We're Not Gonna Take It
“Stevie!” Calvin calls. He’s leaning out the open window of his truck, idling by the curb. I skid to a halt.
“Congrats,” I say. “You made the team.”
I shake my head.
“C’mon.” He nods his head towards the passenger seat.
Wordlessly, I tuck my board under my arm, go around the front of his truck, and climb in the shotgun seat. I like his truck. The seats are soft, like velvet. He’s got a great stereo system, too. He and his dad put it in. It’s perfect for popping in a CD and cranking the bass.
He pulls away from the school and turns the volume dial up so it’s just at conversation level. It’s The Refreshments’ album “Fizzy Fuzzy Big and Buzzy”. One of our old favorites.
“It’s hamburger night. Mamma’s makin’ homemade fries.” He smiles without looking at me.
I half-smile, but say nothing. I set my elbow on the windowsill, rest my head on my hand.
“You OK?” He takes his eyes off the road for a second to look at me. The sun shining through the window turns his tawny hair gold. His freckles are made more prominent in the light. There’s concern in his eyes. I loathe it.
“Fine,” I say. I play with the ponytail band on my wrist. It’s so hot. I take off my flannel and tie it around my waist. Close my eyes. “I just don’t know what I’m going to do now.”
“Well, the way I see it,” he says, making the turn onto the dirt road leading to his farm, “you could either accept it and move on, or fight it and try to play anyway.”
The truck rumbles on the gravel, jostling us on our bench seat. Rocks, kicked up by the tires, fly around us and pelt the vehicle. It hurts deep in the bones, driving down this dusty, pothole-rampant road. I study him.
“What d’you think I should do?” I toss my long, heavy, kinky dark brown hair over my shoulder. He puckers his lips.
“What d’you want to do?” he replies.
I turn my eyes to the road. Trees, ditches, dirt road, blue sky. All whirring by.
“I want to play,” I say.
“Then do it.”
“I don’t see how I can make it happen.” I sigh. “I mean, how do you go about convincing people that you know your shit, that you’re worth it?” I throw my hands up in an exaggerated shrug. “Can anyone tell me? Cuz I haven’t figured it out yet.”
We slow down as we approach his house. He pulls up the driveway and parks by the side of his two-story white clapboard house with a green roof and green shutters. He puts the car into park, turns the key to shut off the ignition. He looks earnestly at me.
“I don’t know. But I do know a good meal can fix anything. Let’s eat, and then we’ll figure this out. It’s no use trying on an empty stomach.”
We climb out of the car, slamming the dirt-smattered doors behind us.
“You go on to the hayloft. I’ll grab us the burgers and meet you,” he says, heading into his house through the side door. I watch his baseball tee and jean-clad figure disappear before I walk to the barn.
Calvin’s house is the kind that’s so old, it’s on the county’s historic register. His great-great-great-great grand-something or other moved to Center of the World, Ohio, bought some land, and built himself a wheat farm. The weathered red barn is big enough to hold the McIntyre’s few pigs, two steer, and a horse. They have a tabby cat, still unnamed, which showed up one day and now takes up residence in their hayloft. Mr. McIntyre lovingly refers to it as Freeloader.
The dim barn is musty and sweet. Stalls line either side of an earthen, straw-strewn aisle. I can hear hay rustling, swine snuffling, horse snorting, steers lowing. In the rafters, there’s the fluttering and flapping of sparrows. It’s always dank and warm in here.
I climb the old wooden ladder to my left. I used to be so scared of heights, I couldn’t get higher than the first rung. Calvin had to coax me up, one rung after another, after he’d already made it to the top. Most people think that you should stay below the person who’s scared and wait for them to climb up, seemingly there to catch them if they should fall. Calvin knew better. He knew the only way I was going up was if I saw him do it, and if I had his hand reach down to pull me up with him. He laid on his stomach at the top with his head peering over the edge, looked into my eyes, and told me to keep looking at him, keep climbing, don’t look down. We were twelve then.
I emerge upon the hayloft, possibly my favorite place in the world. It’s nothing but a bunch of plywood laid down for floors, with bales of hay stacked on either side of the high walls. The ceiling is vaulted, exposed beams. A tire tied to a rope tied to a rafter forms a swing in the middle of the long, sparse room. It’s got great acoustics, perfect for playing guitar.
I seat myself on a hay bale. Sunlight filters in through gaps in the siding planks. Their brown-striped, white-bellied cat materializes next to me, purring and rubbing against me.
“Hey, Freeloader,” I say and smile, rubbing the attention hog behind the ears and along the spine. His fur fluffs off in tufts as I pet him.
I saw the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s once. I only remember it because of what the girl, Audrey Hepburn’s character, said. She said that whenever she gets the “mean reds” she goes to Tiffany’s jewelry store in Manhattan and instantly feels better. Because, according to her, nothing bad could ever happen to her at a place like Tiffany’s.
I guess Calvin’s barn is my Tiffany’s.
“Hey, Stevie,” Calvin calls. “Can you come ’ere a minute?”
I plod to the opening in the floor and look down. Calvin, who is just shy of six feet, is reaching up with a blue-lid Tupperware container.
“Can you grab this while I climb up?” he asks. I lie on my stomach and reach down through the opening, just like Calvin did so many years ago when he first got me to climb up to the loft, and grab the container from his extended hand.
It’s steamy and warm. I peel the lid open, and two hamburgers nestled in a bed of fries greet me. Calvin’s mom is one helluva cook. Puts my mother’s frozen-reheated prison food to shame.
I take a seat on the hay bail again and wait for Calvin to come up before I start eating. He sits next to me with the container in the middle, where we both grab fries in between bites of burger. I didn’t realize how hungry I was. I was too nervous to eat lunch, I haven’t eaten since early this morning. It’s funny how emotions make you forget your basic needs. He was right; eating does make me feel and think better.
“So,” he starts, then swallows a mouthful. “You still want to play. What are you gonna do about it?”
I ponder while chewing, thinking over what to say before I swallow.
“I don’t know. I mean, I could go to the athletic director and demand justice. If the only person who didn’t make the team was the only female who tried out, that’s a clear-cut case of sexism. Isn’t that like a Title IX violation or something?”
“Only if our school receives federal funding.” He chomps another French fry. I stare at him in bewilderment.
“Jeez, Cal, how do you know all this stuff?”
“I told you,” he says through a mouthful of fry, his voice thick. “I been studying up on law and political theories. I think I want to be a lawyer.”
I raise my eyebrows, chew slowly.
“What does your dad think about it?” A dangerous question. Calvin’s dad has some strong opinions about what his only son should and shouldn’t do.
“I haven’t told him.” He looks at the ground. “He’d never let me. You know how it is. I’m supposed to take over our land, live in this house my whole life. Cuz that’s what McIntyre men do.”
I nod. I do know how it is.
“Anyways, this isn’t about me. We’re supposed to be figuring out a solution for you, remember?” He smiles it off, a casual look returning to his split-second somber face.
“So do I storm the AD’s office? Start a petition? No one would sign it. I could threaten to sue - ”
“Why don’t you just show up to practice and refuse to leave? Worst case scenario, they call the cops to remove you, but what cops would come to a football practice to force a kid who didn’t make the team off the field?”
“Only if I was being belligerent.”
“No offense, but can you honestly keep your cool? They’re gonna treat you like trash, on purpose, just to push you over the edge.”
“Oh, believe me, I know.” We fall silent. I know they’re gonna make my life hell. They did last year; they’ll gladly continue. Maybe I’m being stupid. Maybe I should just forget about the whole thing. Does it really matter?
Yes. It does. Because that would mean they won. I want to play football. I love the sport. I’m good at it. If I give in, that means they’ve beat me, and they’ll know it. It will give them infinite power over me, because they’ll know I’ll lie down and take it. I took it all last year. I’m sick of lying down.
“I’m gonna fight,” I say. “They may have won the battle, but the war’s not over yet.”
Calvin smiles. It’s his sideways grin, exposing teeth. His dimples are showing.
“Ditto,” he says. “I got your back.”
Out of the blue, he elbows me in the ribs. My ticklish spot.
“Hey!” I shout, jumping. A laugh escapes with “hey”. “Cut it out!”
He laughs. “Sorry. Couldn’t help it. Hey, I’ve been working on a new song lately, but it’s still under construction. Wanna hear it?” He switches subjects so abruptly.
“Yes! Go grab your guitar.”
“Haha, way ahead of you.” He pulls it out from behind the hay bale we’re sitting on. “I was practicing up here all day.” He tweaks the tuners and strums each string. His long, calloused fingers begin to pick and strum a series of chords, forming a melody. It is doleful and beautiful. He starts to sing in his husky tenor voice. Its scratchiness gives it a unique timbre. He’s not a good singer; he’s an inimitable singer. Its peculiarity is what makes you want to listen.
"Today is gonna be the day
That they’re gonna throw it back to you
By now you should’ve somehow
Realized what you gotta do
I don’t believe that anybody
Feels the way I do, about you now.
"Backbeat, the word was on the street
That the fire in your heart is out
I’m sure you’ve heard it all before
But you never really had a doubt
I don’t believe that anybody
Feels the way I do about you now.
“And all the roads we have to walk are winding
And all the lights that lead us there are blinding
There are many things that I
Would like to say to you
but I don’t know how.
“Because maybe you’re gonna be the one that saves me
And after all, you’re my wonderwall.”
“Dude, that’s Wonderwall by Oasis,” I laugh. “I’m impressed.”
“Thanks. I’ve been listening to their album nonstop, trying to nail the chord progression.”
“Well, it worked. You sounded identical to the song.” I pause. “What is a ‘wonderwall’, anyway?”
He shrugs. “It’s whatever you want it to be, I guess.”
“Well, what does it mean to you?” I turn to him and pull my legs up onto the hay bale, sitting criss-cross-applesauce.
“I guess, to me, it makes me think of a girl. She’s beautiful and - ”
“Like Melissa Hanson?” I cut in.
“What? No! I mean, she’s attractive, don’t get me wrong. But she’s a bitch. No, a wonderwall girl is smart, and brave, and...and magical, and she makes you feel like you’re at home. Or at least, that’s what I think of.” He blushes. His farm-tan cheeks turn bright pink.
I raise my eyebrows and smile a knowing smile.
“My dear Cal, if I didn’t know better, I’d think you were in love.”
He looks at me, and his hazel eyes lock with my gray/blue ones. His long bangs are leaning completely to one side, just long enough that they tickle the top of his eyelashes.
“If I were, you’d be the first person I’d tell,” he states.
“I should hope so,” I smile. “That’s a Best Friend Privilege.”
“You know what else is a Best Friend Privilege?” he asks, obviously changing the subject. I want to roll my eyes. Boys are too easy to read. He doesn’t want me to know what new girl he’s crushing on. I’m sure I’ll figure it out eventually.
“What?” I play along, amused.
“Ice cream sundaes.” He grins, showing teeth. Braces worked their magic; the kid’s got a perfect set of chompers.
“Race you to the kitchen,” I challenge, smiling wickedly.
I dash to the ladder hole and clamber down before he even has a chance to catch me.
“For a running back, you sure are slow!” I holler.
Sometimes, though, I’m convinced he lets me win.