I reckon it’s a hard thing to write about a random number like 20. And my guess is that things like a “best of” list (which I am guilty of writing) and anniversary issues (which I am actively contributing to) should probably be reserved for the likes of The New Yorker, which have a well-established literary reputation and an ample readership.
But as it happens, the number twenty has had a bit of meaning in my life.
For starters, I was born on the twentieth. Every year when August rolled around I would wait in eager anticipation of the cake that was made only once a year, and the small mound of gifts that always appeared on the table following the dessert. In addition to these treats, I could always remember on that day especially that I was born into the world, and had a place in a family that loved me.
The other reason that 20 held special significance for me was that I shared the date with my oldest brother, though his birthday was in April. (Happy Birthday if you’re reading this!) As the youngest of three kids, and the only girl, I clung to this tenuous connection with some fervor. Even if I couldn’t enter into brothers’ play or talk or work, at least I had this number in common with the oldest one.
One thing I tried hard to keep up with my brothers in was sports. I ran and kicked and jumped and swam as fast as I possibly could – and found out that I really liked it. And also was pretty good at it.
At the time basketball was the most popular sport both in terms of recognition and the number of people that played. My brother, the oldest one, also played and when it came time to choose a jersey number, he chose 20.
The thing that you have to understand about choosing a jersey number was that it was no light matter. It was the heyday of Michael Jordan—number 23—and the number that you chose, and whether you got to wear it every season, was extremely important to your future.
You might go down in history as number 19 or 47 or 53, the only player from Missouri to ever make it to the pros. You might get your jersey retired in the Bulls stadium, which meant that no one else could ever wear that number and play for your team. (Unless you were like Michael Jordan and came back to the game three or four times, in which case you could resurrect the number.)
Local legends were told about high school stars that made it to college ball and even were looked at by pro scouts. Banners hung in the gym with the names and numbers of championship teams, winning conference, district, and even state titles.
Your number was the mark of your rise to fame, fortune and immortality.
You can probably guess that when it came time for me to choose a jersey number, I also chose 20.
For some unknown reason, I was coordinated and quick and fairly good at basketball. The team I played with was also very good for our age group, and we began winning games. I relished the attention that came from various quarters as we met with success: the words of congratulations in the school hallways, the write-ups in the local paper, the pre-game scouting by rival teams.
I took to eating well, sleeping early, following the same routine before every game so as not to break the charm. I was eager to keep the winning streak going, and the accolades coming in.
Part of me is blushing deep red to remember that I pursued success so shamelessly.
Another part of me knows it was just a way to get my brother to see me.
His words of praise were the ones I coveted the most. When he was impressed, I was pleased. I felt full inside, and noticed, maybe even good enough to be on his team (if I hadn’t still been a girl).
In the midst of all this striving, I held on to the number 20 on the back of my jersey, hoping in my heart to make myself worthy of sharing it with my brother.
I guess what I lost sight of was the fact that, even though I tried so hard, the number, and all I tried to make it mean, was something I had already been born with.
So on this most momentous occasion of our 20th issue, I would like to sum up my thoughts in a few lines of verse:
All of that this is just to say,
In an unexpected way,
how good it is to actually be,
a part of something dear to me.
a few snarky posts,
something I’ll remember most,
is how to see and feel a part
of something some one may
(And even if they don’t, at least it’s a start.)
Well done everyone. I look forward to more great stuff in the future.