chosen by one of the elected captains. The boy is never a captain and he is always chosen last. On this day he is chosen last once again, but he is unfazed by this. On the opposite team, a girl is chosen first. If she is not a captain, she is usually chosen first. She plays in community soccer leagues and will one day play on a division one college team. The boy will never play a team sport and one day in 2005, he will die in Iraq.
But today the boy has resolved to finally touch the ball. Normally, the boy hangs back and plays defense, but not today. Today he feels like he might even score a goal. Today the boy runs to the opposing team’s side of the parking lot. But today the girl has the soccer ball.
The girl knows that the boy is not a good soccer player and she knows that he has never touched the ball. She knows that if he tries to get the ball from her that she has the power to humiliate him. All the boy knows is that, for once, he might score a goal. He knows that if he scores a goal after getting the soccer ball from the girl, he’ll be a hero for the rest of the week, but he doesn’t know what the girl has in store for him.
He runs to the girl, determined with his tongue sticking out. He saw Michael Jordan doing this on TV and assumes that all skilled athletes do it. The girl sees this and smiles and maneuvers the ball around the boy and taunts him, but when she gets past him, she turns around and comes back toward him. The boy keeps trying; he feels so close.
The girl taunts the boy and nearly runs circles around him, moving the soccer ball back and forth and shuffling around his clumsy attempts to get close. She asks the boy if he wants the ball and she stops moving. The boy gathers himself and locks his gaze on the ball resting between the girl’s feet. She tells him to come and get it, and he does. The boy brings his foot back and then swings it forward, but the girl has kicked it just in time for him to miss.
Instead, the boy’s foot drives itself into the girl’s toes and she goes down crying. The boy hops up and down on his good foot while clutching his own toes. He loses his balance and collapses as the other first graders and a teacher gather around the girl. The boy is on his back with his eyes closed, but when he opens them, all he sees is the sky. No one is looking over him, making sure he is okay. The crowd is still gathered around the girl and the boy thinks about calling for help, but he knows that over their commotion they wouldn’t hear his quiet voice. No one shows any sign of noticing him lying alone on the ground, holding his foot with two hands.
Eventually the teacher emerges carrying the girl away from the first graders. The girl wipes tears off her face and the others follow as the teacher takes her into the school. The boy is still alone. He manages to get up and stumble away. He limps over to the soccer ball and reaches out with his foot, but then pulls it back and looks over his shoulder. No one is watching. If he kicks the ball, no one will see him do it. They’re all gone.
John Milas is currently an undergrad in the creative writing program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.