Chapter Five: Pick Up the Phone and Dial Her Number
The soccer season was going pretty well. Everything was going well, except that I didn’t have the ability, okay, courage, to call a girl. Random people congratulated me on my play, including the president of the high school. “Doogie, right.”
“I’m hearing great things about you!”
“Thanks, sir.” I knew I was a big deal when the boss of two thousand five hundred people stopped me in the hall.
Not only that, my dad had started attending the games. It was a big turn around for him from me getting cut the first day. I could hear him yelling during the games, “That’s my Doog!” After the first game he drove me home and asked Mom what we were eating. He’d been scarfing pizza store food for a while refusing to touch anything she cooked. He’d been saying loudly to no-one that it was probably poisoned. Mom kind of looked surprised that he was going to eat home. She thawed some steaks. My dad stayed in the kitchen while she cooked, sucking down a beer, and giving her advice. “Pepper, baby, lot’s of pepper. Cook that boy three steaks, Mindy. He’s got to be hungry after that game.”
“Get out of the kitchen, Doug or you’re not eating anything.”
He pulled up a seat next to me and Steve, who had found his way to kitchen probably shocked to hear the civil conversation between our parents.
Mom set dinner on the table, steaks and mashed potatoes. Steve and I launched in, happy not to be eating Mac-N-Cheese out the box, but Dad kept talking, “Doog was the best player out there.”
“That’s great, baby.” Mom was more happy that Dad was eating steaks, but then she was always proud of me. For her I didn’t need to score a goal to be impressive.
“He’s only a freshman, and he’s the best player out there. He could go D-1, Mindy, D-1. He could even go pro.”
He didn’t go out that night and they went upstairs early. After that he didn’t go out most nights but stayed in. In the morning he’d give her a kiss, Mom looked at him with these puppy eyes, with a look I’d never seen before. Steve shook his head, like, “Look at this Valentine’s Day shit,” and I shook my head, but if I’m honest, it was okay. It made the world feel safe.
I had to call Jean. There was every reason to be motivated. She was cute, and she liked me (or at least I had every reason to believe she liked me). The main reason I wanted to play soccer was girls. So you’re thinking, what’s the problem? There were a bunch. For starters I hadn’t called a girl before. What did you do after dialing and saying hello? That moment after hello and before whatever came next was a terrible gap, the yawning space between the dragon’s jaws, and I feared it. I also wondered if I could trust them. Maybe Alex and Jean were conspiring against me, getting me to call, and then they’d make fun of me (these some farfetched now, but at the time I was plagued by the ghost of Sara and her jagged shiv of a rejection, “What a loser.”)
I was sitting in the living room, watching TV, because I don’t have cable in my room, and because my plan was to be alone in my room to make the call. Since I wasn’t in my room, I couldn’t make the call.
The news was going on about this super rich guy named Primo, who was starting this ginormous mall just for teenagers. Adults were going to be allowed in, but it was going to cater to teenagers. Some parents were mad about it. They were complaining to the reporter, “What goes on in there?” The mall seemed cool to me; two video game stores were going to be in it with free play. They had a super large screen in the food court and were going to have video game tournaments.
“Kids, be who you want to be, and do what you want to do, at the Primo.” He was a big guy with a frothy white beard, kind of like Santa Klaus except he looked super powerful whereas Santa just looks fat. “We’ve got everything you want.” It seemed like he was looking right at me, but of course that was the way they made the ad. They flashed shots of the video game tournaments, some clothing shops, and a sports arena.
Steve came in and wanted to change the channel to Batman. I punched him a couple times, hoping we could have a bro versus bro smack-down that would delay my journey to my room, the space of call-possible. He just said, “Ow. Give me the remote.”
It was like a sign. I groaned and got off the couch. I climbed the stairs, pulled my phone out, and sat on my bed with my heart down in my stomach. Do it. You heard me. I said do it. Oh my goodness, what if she asks why the hell I called. She’s not going to say that. Just call.
Fine. I pressed call. Ring. Please don’t answer. Ring. I could hang up. Ring. Don’t hang up, Doog, that’s for babies. Riiin—“Hello?” Her voice. Curious. Click. I hung up.
I sat there for a minute, shame and relief battling in my head. Shame won; I punched myself, super-powered smashes to the chin and stomach. I was a weirdo. I couldn’t make the call. Now I really couldn’t, because she had my number saved as “WEIRDO STALKER” in her phone.