After hacking through thick wisteria vines and hauling debris and dirt, I glimpsed the cracked, speckled concrete. A few brushes with the broom and there it was: the ancient basketball court at the top of my parents’ driveway. My childhood court. The metal hoop support was crusted with rust. The backboard was cracking and faded. I don’t know what happened to the net. In its place were dead vines, but a few good whacks with a rod of bamboo took care of them. I dragged a wobbly wooden step ladder from the basement and attached a new, patriotically colored net. I stepped back and looked around. The court was functional, but time had not been friendly.
When I was younger, I practiced shooting baskets. Alone. To keep things from getting stale, psychic powers were attributed to the hoop. Before taking a shot, I would ask it a question about something worrying. In those innocent days, the concerns were pretty focused: Does so and so like me? Will I kiss so and so? Will I touch her boobs? If I sunk the shot, the answer was yes. If I missed, I would give myself one shot at redemption.
“Are you sure about that answer, hoop?”, I’d ask.
If I sunk the next shot, the hoop obviously wasn’t so sure and I got to reshoot. Yes, I was improving my odds at getting the answer I wanted. But if I missed the redemption shot, the answer was definite. These negative responses were proven over the course of many boob-free years.
I wish I had kept a written record of the hoop’s prophecies. I doubt any of them came true. What the hoop never told me was that even though it predicted I’d kiss so and so, that fate involved me having the courage to talk to her. Generally the people I had to ask questions about were those I had the most uncertain future with. Girls weren’t something to treat casually back then. My whole day involved getting their attention and endearing them to me. My method was vague and sweaty. Weird acts, jokes, keeping well-brushed hair, excelling in art and academics. While my contemporaries seemed to be having success just being themselves and simply talking to girls, I threw myself on the mercy of the court.
Being myself wasn’t an option back then. As middle school came to end, I started seeing more and more of my classmates holding hands. At least I had my ball.
Fortunately, the urgency of those adolescent worries are gone. I’ve held plenty of hands by now and am pretty confident about it. I looked up at the hoop. Did it notice that I had aged too? It looked back. After all these years, it was waiting for me, ready to answer my questions.
But my questions weren’t kid-stuff now. These were new, serious adult concerns. I thought for a moment as I dribbled, then cocked the hammer and asked:
“Will I marry so and so?”
Nothing but net.
“Will I have kids in the next five years?”
The ball deflected off the backboard and went in. Gulp.
“Will I still be friends with all the ol’ gang in the next ten years?”
A shoot and a miss. I saw that coming.
“Will I live to see 50.”
“Are you sure?”
The court knows it has no risk of reprisal. By the time any of its predictions fail, it will likely have been swallowed by vines again. If not that, the sliding foundations will have collapsed the family house onto it. What was once my fortune teller would be a pile of Austin stone, insulation, wood, and rats. Hopefully my parents would have made it out in time.
That’s one of the questions I’m too afraid to ask.