“Don’t talk that shit, boy. Sayin’ you never got no childhood. I was working when I was seven years old. Long hours. I didn’t go to school but every once in a while. But you gonna bitch about three hours after school.”
“Dad. I get it. I know what you went through, but we ain’t starvin’. If you didn’t work, y’all went hungry. We ain’t never out of food. House is damn near paid for. I never minded so much before, but I’m in High School now.”
“And you ain’t man enough to get your dick twisted on your day off? Hell, you ain’t no bird dog, boy.”
“It’s not about girls, Pop. I just want to keep my grades up and be on the team. Coach has seen what I can do, and he said with hard work on the court and in the classroom…”
“He said what? You could be a cheerleader?”
“No, Pop. I can throw a football on a line. 70 yards every time. If my grades stay OK, Coach said I’d be looking at scholarships. Nothing too fancy, but state schools for sure.”
“Alright, so you got that arm. What you need the coach for?”
“To learn, Pops. To play with a team. To get better and develop my passes. Learn routes and get used to throwing in shoulder pads…”
“Boy, you know I could throw just as good as you, and what did that mean? Jack shit. That’s what it meant.”
“Pops, please. Please try to understand.”
“What, I’m just a dumb hick who can’t understand plain talk? That it?”
“No Pops, I just want to…”
“What? Say thanks for this house and the food you eat? You thankful for having an old man that taught you to work?”
“No nothing, cheerleader. You drop this now before I lose my temper.”
The slap came from way over in Alabama, and it practically spun him around. He tasted blood and could feel it rising in his cheek. A slap from Pops hurt worse than a punch. Quite a trick.
Derrick tried to speak, but it was cut short with the rifle-clap of a slap on the other cheek. For a minute he stood there, willing himself not to cry, but he knew it was coming, so he bolted out the back door. There was no fixing this. There would be no football. He couldn’t buck the old man, as much as he wanted to.
He ran until he was tired, and he ended up by the little creek. He fished there, but it was hard fishing. The water rushed by, and he always figured it wanted to get past his house as fast as it could. Especially since Mama died.
He threw a stick in the water and watched it tumble. And he made a promise, out loud, to the stream and the sky and the fish and his mother up in heaven.
“Let me be a better man,” he said. Don’t make me work my boy so hard. Or push him because I never got to play. Don’t let a game break my son’s heart. Just let me be a bigger man. Please.”
The ‘please’ came out in a long sob. He knew he couldn’t leave his old man. Even if he hated him. Not since Mama died. She wouldn’t have wanted that for him. But he knew that once he turned 18, he was going to be a walk-on, and he was going to try his best. And he would visit his father only occasionally and hope they talked about the weather.
The sun was falling, but he didn’t mind. Work would come soon enough.