I Kicked Tammy on the Tetherball Court

By Michelle Railey

You might have found yourself, once, in a dress, a winter coat, and your brand-new flocked velveteen/pseudo-suede shoes from Payless Shoe Source (they had small heels!), on a tetherball court, on a winter day, after school. That’s where you might have been.

The wind made your cheeks red and stinging, like being kissed by sandpaper. But winter, what can you do?

So you, if you found yourself freezing in a dress and fancy shoes on the school’s playground, might have discovered you were kicking Tammy. Just into her parka and her book bag. Nowhere that would hurt. But with your new shoes! And she started it and she was kicking back.

Tammy, stop kicking so I can stop kicking back!

Well, luckily, if you’re like me or someone like me, you had a teacher who thought she was leaving for the day; at least until she spotted you (or someone like you) kicking Tammy.

The teacher left for the day anyway, of course. She just hauled you into the school first and asked what the hell you (or someone like you) thought you were doing. In fairness, she asked Tammy, too.

She should have called your parents. She said so. But no one was hurt, and upon closer examination, the incident resulted from a contest about who could sing “Tomorrow” the best. The intrepid teacher made sure no one was bleeding, decided kids were stupid, and left.

And then, Tammy and her fellow Annie-Sun-Will-Come-Out-Wannabe decided that kicking one another in the winter on a tetherball court really was, indeed, stupid. Far better to belt out “Tomorrow” in tandem.

Better still, to walk home from school, sharing Tootsie Pop Drops out of 1980s-lavender-puffy-coated and very cold pockets. Don’t step on a crack, you will break your Mom’s back. Hop over the ice patches, except for the ones with bubbles which make a satisfying and non-slippery rickety-rackety cracking noise when they split. Discuss, with Tammy, the virtues of Danny versus any of the other boys who are not named Danny and, also, how much you enjoy spelling tests. And velvet. And maybe roller-skating on Saturday, if your parents will let you. You’ll ask them when you get home.

At stop signs, you and Tammy decide that “Tomorrow” is a stupid song; but singing “Stop in the Name of Love” will be super-fun. Every single stop sign from school to home (there are about eight of them. But the song and the singing, Tammy and the shoes never, ever, ever get old).

The rest of your walk home, the one after Tammy is dropped off on Dove but you must continue on to Loomis, is sadder and colder and song-free. It is long, trudging, friend-free steps upon steps like a long Russian winter. (Tammy, I miss you, where are you, can’t you live next door to me; when I get home I will write you a note or call.) It’s a longer walk home without Tammy. Long enough to both remember, be guilty, and forget that your friendship is based in heavy-kicking-man-made-sole sins.

You (or someone like you) is heartily sorry you ever kicked Tammy. She’s your best friend, after all. And kicking anyone is just not like you.

For the record, you’ll go skating on Saturday. If you’re like me, or someone like me, you’ll even share your brand-new box of watermelon-fruit punch Nerds, but only with Tammy because she’s your best friend.

The shoes held up longer than they should have (Velveteen from Payless Shoe Store, 1983-ish version of shoes with contact-paper-covered heels should not have lasted at all long. But they did, y’all, the cheap consumer goods held on well into 1985). I (you) kicked really hard (thank god for puffy parkas!). The friendship was strong, so strong, but in the ways of geography and time, it dwindled and got lost, removed by miles and years, but forever extant, forever ready to be reactivated: kick once, sing The Supremes at every stop sign, imagine a red dress and Annie and that damned dog, or just look at a map, or a mirror, or think for a minute. Memory is a beast. It will (if you’re like me) routinely humiliate you, reminding you of the times you might have accidentally kicked Tammy on the tetherball court. (But it will also remind you of the friendship that blossomed from such Taiwan-made and ill-gotten seeds.)

I still love Tammy. You probably do, too. And if friendship is purchased, on occasion, with bad behavior, cheap shoes, and singing, well, some friendships are cheap at any price.

Here’s to you, Tammy. I’m so sorry I kicked you.

And about “Tomorrow” and who could sing it best?  I’m pretty sure it was…

a tie.


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