from Letters to Chris Bosh
About the Writer
Justin Brouckaert's work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Rumpus, Passages North, Smokelong Quarterly and NANO Fiction, among other publications. He serves as fiction editor at Yemassee and Banango Street.
July 31, 2013 | Memphis, TN
Yesterday I bought a new pair of shoes like you told me. I bought a six-pack of Bud & a bag of Fritos. I walked around downtown at a festival. I popped six balloons with a dart & won a purple lizard. I threw the lizard away.
You were worried I wasn’t going to take this move well & now here I am: just another drunk in a big city. That’s what they know me for, I’m sure—everywhere except the park across the street from my apartment, the only damn barbecues in Memphis I haven’t pissed on. They’ve got a farmer’s market there every Saturday & last weekend was Earth Day. I showered and put on my best pair of Docker’s & some nice kids in matching polo T-shirts let me touch a shit ton of turtles.
I swear, some days I don’t even know who I am anymore.
You sounded down in your last letter. Why are you so upset? You’re in Miami! I know it’s not the same, but it’s not the end of the world. You’re not alone—you’ve got Norris. You’ve got that rebound, the one everyone will remember. You know how LeBron can be. They may take you for granted sometimes, but they always come around.
Seriously, Chris. You’re the best guy I know.
I wish things could be different. Remember when we used to play Halo with Mario and Norris every day after practice? The sleepovers, the Jim Beam, Denny’s in the morning? Sometimes we’d do it during the week & Spo would take one whiff of Norris and send us all back to the showers. That fucking guy! You were happy then, weren’t you? You never needed LeBron or his parties. You don’t need them now.
Lately I’ve been thinking about retirement. I’ve been talking to my dad, but he doesn’t get it. He’s still working in his sixties & talks about me like I’m twenty, like my back doesn’t catch fire every time I make a cut. I tell him, these days I can’t do much else other than crouch in a corner and wait for a pass. He doesn’t understand what it’s like to have your body reduced to a trigger.
I got a new tattoo yesterday, a gator on my pelvis. I was going to do it anyway, even before the woman dared me. We’d been drinking. I went back to the bar to show her afterward, but she was already gone.
Chris, I’m scared of starting over.
Before I won the lizard at the festival, one of the carnies called me over to play his basketball game, the kind where the rim’s bent in the middle so nobody can make it. I said, What do you think I am, stupid? & he said I know exactly who you are & handed me a ball.
I took a sharpie out of my pocket. I always keep one there, but I never get to use it. I said, You know, I used to shoot two-thousand 3-pointers every morning. But the guy yanked the ball out of my hands & looked at me like I was crazy. What kind of idiot shoots two-thousand 3-pointers every morning, he asked. He started laughing. It made me mad, so I paid for a shot & missed it. I paid for two more & missed them both, then paid for three more & finally I made one & got a Memphis Grizzlies basketball for a prize.
The funny thing is, the only shot that felt good was the first one. That’s the one I wanted.
You’re the only one who understands me.
August 2, 2013 | Memphis, TN
It’s heating up here in Memphis. Nothing like the old days back in South Dakota, where we’d all sleep around the woodstove in the winter when it got too cold. Did I already tell you this story? I chopped wood every weekend from six in the morning until three in the afternoon. I did it barefoot, too—wore through my only pair of shoes playing ball at the park, ten white kids launching 3-pointers from snow banks.
I talked to my mother yesterday. She always asks about you! She says thank you for the poinsettias. Were those for her birthday? These last few months have been such a blur.
In South Dakota I used to have a monkey named Sonny. We had a couple of dogs, a few cats, a ferret named Sal, but Sonny was my favorite. Whenever we went out, we’d lock him in his room & keep the dogs in the backyard. Well, somehow he figured out how to unlock doors. He’d unlock his door, then unlock the back door & let the dogs in. Then he’d unlock the front door & by the time we’d gotten wherever we were going, our neighbors would call & tell us Sonny was riding the dogs all over the neighborhood again. I’d come home & stand there like Come on, y’all, back in the yard, but we always ended up on the grass, just rolling around and laughing and playing.
I miss Sonny. I miss South Dakota. I miss Miami. I miss you.
I swear to God, I haven’t worn shoes since mid-July. I keep buying new ones & walking out without them. I just walk & walk & now I’ve got a closet full of shoes I haven’t broken in. You should see my callouses, Chris. I’ll step on anything.
The other day I was walking home from Dairy Queen a little drunk & a golden retriever started following me. Just sniffed me a little & wagged its tail & walked right behind me. Then I got a little further & a terrier came up behind him. Just like that, a whole swarm of them come up & start following me across the city like I’m some kind of prophet. Poodles & labradors & dachshunds. Chihuahuas & hounds & boxers. Some of the little ones jumped in my arms & by the time I got back to my porch I had that old familiar feeling like I was coming apart, disc by herniated disc. A hot poker to my spine. Only early August but it felt like game eighty-two.
I stood on my porch & looked out at all those dogs just sitting & watching me, black & brown & spotted. They licked their lips & perked their ears. I just shrugged & showed them my empty hands so they knew I had nothing to offer them.
When I think about the good games, Chris, the seven 3-balls I hit off the bench cold to beat the Thunder, the nine treys to set the record, I think of the only time in my life where I didn’t feel any pain. It was so easy, so smooth, I was sitting one second & stroking the next.
It felt good. I didn’t feel a goddamn thing.