I was 12 and frighteningly brittle. Nearly breakable. So afraid the world would snap me in two.
It was summer and I had already spent most of June in our backyard pool. My brown hair was bleached blonde by the sun and chlorine.
It was a massive pool. 50 feet long and 15 feet deep, with a diving board, a slide, and a Jacuzzi. It was a world and a wonderland unto itself.
It was the 4th of July. And it was a scorcher in Orinda, California. The Beatles were playing on the outdoor speakers. The relatives were talking, drinking, and eating hors d'oeuvres in the shade, under the lattice.
Dad was at the Webber in his huge sombrero and swimming trunks, smoking a big fat cigar. The smell of grilled chicken was in the air. Mom was bustling about in her orange bikini, prepping the outdoor table for dinner. And I was waiting. Hoping my athlete-uncle would cease with all the niceties and turn his attention to me.
I don't recall how it started. Maybe I asked him: Would you...? Could you...? Will you...? Maybe it happened because of a glance, from one of us to the other. Because of a recognition.
But somehow the ball - rubber, round and glazed, with splashes of green, red and white - was in his hands. And then I was running. Running down the diving board and bounding into the air. And then the ball was in my hands.
That was how it began.
And for what seemed like hours it continued. My uncle throwing effortlessly with precision. Me catching. And every catch was like a minor miracle plucked from mid-air.
I gyrated and contorted. Nearly grew feathers. To make the ball mine. It was all in the reach - and the knowing. The knowing that the ball was meant to be in my hands.
Everything, that day, depended on it. Everything!
Gone was my little mind. I was all instinct. All animal. Fish and fowl. And like the dog who will chase the Frisbee until its heart stops.
And because time had become elastic, all the pleasure and the play seemed to occur, somehow, inside the song, Hey Jude:
So let it out and let it in, hey Jude, begin,
You're waiting for someone to perform with.
And don't you know that it's just you, hey Jude, you'll do,
The movement you need is on your shoulder.
And so I ran and I leapt. I dove and I splashed. Pushed myself up and out of the water. Sprinted to the board. Ran down its length. Was in the air once more. The whole sequence was like a circle tracing itself over and over and over again. Until I was vibrating with life. Until I was no longer breakable. Until no part of me was lacking or longing. Until I was nimble and lithe like a sprite. Like an Ariel. Nearly ethereal. Elemental.
Until there was just me, my uncle and the ball. The air, the water, and the fire of the sun.
And the refrain that seeped into the day's every last pore, like light:
Naaaaaaaaah, nah, nah, nah-nah-nah naaaaaaaaaaaah, nah-nah-nah naaaaaaaaaaaah, hey-eh Jude...