January 15, 2014 by vh1161
He boards the train at East Falls Church on Sunday afternoon. He totes a pleather gym bag bearing the German flag, wears a t-shirt celebrating Maui, and wears a hipster beanie in begrudging acknowledgment that it’s chilly outside. He’s going downtown to attempt to play soccer on the National Mall with his buddies, now that the weekend rain has finally stopped. The ground will probably be too damp to play, but it’s a rare fine January day and, being in fact from Hawaii, he takes any chance to be in the sun again.
Nate grew up on the Big Island with a younger brother named Jake and a dog named Ranger. He and Jake had a barefoot childhood; their world was sand beaches and primeval wastelands of cooled lava, a world where shoes just got in the way. They would spend hours running over the undulating ridges of pahoehoe lava, tingling with blended fear and triumph based on the knowledge that just hours before, these ridges could’ve killed them. They ran the ridges — bare soles slapping against sunny solid danger — and owned their world, little barefoot kings.
When their dad’s job transplanted the family to the East Coast of the mythical “upper 48,” the greatest point of contention between Nate and his new teachers was their insistence that he wear shoes at all times. This was a caged way of life for the lava king. He would rage against the indignity of it all by kicking against the legs of his chair during class; kicking his locker shut; kicking his backpack down the hallway. As the year progressed he began paying more and more attention to the different percussive sounds and tonal depths he could achieve depending on what, how far, how hard, and with which part of his foot he kicked. It turned wearing shoes into a sort of competition with himself.
One boring Sunday Nate wandered to the neighborhood park where an adult rec soccer league playing a game. He commandeered a sunny spot near one of the goal ends of the field, watched for a few minutes, and then closed his eyes to soak in the sun. But he started paying attention to the sounds of the game he wasn’t seeing. He listened to the beat of cleat and ball, cleat and turf, cleat and ball…It was almost as beautiful to him as the memory of bare feet pattering over a lava kingdom. He came back to watch every Sunday until he was eventually invited to join the game. He has grown up and has built a life away from the islands, but his feet still find a turf and a game and a beat every Sunday.