I don’t know why I was leaving lunch early, just that I had to. I needed the time between lunch and Political Science to clear my head. It was “nice” that everyone thought I was doing a good job this week. Too bad I didn’t feel it. Just what I needed, a downer going into tonight.
“You look troubled,” Dr C said as he put his hand on my shoulder. One of the few people in this school, or anywhere, that could drape his arm over my shoulder and not be standing on a ladder.
“Yes sir. I don’t feel I deserve the praise of the other Nakeds. Or you and Ms Carlisle.”
“Luis, come with me.” He steered me into his office and had me sit on one of the nice chairs in front of his desk. Instead of going around and sitting in the Throne of Power, he sat next to me. “Do I need to pull a Knute Rockne on you?”
“And what would he say right now?”
“One of my favorite quotes of his. ‘One man practicing sportsmanship is far better than fifty preaching it.’”
“And, this relates…”
“In the case of this week, you’ve done a hell of a job leading by example.”
“And, Tuesday morning?”
“Even more so. If you had done more to Will, everyone would have excused you. Instead, you showed tremendous restraint.”
“You did what you needed to do and came back ten times stronger. You demonstrated the need to focus and concentrate. Just as you did when you left the cafeteria today.”
“I feel like I ran away. Ran because I couldn’t handle the bullshit.”
“Do you think anyone in there thinks you ran away?”
“I don’t know.”
“I was keeping an eye on the table after I left. And, observing the other students and how they were handling the first Program week. What I saw was tremendous support for you. Including that wonderful person who pulled you up.”
“Yeah,” I felt a lopsided grin form on my face. “She’s pretty special.”
“How can you feel like a failure if you’ve brightened her day?”
“Not to mention how the Nakeds look up to you. You can’t possibly tell me that anyone of them was faking when they called you Coach or checked with you when decisions were being made. Can you?”
“And, to pile on, something you’re used to, Ms Carlisle, Coach MacFarlan, Coach Ames, and myself. Not to mention the whole team. As Tony Dungy said, ‘I’ve always tried to coach people the way I would like to be coached; positively and encouragingly rather than with criticism and fear . . .. I’ve tried to be as fair as possible.’ And, you, my friend, are that kind of coach.”
“Coach Dungy set a lot of records, didn’t he?”
“More than a few. His most consecutive play-off appearances still stands.”
“As well as the barriers he broke down.”
“Now, I should be the one to mention that.” Dungy had been the first really successful black coach in the NFL. “Yet, I think you’re set to break some barriers yourself.”
“Well, how many Nobel Laureates in Physics played defensive line and went on to coach? Successfully at any level they chose?”
“Exactly! So, get your head back in the game. All of them.”
“Luis, do what you need to center. Go to class. Then, prepare for the game. Next week, with most of the pressure off, tackle the Nakeds and the Program.”
“First thing Monday morning.”
“Good enough. Now, get out of my office before I notice you’re not where you should be.” He laughed and offered his hand for a shake. I stood and took his hand, then pulled him into a hug. “Go!”
“Yes sir, Dottore!”
“Get out of my office, you Italian criminal!”
“You’re stereotyping,” I laughingly said as I walked through the outer office, giving Mrs. Grant a wave which she returned with a wink. I seemed to be floating. As I reached the hallway, the bell rang. Off to Political Science I go. Somehow, I felt I was headed to the Emerald City.
Rosalee did help me keep my feet on the ground all the way to PE. About halfway there, though, I seemed to want to sink into the floor.
“What’s the matter?”
“I-I… I don’t know.”
“Well, what just happened? One minute I’m holding hundreds of helium balloons and the next I’m trying to pull a subway train up to street level.”
I couldn’t help, I chuckled at that. Then the weight in my mind hit again. “I’m not sure. I’m concerned about Luis and his focus for the game tonight. I know that if a player loses concentration, he can get hurt.”
“I can see that. That’s why I’m giving Mike lots of space today.”
“How are you two doing?”
“Fantastic. It looks like I’m going to Peabody after all.”
“And, how far is that from the University of Maryland?”
“Not very far at all!” We shared a knowing look and an evil chuckle. “So, what else is on your mind?”
“Well… that’s a big I don’t know. There is something niggling at the back of my mind. I can’t bring it into focus and it won’t go away.”
“Is it about PE?”
“No. My only problem with PE is keeping from getting a black eye when I jump around!”
“What we talked about at lunch?”
“I do remember some of that!”
“Yeah, you were a bit distracted, weren’t you?”
“Yep. And… You know, that might be part of the problem.”
“Well, we talked about intimacy and privacy before coming into the lunch room-”
“About how we both felt that our intimacy was something private.”
“Okay. I can see that and understand it.”
“Yet, here a few minutes later, we’re getting each other off in public.”
“Well, it’s not like you did it on the table or anything. You both were pretty discreet.”
“Look, I’ll admit it wasn’t private. But, it was loving and intimate. It wasn’t done as a show. Just two people who are deeply in love with each other taking advantage of a moment to express that love physically. There was nothing blatant or crass about it.”
I thought for a few moments and finally said, “You know, that’s not what’s bothering me.”
“I don’t know!”
“You’re hopeless,” she giggled as she dropped me off at the door to the boy’s locker room. “Now, enjoy having your girls flying everywhere!”
Amazingly, people let my undressed state go unnoticed and Junior was left alone. It was a pleasant walk to class as I thought about Dr. C’s words on leadership.
Automatically, I found myself doing deep, meditative breathing. My thoughts cleared, but an old song by The Band kept running through me. “Catch a cannonball, now, take me on down the line…” My bag wasn’t sinking so low now, though, and the only devil waiting for me this evening was in the form of 11 gentlemen from East.
What can I say about Poly Sci? The Roman is back in Rome, again? I mean, honestly, how much can be taught about the Middle East? Everyone hates everyone else, wants what’s there, or wants to control the critical trade routes. Frankly, if it weren’t for oil and the Suez canal…
When the bell rang, a couple of centuries later, I pulled myself back to the world. As I checked myself out, I realized that my pulse must be in the low 50s and I was completely relaxed and connected to the energy around me.
Plus, I was able to see East’s offensive sets and know, instinctively, how to react to each and how to direct the line and signal the linebackers. I was ready! We’re going to win.
Being a “big game” was the key. It is the right time of the season for many colleges to make their last pushes for recruiting. The winner would see their players going to the better schools. I owed it to the team and the seniors to do my best. Plus, it was bragging rights for the two schools and all their supporters for the coming year.
I got hugs, slaps on the arm (and the shoulder from those tall enough). The walk was grand. I was relaxed, connected, and the sea of students parted as I walked towards PE to meet up with Becca.
“Hi, Sweetie!” she said as she bounced up to me and began to climb her mountain.
“Hi, Becca,” I managed as she basically scaled me. “Ready for art?”
“Of course!” She gave me a quick kiss, jumped to the floor, grabbed my hand, and started pulling me down the hall. Damn, she was dancing again. I couldn’t help but smile. “What are you doing this afternoon?”
“I’m going to do a light workout, just enough to loosen up. Then we’ve got a team meeting, shouldn’t last too long. I was thinking about stopping by and seeing my favorite artist after that. You?”
She continued dancing. “Locking myself in a high tower awaiting my Prince so I can let my hair down and have him climb up to me.”
“Best be strong roots!”
“Magical roots, just for you.”
And so the trip to the Art rooms continued. A bit of madness, a lot of love. Surprisingly, no requests. When we got there, I got a big kiss and a nice full body hug. I could get really used to those.
Mid kiss, we were interrupted with a cough and a throat clearing. “Now that’s something we should try to capture in class. And, speaking of class…”
“Sorry Francesca,” I managed as Becca and I broke apart.
“Two minutes,” Francesca said as she swept into class. “Good luck tonight, Luis.”
“Now, where were we? Oh yes.” She poked me in the chest with her finger. “Before we get back to kissing, you’re going to promise to dance with me Saturday night.”
“Shirley’s party. Did you forget?”
“No. Just didn’t shift gears fast enough.”
“So, you’re going to dance with me?”
“Well… Do you like dancing with elephants?”
“No. But I think I’ll love dancing with a certain mountain.”
“Yep. Would love to dance with you Saturday night.”
“Good. Now…” She put her hands on either side of my face and pulled me, willingly, down for one last kiss. Then she scampered, yes, scampered into class.
As I walked towards the gym, I realized that my heart rate was no longer in the 50s and Junior was doing his best to get my attention. Damn! The song “Voodoo Woman” by the Queen of the Blues, KoKo Taylor, came to mind. “She put a spell on me…”
Yes. She has a spell on me. And I love it. Smiling, I headed on to the weight room for a light workout.
I waltzed into Art and received more than one stare. Maybe I wasn’t waltzing. Oh well, time to get to work. I went over to my stack of canvases and dug through them. I suddenly felt nervous. My hands almost shaking as I flipped to the next canvas in the vertical stack. Which one needed work today? No, which one spoke to me today? Or, was it a day for a new canvas? Too many choices! Damn, let me start over. I’m missing something. What is it?
Automatically, I felt my breathing deepening and my mind relaxing. I guess being around Luis all week has been rubbing off. Images started to slowly play through my mind, including all the canvases in my work-in-progress piles, the one at home and the one here at school.
I closed my eyes and let the images flow, each talking to me. None resonating at the moment. I played through all the partially completed works, even the completed ones I still had. Then started moving into the “pictures” I had been taking all week.
“Ah, listening for your own Folleto Becky?” Francesca’s voice wandered into my head, pulling me back to the moment.
“Maybe that would help.”
“Take a step away, close your eyes.” I did. And, I felt my breath deepening. Suddenly, I felt a tingling in my feet, as if I was growing roots into the ground and a new energy flowing into me through my feet, up through my body. Each exhale pushing the confusion and worry I didn’t even know I had stored up out. Cleansing. Clearing. “Molto buona. Let the painting come to you. Once it does, your hand will make the right choice.”
I let the energy flow and kept my eyes closed. An image began to build, but I couldn’t focus on it. Instead of worrying, I just let it all flow. Every time my mind began to speak, I just let it go, not engaging, not pushing it away. The thought of surrendering floated through. Before I could stop it, I agreed and nodded my head.
“Just let it flow,” came Francesca’s soothing voice. “Let the art find you. Let it fluire.”
Flow. Yes, flow. That’s what was happening inside me. The energy through my feet. The movement through me. That little voice in my brain shutting up and letting the internal muse get a word in edgewise. I just let it go.
I could see, yet not see, the image on a new canvas. Just then my hand picked out one I had already prepped. Empty. Waiting for me to fill it.
By the time I opened my eyes, I had it on the easel and was reaching for my pencils to begin putting the outline on it. An image of Atlas holding the world was mixed with a champion winning his Lady was mixed with an image of Don Quixote tilting at his windmills. Yet, there was something else. Not the futility of those endeavors, but a quiet strength holding off the darkness, fighting back the demons, allowing the light to enter the scene for others. A selfless act. A giving. Powerful. Loving. Compassion?
I fought the thoughts down until it hit me. Let them come. Just don’t engage them. Let the energy flow. Let the painting flow. Get those scattered, random thoughts out of my head. That’s what Luis would do! Yes, that’s what My Mountain would do.
My hands worked without conscious direction. My eyes saw with the voices in my head judging. My heart directed. Slowly, the image of a champion, willingly carrying the weight of the world emerged. Bloody, in pain, yet triumphant. A thousand emotions playing on his face, in his eyes, and felt in his body. Yet, the champion maintained.
All of a sudden, at least it seemed to me. I found myself back in the world standing back from a partially completed painting. “Wow! I did that?”
“Folleto, you did and it is wonderful!” Francesca said as she put her arm around me. “You must be drained after that.”
“Surprisingly, no. I just let myself go into a zone and let my heart do it.”
“You’ve discovered your inner voice, then?”
“I must have. I still don’t understand it.”
“I have never understood mine. I’ve just learned to let it go when it wants. Over time, you’ll find ways to bring it to life and let it go.”
“I think I just did.”
“Why did you stop?”
“I didn’t. I just suddenly found myself standing here looking at it.”
“Good. You’re still listening. Your inner voice needs something and it is not ready. You can’t force it. Overtime, it will stay with you longer.”
“Trust me on this, Folleto.”
“I will. What should I do now?”
“Pose for me?” Rashad said, as he walked over. He stopped and just stared at the new painting. “Damn!”
“Yes, I agree,” Francesca said. I think I had a new sunburn.
“W-would you pose while working on the painting? It would be perfect.”
“I’m done for the moment.”
“Could you pretend?”
He got his camera and lights set up and went to work. Francesca made excuses and headed out.
Rashad was very good at moving me into poses and letting me zone while looking at the painting. I did find myself actually adding little details here and there. Fortunately, it worked for him and he just let me go.
“Well, well, well. She does do reasonable requests after all,” I heard Susan say.
“Warriors on three!” The hands stacked, for those that could reach. We did the countdown, screamed “Warriors!”, and broke. “Beat East!” echoed through the meeting room and locker room as we headed out to do our personal preparations for the game.
“Focused, rubber dickie?” Mike Holloway asked me as we parted outside.
“You bet, hollow dick. You?”
“Of course. We’re gonna kill ‘em.”
We high fived and headed in different directions.
I was charged up from the meeting and used the walk to relax. Well, as relaxed as a naked hulk could get walking across campus. Fortunately, like most of the day, there were no requests, just supporters offering their best for that evening. That helped keep me in the zone while letting my body relax. I was going to need everything I had tonight.
By the time I got to the Art Rooms, my pulse was back in the 50s and my body felt relaxed, but ready to go at any moment. That wonderful place where I wouldn’t waste energy before needing to move in any direction. Just perfect for moving through an offensive line. Poor quarterback from East. I could almost taste him and see the look in his eyes while he lay on the ground from my blindside hit.
The usually quiet rooms weren’t as I approached the door.
Voices. Arguing. My body automatically went into fight mode. No flight or freeze for this well trained athlete. My knees flexed, weight shifting to balance across my feet, and my senses extending to feel the danger.
As I opened the door, I relaxed slightly. None of the voices was Becca’s.
“I’m not done!” shouted a male voice. Rashad?
“Too bad, wimp boy,” sneered Susan. Susan! Oh shit!
The object of my desire was ignoring everything around her except a painting. I took a closer look and fell into the work. Wow! I instantly felt a huge weight on my shoulders and that feeling after a football game. Dead-assed tired, yet jubilant in victory.
Automatically I moved towards Becca and the painting. I sensed and felt her, but my eyes were locked on the canvas before me. Without thinking, I put my arm around her waist.
“What!?” Becca said in shock. She shook her head to clear it and looked up at me. “Oh. Hi sweetie.”
Her smile melted me. The brief kiss we shared I felt all the way to my toes.
I managed to find my voice, “Your painting is incredible.”
“I was feeling my warrior hero when I painted it.”
“And who is that?”
“You, you doofus!”
“But, it doesn’t look like me,”
“Artistic license. Maybe it will look different after I see you tonight when you win the game.”
Before I could answer, Susan broke into our little, private world. “I see you’re back among the living. I have a request.”
“I’m not done!” shouted Rashad.
Before I could say anything, Susan came back with, “Well, finish then.”
“Oh heck, the mood is broken now. I’m done.” He turned to start packing up, then turned back to Becca. “Thank you so very much. I got some wonderful shots. You were excellent to work with.”
“I’m glad I could help you Rashad. And thank you for allowing me to work on my painting at the same time. Anytime you want to photograph me while I’m working, you’re more than welcome.”
She gave him a quick hug, then turned to Susan. “I’m ready for your requests, as long as they are reasonable.”
I braced myself. Ready for anything. Then Susan caught me totally off guard. “My request is for you to listen to an apology. Both of you, actually. Is that reasonable?”
I looked at Becca and imagined I must have the same look on my face. I think the English call it gobsmacked. I think she recovered quicker than I did. She fell into me and started to laugh. I couldn’t help. I wrapped my arms around her and started to chuckle myself.
“Of all the requests I could have thought of, Susan, that one surprised us.”
She looked hurt, like we were laughing at her. I held out my arm, as did Becca, and we pulled her into us.
“No apology necessary, Susan,” Becca said.
“I feel I need to say it anyway. I let my fantasies run away with me earlier in the week. I was rude and wrong.”
“Well, let’s move past it. Okay?”
“Thank you both.”
We hugged for another minute and I felt the tension flow out of my body. What a week this has been. Thank god it is almost over.
End of Chapter
NOTE: This chapter’s musical interlude brought to you by The Band. An Icon of the 60s and 70s. “Take a load off Annie, take a load for free; Take a load off Annie, And (and) (and) you can put the load right on me.”