I hate September.
I mean, it’s pretty the way warm colors melt into each other on fallen leaves, and I like the swift breeze of autumn. But in the South, September means football, and I hate football.
We have five reserved seats in the middle of the home-side stands – the best view by far. I’m boxed in by godparents, family friends, classmates, and people I see at the grocery store on Sundays. Crying kids and screaming fans flail around in their seats, refusing to be consoled.
Light bulbs bigger than my head, lined in stacked rows of four, light up the Astro-Turf and dark Southern sky. Vampires with vicious appetites and tiny wings move from skin to skin, sinking in their teeth, leaving behind a red mark coupled with an itch. I can’t swat them away because I might hit my Uncle Ted in the face like I did last game.
The air is sticky with humidity, people crammed shoulder to shoulder, skin stuck to metal bleachers and plastic seats. Patches of red decorate the faces of fans flustered by the oppressive heat.
Instruments clatter together two sections to the left, directed by teenagers moving their hands up and down and left and right. They play the fight song after every touchdown, but I can’t remember the last time I heard it. My brother, choked by a uniform too small for him, stands up straight, pressing keys and focusing so hard my head hurts for him.
Number 21 is the quarterback, with strong shoulders, blond hair, and tired eyes. His dad sits two rows in front of me. My dad joins in with him, chanting their last name, screaming directions from so far away it’s funny. They yell at kids with more than the weight of pads on their shoulders, good words, bad words, and worse words.
Boulder-like boys run at each other, divided by yard lines and yellow flags, breaking bones for sport. They shuffle on and off the field; water is tossed at them; teammates with broken arms and legs pat their backs as they catch their breath, heaving in and out.
Bodies spin and jump, throw each other in the air and barely catch themselves, screaming at me to be aggressive, when all I want is to be outside those stadium gates lined with police officers and loyal parents.
I watch a swarm of numbers and last names scatter like ants being sprayed with water. My school’s shade of blue rushes in a fury to a thick line in the grass, only to be brought down by a light orange ghost grabbing at his helmet, clutching the wire in front of his eyes. A whistle blows; a pinstriped referee tosses a yellow flag; cheers erupt around me. The other side of the stadium doesn’t utter a sound.
This goes on for hours. The scoreboard changes, numbers falling constantly, spirits falling with them. Wedged between a handrail and a hard place, my eyes follow the boys running around the faded field. I think they’re tired, sprawled on the sidelines, chasing a ball, chasing each other, tackling other people for a number, a title, a trophy, a scholarship, like machines.
I don’t think they like September either. They’re hot when they should be cold, calm when they should be bold, doing everything exactly as they’re told.
Peering down at the bench stacked with them, I see number 46 look back. His eyes are sad, his feet are tired, his head hurts from rattling around inside a plastic case. Beads of water cling to the ends of his hair hanging in his eyes; his mouth bends into a crooked smile pointed at me.
I smile back, wiggling my fingers slightly at him from seat 7 in row GG, so far away.
I can tell he absolutely, without a doubt, hates football. I mean, it’s cool the way the ball spins downfield, and he likes the roar of the fans after a touchdown. But football means September, and he hates September.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.