“Time and tide wait for no man, buddy. You got to get up and get back on track.”
Coach Leif is kneeling beside me with a grin morphing into a smirk. I’m flat on my back courtesy of a blindside hit that has me seeing stars, hearing bells, and wondering if I’m paralyzed.
“Track? Was I on a track? What the fuck? I thought I got hit by a truck. What’s a truck doing on our track?”
“Come on. Get on up and shake it off, Urban.”
I try to sit up. I almost make it. I see my teammates gathered around us, with various expressions, including concern, disinterest, disgust, happiness, and anger.
I hear someone say, “That boy need to stick to checkers or other board games.”
Someone else snickers, “Urban always got to be the center of attention.”
An older voice declares, “He sure ain’t his brother. Hector would be ashamed of him.”
I do somehow find the strength to raise both arms giving the whole crowd double middle fingers.
I like the hospital staff better than I do my teammates and coaches at Mission High School. Dr. Patel is an Asian Indian and threatens to set me up with her oldest, mean-ass daughter if I don’t follow her instructions. She keeps me laughing, which is not the best medicine for two fractured ribs and a concussion.
My mother is livid when she learns about my injuries. When my mother goes off, people feel it for a long time.
“Urban, you are no longer a member of that band of vicious cowards masquerading as a football team. I have filed a police report. I will see our lawyer immediately after I leave here.”
“Urban, it was a noncontact, no pads, drill. And the Simons brute leveled you. It was an assault with the intent to commit great bodily harm. He and the school district are in a tsunami of trouble.”
Mom’s phone rings, she glances at the phone. “It’s your brother. I’ve told him not to come home. You tell him to stay in LA this weekend. He will only complicate things. Urban, take the phone and talk to your brother.”
I do. I convince my All-American middle linebacker sibling to stay at UCLA, and I promise to call him as soon as I’m back home.
Elsa, my 12-year-old sister, is another alpha female I have the misfortune to live with.
“Urban, you are a ” Elsa leans down and whispers in my ear, “real pussy. I’m ashamed of you. I’m going to deal with Rich Simons for you this time, sissy.”
I grab Elsa’s skinny arm. “Stay out of my business, Elsa. Deal with your own shit.”
Elsa pokes me in my broken ribs.
I release her arm.
Elsa giggles. “You are so wack. God, how did you get to be a part of this family? You should stay here in the hospital. Maybe some lame family might adopt you.”
The good times keep rolling on for me. My off and on girlfriend, Belen Garcia, bounces into my hospital room, flops on my bed, takes a selfie of us, and announces that “We should see other people for a while.”
She steals my box of chocolates Hector had Amazoned me as she leaves.
They keep me overnight for “observation.”
I bounce in the morning just before they serve me breakfast, which looks pretty good, but I do get to hug Dr. Patel goodbye.
Maybe that’s a good omen. I hope.
My situation is complicated.
My brother went to Mission High for one year, and he was a freshman star varsity linebacker. He’s that good.
However, he, along with other Black players, accused his coaches of racism. It was a big hot mess. Two coaches were disciplined, one was fired, and the school district promised changes.
The first change was four of the seven boys filing the complaint were kicked off the team for bullshit reasons.
All eleven Black players, three White and two Brown players, quit in protest.
My brother and most of the other protesters were allowed to enroll at Cal Jennings High, Missions’ crosstown rival.
At the next game between the two schools, Hector, on the first play from scrimmage, broke Mission’s quarterback’s right arm. It was a clean hit: no flags or nothing.
Jennings went on to battle for and lost a close state championship game.
Mission lost every game that season.
The Mission quarterback was Garth Simons, Rich Simons’ brother.
My Mom, Hector, Elsa, and even Belen warned me about going out for football at Mission. Still, I wanted to be like Hector and get some of the attention and girls and status. I mean, I’m not a superstar like Hector. But I’m a decent slot receiver. I can play high school football. Or I could. Mom has put an end to my high school football career.
So, I look forward to having our house to myself for a few days of recovery before returning to school.
No such luck. Mom messed it all up.
True to her word, she went to our attorney, who put her in immediate contact with his cousin, Rondo Kane, the nationally known ass-kicker and name taker. Kane has won groundbreaking decisions against the NCAA, The University of California, Ohio State, Notre Dame, and dozens of school districts.
Brother Kane do not play.
Within one hour of Mom signing with Kane, he dispatched two investigators to our town, San Juan, California. One employee was checking the discrimination complaint my brother, and the other athletes had filed against the Mission coaches.
The other was looking into my incident.
The next day the President of the San Juan Unified School District (SJUSD) canceled the football season at Mission High.
Minutes after that announcement, Kane sent us a third investigator to look at the other football programs in the SJUSD.
That evening Mom, Elsa, and I are watching the five o’clock news when the SJUSD President announces that all football programs in the SJUSD are closed indefinitely. There will be no high school football in San Juan this season.
There will be no college ball here either. We don’t have a college football team.
And we don’t have any professional sports teams.
San Juan High School football is by far the most popular and well-attended sport in the county.
The three of us exchange looks. Mom smiles. Elsa looks worried. I’m about to heave.
I scream, “Mom, you have fucked us up so bad. Why can’t you just, just leave things alone sometimes?”
The stars must have lined up perfectly because, for once, Elsa and I were on the same page.
“Mom, Urban’s right. You put a target on us. We are now officially the family that killed football in San Juan.”
Before Mom can defend herself, a rock crashes through our front window. It must have been a neighbor to react so fast.
Within thirty minutes, the news trucks arrive, and reporters are banging on our door.
And right behind them are the villagers with their pitchforks and torches.
Elsa is terrified.
Mom—Mom is Mom.
“Elsa, get away from the windows. Urban come with me and help me board up the broken window. Elsa, use my phone to call Kane and update him on our status. Stay on the line with Kane. Elsa, do it now.”
I love our Mom. She is the bravest person I know but sometimes…
“Mom, they might attack us if we go out there.”
Mom gives me a grim smile, “I’m counting on it. Their attack will be on camera. The public will see what we are confronting. It will attract more people to our side. Urban, we need public support on this.”
“Does it matter if we’re dead?”
“Good question. Let’s go find out.”
I wanted to point out that I was already wounded, but I couldn’t let Mom go out there by herself.
When we stepped out the front door with our plywood, hammer, and nails, the boo birds went crazy. I mean, off the wall, screaming, cursing, tossing water and juice bottles and anything they could get their hands on. It was ugly.
The news vultures got it all on tape.
Mom never flinched, never even blinked.
We suffer a few hits from plastic bottles. We get the window covered as the rabid pack looks like they are ready to charge us.
The cops roll up on our lawn between the mob and us just in time.
Back in the house, the three of us are a big soggy ball of tears and hugs.
Mom looks at me and says, “I couldn’t have done that without you, Urban. I’m so proud of you.”
Elsa gives me an evil look, but when she hugs me, she whispers, “Maybe not such a pussy after all.”
We get on the speakerphone with Hector. He wants to come home and be with us. We all veto that. He’s getting hit with some of the same things as we are, but his teammates are supportive. They all want to come up here with him to provide us with around the clock protection.
Later, I’m lying on the couch—my ribs are giving me fits.
The alpha women are sitting on the floor, facing me.
I ask the question that has been on my mind since we boarded up the window.
“Mom, why did we go out there? We didn’t have to do that?”
I can see Elsa wants to hear the answer to that question also.
Mom grabs our hands. “Sometimes, we have to reaffirm who we are to others but mostly to ourselves.”
“Mom, did you doubt who you are or what we’re doing?” Mom always seems like a rock or more like a mountain of certainty.
“Urban, I think I know who I was. I can look back and see what I did, but every day is a challenge to see who I am now, today.”
Elsa nods in agreement. “I would have gone with you guys.”
“I know that, Elsa. You were our lifeline if things went south like Hector is our escape hatch if we have to get out of Dodge. This is going to be a long siege on us. We have to rely on each other like never before.”
Elsa withdraws her hand from Mom. “So, what are we fighting for? We aren’t anti-football like they are saying. We all love football.”
“Well, brave children of mine, I’m fighting to prevent my son and other young athletes from being abused in any sport for any reason, including race and revenge.”
We are all quiet for a minute.
Mom touches my face. “Are your ribs hurting?”
“Mom, don’t encourage him. He has a crush on his doctor. He would love to go back to the hospital.”
I blast my sister back. “Elsa, you just wish somebody had a crush on your skinny ass.”
We have to get new phone numbers and email addresses. Our social network pages are overwhelmed.
We are homeschooled because of safety concerns on our campuses.
We do our grocery and meal shopping online.
We are recognized in public and get all kinds of rude reactions.
I hope it’s going to die down, but two months later, the hostility is as thick and pervasive as ever.
We are all a little distressed and depressed.
The low point for me is when Belen does a television interview. She says the reason she left me is I was bitter and angry at everyone because Hector got all the attention and admiration.
Wow! That hurt.
After three months, the public anger toward us starts to die down, but Rich Simons and Coach Leif are charged with assault and conspiracy to commit assault. The shit starts up again with a vengeance.
Elsa is pelted with rocks and spit on in River Park on a rare family outing. The cops don’t arrest anyone, but they do handcuff Hector and I and place us in the backseat of a patrol car for nearly an hour.
Kane promptly sues the San Juan Police Department for assault, illegal detention, kidnapping, and various civil rights violations.
We are moving to LA to get away from our hostile living environment. And to be together.
Kane is going to win our cases. I believe that, but nothing can make up for what we lost. I’m not quite sure what to make of all this. Neither is Elsa. We discuss it a lot. Maybe that’s our real reward—we all talk and try to understand how we got here.
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