Josh Decides To Leave
The reason was not only inconsequential but also forgotten.
"Do you remember why, Terry?"
"Nope. How about you, Josh?"
"Not a clue."
Anyhow, Terry and I were sitting around the kitchen table on Essex Street one early afternoon when Josh came in with his soccer bag.
"Going over Duane's?"
"No, I'm leaving for good!"
"Tom, talk some sense into him!"
"No, let him go."
"I mean it. I'm really leaving."
"Where are you going?"
"I don't care as long as it's away from here."
We had argued about something or other earlier. Josh left the house.
"Aren’t you going to go after him?" Said Terry.
"No, he'll be back in 10 minutes."
Josh was eight or nine at the time. We were living on Essex Street and I was in sales at Banner Systems. Josh had been in soccer since he was six and I was coach. Some would argue that my knowledge of the fine points of soccer was limited. They were right. Some said my knowledge of the rules was conversational rather than fluent. They were right. However, we never had a losing season either outdoors or indoors.
My theory of soccer was simple. Practices were scrimmages where I broke everyone into two teams; everyone played. I taught as we played. I was always one chapter in the rule book ahead of the kids. I once taught high school Russian 1 that way.
We warmed up by running a couple laps around the field. I led the run. I was no expert on drills so I tried to concentrate on skills, mainly protecting the goal keeper and staying in your zone. And learning to pass and when.
One of the best players I ever had was Chris King. I first saw him play in U-6 (under six years old). There would be 19 kids or so huddled like a herd of cows in the field chasing Chris who could dribble the ball like a pro. He could also run like a gazelle and would score unlimited goals unless controlled.
I got Chris on my U-9 team. One day in the middle of the game with about 50 onlookers, Chris Suddenly leaves his position as striker and runs off the field.
"Where the heck are you going?" I yelled.
"I gotta wizz coach."
He ran off the field and, behind a bush, did his business, then returned to the game and, seemingly, without skipping a beat, took a pass from Josh and scored a goal.
The most memorable game was between Josh’s team and his cousin Keith’s. This was to be a confrontation made in Hollywood. Josh begged to be striker that day as Keith’s expertise was defense around the goal. Here’s the scenario. Josh was a wraith. He was so thin, he could move around between water droplets in the shower. Keith, on the other hand, was built like a bull and he towered two or three inches taller than anyone else. Nobody could get by him, with the result that many shots were taken by the opposing team too far away from the goal to be effective.
We were a couple goals down and Josh, in the last quarter begged me again to move him from defense to striker.
"OK, Josh, go for it!"
My main worry was that Keith would inadvertently or otherwise injure Josh.
Jason Lek had the ball at midfield, Josh breaks toward the goal.
"Lek, I’m free." He yells.
Lek passes and it’s just Keith between Josh and the goalkeeper. Keith prepares to intercept but Josh with his superior speed just kicks the ball between Keith’s legs, runs around him, retrieves the ball, shoots, and scores!
We still lost by one goal but Josh was elated.
After the summer season, we moved to indoor soccer. We normally played in school gyms. Each team used 6 players including the goal keeper. I divided it into 3 forwards and 2 defensemen. The goal itself was the size of a hockey goal so I treated the game somewhat like hockey. I remembered the days of the Phil Esposito Bruins. He always hung around the center of the rink waiting for a pass from his wingmen. To defense against this form of play which most of the teams employed, I had our 2 defensemen stay 10’ to 15’ away and on either side of the goal. I said, "Stay there! Let the competition have the wings, but don’t let them shoot from the center." It was hard for the defensemen to comply at first. I used Josh and Lek as defense and when they got the ball, their first instinct was to run it to the opposing goal. I was constantly yelling,
"Maintain your position!"
Unorthodox, you say? Yeah, but we never lost an indoor game.
After Josh entered teen age, I retired from coaching. At the next level, these kids needed coaches who were versed in drills, did soccer camps, and were thoroughly briefed with the intricacies of the game, and, who could take them forward.
However, I digress. Let’s return to Josh leaving the house.
A half-hour had passed and still no Josh. After 45 minutes, Terry began to panic and so did I.
"All right, I’m going after him!"
Here are the protagonists for the rest of the story. I changed some of their names around to avoid any embarrassment.
Duane was Josh’s best friend for years. We nicknamed him "The Pain" because they were always fighting. Duane is an electrician and now lives with his wife Tina in Florida.
Harry Durango was somewhere in the middle of a huge family that lived off Williams Avenue. Harry had light fingers and, when he was older, was involved in a robbery at a fast food place. He did some time in a local lockup and disappeared shortly after that.
Joe Lake was a hard worker who eventually became head chef at a prominent restaurant. He was also, when young, built like a chef-in-training. His brother Bob did a stint when he was young in a home of bewilderment, but managed to put his life back together and later became a successful psychiatric nurse.
So these are some of the people around the neighborhood.
I started with Lincoln Market at the corner of Essex and Chatham.
"Hi Ernie,(Ernie Yanakakis,the proprietor) has Josh been here?"
"No, sorry, haven’t seen him today."
Then it was off to Coney’s, a mom-and-pop store on Chatham specializing in penny candies that these days cost a quarter and up.
Another diversion. Recently, I told Terry about what I was writing. When I mentioned Coney’s, she began to wax nostalgic.
"When we were young and living on Chatham Street, Marie and I used to go to Coney’s."
Danny, Marie’s father and Terry’s uncle on the mother’s side, gave them a few pennies when he got home from work as a postman. Now we use the term "letter carrier," or some such euphemism.
Anyhow, I didn’t know the person behind the counter at Coney’s so I asked,
"Have you seen a thin nine-year-old boy carrying a green soccer bag?"
"You mean Josh?"
"Yeah, I’m his dad."
"He was in here half an hour or so ago. Said he was off on an adventure."
"You know which way he went?"
I went to Duane’s next where I found his mom, Andrea, watering her plants.
"Has Josh been around?"
"I saw him while ago. Ask Duane, he’s inside watching TV."
"He’s crazy. He said he’s running away. I told him he’d get killed out there, especially, when it gets dark."
"Do you know where he went?"
"Try Harry Durango."
Harry was out on the street two houses down.
"Have you seen Josh?"
"Nope." Lying through his teeth.
I finally caught up with Joe and Bob Lake.
"He’s running away." said Bob, "He wanted to stay here overnight but we said that we were going out later."
"You know where he was going?"
"No." That seemed to be true.
Panic had now turned to terror. I was about to go back home and start a new search with the car when I saw him. I watched him for awhile out of sight as he headed down Chatham Street toward the ocean. Finally, I couldn’t stand it at any longer and ran up to him.
"Hey Josh." No response; he keeps on walking.
"Where are you going?"
He said he was going to live in the sewer drain that empties into the ocean down the beach.
Before it was finally barred with a huge giant steel grate, it had an opening five feet high in four feet wide. God knows what lived in there as it was always dark and scary looking. My thoughts were supposing some pervert getting a hold of Josh. I was going through a major guilt excursion coupled with more fear that I had felt for years.
"You mind if I walk with you for awhile?"
Why the beach? We started taking Josh to beaches on the North Shore when he was just a baby. Before he could walk, you could find him digging in the sand. When he was 2 or 3, he could spend hours in the myriad tidal pools at these beaches. You’d see him squatted down with his pail and shovel. He collected every species of life he could find. He also collected sea glass, that is, glass that has been rendered opaque by the constant abrasion from incoming and outgoing tides; he also collected seashells and interesting rocks.
I remember once walking into his room (a veritable minefield) almost overcome by the odor of decaying life forms. It seems he had found a bunch of small crabs and sea urchins together with several large hardshell clams or quahogs as they’re called. They were well hidden in his pail under the bed. The smell lingered for several days. Josh never understood what the fuss was about.
Anyhow, back to the story.
"What do you have in the soccer bag?" We stopped walking. He put the bag on the ground and opened it. Inside were a change of socks and underwear, his pillow, and his Teddy bear.
"Josh, let’s go home."
It took three months for Terry to forgive me.
Epilogue: I recently asked Josh if he minded if I write the story. I went over his house for more details. The biggest surprise was,
"You know, Dad, when I walked out, I hid in my fort in the backyard for awhile."
We had built a two-level fort for Josh when he was younger. He continued:
"I spotted you when you were talking to Andrea and hid while you talked to Harry, Bob, and Joe. But, you know something? I would’ve gone down the beach and spent the night there."
He can be so stubborn. I believed him, which made my anxiety even worse.