Now I have a vision of a receiver catching the ball along the left sideline, two defenders in his face, the pass perfectly placed. Did I throw it? Did I catch it? Back when I used to make up games by myself in Pennsylvania I'd play both roles, the thrower and the catcher. The other day I was thinking about the fact that my favorite made-up athletic conference was centered on the Carolinas. Some of the teams were ACC teams. Others were not. My favorite player to act out was a scrambling quarterback for East Carolina named Mike D'Artagnan. I'd picked the name from that movie with Michael York about the three musketeers. D'Artagnan was famous for eluding the grasp of pass rushers. He threw better on the run than from the pocket. And he loved a muddy field. One March I celebrated the first day of the spring thaw, with temperatures in the 50s, by sloshing about on the grass next to our driveway, coating myself in slime.
Back to the present, that vision of a pass reception makes me think back to earlier in the afternoon, when I told Skylar she could look around while I waited in the interminable line at Ross. With both of us running fevers, the trek from B&N to the other end of Foothills Mall could have been too much. But it ended up being a bonding experience. We shopped for Kim's Christmas present. I let Skylar confirm her knowledge of mom's taste by rejecting a $20 V-neck cashmere sweater because it was pink. And then I temporarily suspended my herding instinct to let her explore, remembering my own experiences of getting lost in the store as a child a little too vividly. "It's good for her," I reasoned, as I watched her dart off and then return a few times. As I made my way forward, though, and the line behind me grew more and more crowded with large families, it became harder for me to see her. I felt like the quarterback straining to find the open man while peering past the defenders between us. Still, I eventually located her. Afterwards, she told me that it was much harder to see me from where she was. She's less than five feet, after all. The density of the crowd made her panic a bit. What I'll hold onto, though, is not her anxiety but the look we exchanged when she finally made eye contact with me. It was just a second, but it felt like a year.