Inner Fire | Adam Strong

There’s a point in every game when it feels like I’m flying.

There’s just the right amount of rain to give the ground a perfect softness. I play midfield, which means I run the entire length of the field, back and forth. There are two yellow pop-up goals on either side of the field. There’s Sean, the guy with the beard and the Arsenal shirt, he’s the brewer, and there’s Kevin, the death-metal head. Me in the middle and two people on the other team trying to steal the ball.

But I got something I do. It’s called a burst of pace, that’s what the English commentators call it. It’s when you suddenly run as fast as you can. And right then, I’ve got the ball and I zoom past the other people who are trying to steal it from me, and there’s the clip at the back of my left foot that tells me I’ve made it past, and I look up long enough to see I’ve got a clear shot on goal. There is the goal and there are my feet dancing on this wonderful pillow of mud, and I’ve passed all the defenders and I hook the ball and it happens, I don’t fuck it up, I kick it at just the right angle, like the kind I see the pros do, and the ball curves right into the back of the net.

And I want to cheer and dance around, but I let the warm inside my chest do that for me. It feels like winning and winning is not a thing I am used to doing.

Then we carry on, we keep playing, and somewhere in there I am reminded of fire ants—fire ants on my legs, on my arms and my face. Third grade, Pinecrest Elementary. I am lying down on the grass and it’s a clear, crisp, late-fall Miami morning, no humidity. There are people playing kickball far away, but I have been left out. No one would pick me so I decided I’d go off on my own. I laid right down so I could see the sky, so I could daydream, write my ticket out of there. So great to get away with a daydream instead of being called a loser and a spaz because my body does not do what I want it to do.

And there’s the PE teacher—she sees me and she runs over and I see her head look down over mine, and I can tell by the wrinkles on her face and where they are how mad she is, and she puts her hand down on my shoulder and there’s pain all up and down my neck, hot burn like I’ve never felt before, like all the times I got my ass kicked were adding up to this but it doesn’t make sense because she’s here and she doesn’t have her hand on me and still the burn is down my neck and back. And it’s then I realize I’m lying on a fire ant pile.

She pulls me up, walks me over to the building, and everyone has stopped playing the game of kickball I wasn’t invited to play and there’s the burn up my neck and ears and back and ass and balls and I am crying and I feel like I could pass out.

The teacher,  she knows all of it, about how I am always last picked, about how I just don’t want to deal. That PE teacher, she knows all about me. And the whole walk back to the classroom, all she says, over and over, is I’m sorry.

Adam Strong’s work has appeared in Nailed Magazine, Intellectual Refuge, and in the anthology City of Weird, 30 Otherworldly Portland Tales. Adam is the founder of Songbook PDX, A literary mix-tape. He writes and loves in Portland, Oregon.

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