"Memories swing between the pillars of love and shame," writes Mark Helprin in "Winter's Tale." To these, I add a third pillar: injustice.
All of us remember the injustices done to us in our childhoods. Some massive, outrageous, illegal and immoral. Others were smaller, and some the level of "just not fair." But we don't forget them.
Caveat lector: What follows is a re-creation from what Matt told me over the phone about half an hour ago. I was not an eyewitness to the event, which is probably a good thing, because Matt doesn't need the reputation among his peers of having a Scary Mama for a wife.
Today Matt's local had their annual picnic. It's always a good time -- food on the grill, cold beer, and tons of games for the kids. This was the first year Maia was old enough to participate in the races, and the first year that John was old enough to get excited about participating in the races.
In the two-year-old girl division, Maia won handily. She got a medal with a shoe on it. The idea of a prize appealed to John immensely, and he was one of the first at the starting block for the six-year-old boy division.
"On your marks, get" -- and one of the boys broke. They were off. And there was John, standing, waiting for the word "go."
There was no restart. John ran, and ran well, but he didn't have a chance at catching up. He crossed the finish line, and Matt was there to talk about how sometimes things Just Aren't Fair.
John was disappointed, but perked up at the idea of competing in the football toss.
Three tosses, three footballs, into a tub. Charlie Hustle was first in line, he was so excited. He got two balls in, and then had to wait while everyone else tried to beat him.
One kid did. And one kid tied him.
There were two medals. The kid who got three balls in of course got one. And the kid who tied him? Where was he? The judges couldn't find him. Maybe he'd left, or sulked off. They looked around, but no luck. Who knew? That left John.
"He was so happy when he got that medal," Matt said on the phone. "He was so. Happy."
The athlete showed it to his sister: "Look, Maia! Yours has a shoe! Mine has a FOOTBALL!" He probably ran in place with glee. I bet he glowed. He had won.
Until the other kid's dad stepped up.
Matt, when telling the story, made the OKD's voice rude and harsh. "What about MY kid?" The kid had reappeared, but seemed uninterested (Matt was unclear on this point -- he was having too much fun watching his son be proud). The judges conferred. There was not another medal. Every other year, they had extras, but of course not this year.
The decided to have a runoff.
John was game for it -- hadn't he already won the medal in the first round? Perhaps this was for another prize. And perhaps he didn't quite understand what was at stake. His effort, while good, got him only one toss in the tub.
The other kid got two.
Matt said John smiled when he pulled the medal over his head and gave it to the other kid. He held himself together as they walked away. Across the park grass until they were at least a little ways away from everyone.
And then he fell apart.
Matt and I comfort ourselves sometimes by saying, "If this is the worst that happens to him, he'll have a pretty good life." And it's true. He didn't get a pot-metal trinket he would have forgotten in two weeks. But I guess that's what makes me sad -- he would have been proud of the victory for a short time, but he'll remember the loss forever.