Monday, July 25, 2005


I talk to Me-Me today. We talk sports. How will Monta Ellis do in the league? Who's better, Peyton Manning or Tom Brady? It's good to talk to him and he sounds good. He thanked me for the books. We talk about everything except the giant pink elephant in the living room.

"How's Ricky?" I ask.

"He's good. We're playing in these little leagues they got over there," he says. "He'll be coming home next week."

Ricky and Jeremy, the starting backcourt on the first basketball team I coached in Mississippi. The starting backcourt on the 2001 State Champion Simmons Blue Devils.

"When do you go back?" I ask.

"Monday." Jeremy was the mischievous one, always cracking jokes, always pulling pranks. Ricky was the good soldier, always dependable. They were both in good shape that year because the previous summer they had done their basic training together in Lawton, Oklahoma.

"How long has it been?" I ask, forgetting when he left.

"Nine months," he says. He's been home for a week. Nine months and all he gets is two weeks.

I don't ask him anything else about Iraq. I never even say the word.

After we won the team stood at center court and took pictures and laughed and hugged and then Me-Me gathered everyone together and said, "On the count of three we run off the court," and we did, past all the waiting family members and friends. Ran right into the locker room. Together.

Me-Me's in the store and I can hear people calling his name. He's riding around Hollandale tonight with Larry Brown, his best friend. Larry was the center on the team.

"I stopped in Georgia and saw Prentez," he says. Tez was the shooter. He would hit threes from anywhere. Just let them rain down.

I still remember eating at Pizza Hut afterwards and the bus ride back to Hollandale. The championship game is played at the Coliseum in Jackson. The kids call it "The Big House." When you win a championship it doesn't hit you for weeks, even years. I realize now how special it was, how rare it is.

I get off the phone with Me-Me. I got his number from Jasper, our MVP that year.

I call Rich because he's the only one who would understand. Me-Me was his favorite student. He's asleep, his ten-day old baby daughter lying on his chest. I leave Me-Me's number with his wife Julie. I feel restless. With no one else to talk to I sit down and write about it. "Blog it out," as the first-years say.

I worry about Me-Me and Ricky, and the other kids I taught and coached who are over there. What will happen to them? What will it do to them?

In 2004 another Simmons High team won the state championship. The seniors on that team were freshman when we won. I stand by the court and wait for them with a gathering crowd of family and friends. They take pictures and smile. Then they huddle together and run off the court. They run right by us and into the locker room. Together.

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