It was spring.
In the morning, my car was covered in a thick film of pollen from the trees that were coming back to life after a long and cold winter. The sun beat warm through the chill of frantic breezes that chased loose flower petals and bug-eaten leaves across the driveway. Across the street, Lindsay Tuttel sat cross-legged underneath her basketball hoop, rolling a big orange ball in a wide circle around her little body. She looked up and gave me a gap-toothed smile. She was missing two more teeth, right at the front, and she pointed at them with overwhelming pride.
"Tooth fairy come?” I asked her, and her blonde head bounced in triumphant excitement. I tried to remember what it was like to lose my own baby teeth, but the most vivid memory I had was the strange feeling of pushing my tongue into the empty space left behind. It’s hard to imagine the act of losing to be so remarkably thrilling. I suppose, when you’re young, each lost piece of you becomes a rite of passage into the grand hall of adulthood.
Part of me wanted to ask little Lindsay Tuttel to describe to me the thrill of seeing her tooth pop into the palm of her hand; another part wanted to implore her to stop being so happy about it, to stop wanting to grow up so fast, to stop smiling wider whenever someone told her how tall she was getting, how big and beautiful. The old woman next door said that to her all the time. I’m sure she’ll say it again when she sees the wider gaps between Lindsay’s front teeth, and I want to tell Lindsay not to listen to her. But Lindsay had already lost interest in me and was instead intent on spinning her basketball on the tip of her finger. It wobbled, bounced off, and as she tried to right again. I called out, “I hope that fairy was good to you!” before slipping into my car.
It's a contradiction of human existence: we want our kids to be kids, to believe in tooth fairies and bunnies that hide eggs and jolly old fellows who slip down our chimneys and leave presents under Christmas trees, but whenever we see them loose a tooth or learn how to peddle bikes without training wheels we gush and tell them how grown up they are.
It was spring, too, when I wore heels for the first time and my aunts all gushed over how sophisticated I looked. Like a little woman, they told me, and my uncles warned they’d need to go back to the gym and get back in shape to help fend off all the boys that were sure to eye me now. And I was proud. Proud to feel like a grown up, proud to feel one step closer to that coveted circle of adulthood.
But the shoes hurt, and the pointed heels stuck in the grass, and when my mother told me I could take them off I shook my head firmly because those shoes felt like my ticket to a world I’d waited so long to grow into and I wasn’t about to just turn them in for tennis shoes and skinned knees. I wanted to shed my childhood as quickly as could, but now, as an adult, all I remember is how my feet swelled from my first pair of heels and how it hurt when that first grown-up tooth started to poke through my gums.
As I pulled out of my driveway, I saw little Lindsay Tuttel stand and dribble her basketball up and down her driveway. She waved at me as I passed and, in the rearview, I saw her leap toward the hoop with her hands in the air.
I had a basketball net as a kid. I had one as an adult, too, though it was old and rusted from years of disuse. There were only strings of a net left and the whole thing creaked and moaned when the wind got too wild. It was left behind by the previous owners of the house, whose kids had outgrown it by the time they moved out. I talked about tearing it down for years, but ten years later and it still it sat there growing older and more unrecognizable by the month.
But that spring day, in the afternoon as I drove home from work, I stopped by a sporting goods store. I picked up a basketball, priced far more than an orange ball should be worth. I left my purse in the car and slipped out with the ball, dribbling it awkwardly in the driveway. Lindsay Tuttel was out again, this time free-throwing her ball into the hoop. It rattled against the backboard, rolled around the rim, and on her fifth or sixth try sunk through the basket. She pumped her fists in the air in celebration, and I cheered from across the street.
“Think I could do that?” I asked her, and Lindsay thought about it for a moment before shooting me a thumbs up. I glanced at my basketball net, which was no more than a rusted ring on a black, rusting pole. I bounced the ball once, twice, three times as I took long strides toward the hoop. I didn’t have any technique as a kid, nor did I know any better now, but I ran at that hoop like I knew what I was doing and tossed the ball up as high as I could.
It rattled against the ring, rolled around it like Lindsay’s had, and with a shake dropped down through the middle.