Pool Table

December 8, 2009
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Up the winding staircase, all the way up to the third floor, the second room on the right. Cream colored walls, the paint, slightly chipped. Two windows with curtain shades that don’t come down, so day or night, sun or moon, light floods the room. In the center of the room was our pool table. It was large, taking up almost the whole room, leaving little space even to play. It was taller than I, and I had to stand on my tippitoes to touch the warm green felt. Our cleaner didn’t come up to this room, so the crimson wood was perpetually covered in a light blanket of dust. The sun bounced off the cherry wood legs down to the feet of the table. Gleaming in the light, large brass dragon feet held our table up.
My father was incredible at pool; everyone on the Presser side of my family is. My mother was never one for it; she could play well enough, but being from the Sherman side of the family, she was hopelessly unable to beat any of the Pressers. When I was younger I never really liked pool. My sister and I were much shorter than my brother and holding a pool stick was simply impossible. One can only imagine myself, practically a toddler, trying to play this clearly adult game. Clumsily trying to hold the stick upright, despite the fact that it was more than three feet taller than I. While my father taught my brother to play, we invented a different game. Rachel and I would reach as far as we could, stand on our tippitoes and play “hand ball,” a game much like pool, using the cue ball to knock the others in, minus the stick.
As I got older I saw pool as the greatest of all games. My father told me it was a game of skill that only the smartest and most talented people could play. I never stopped noticing the grace of the game, and how cool my brother looked while playing it. I wanted to be one of those talented people more than anything.
I don’t remember when exactly the magical third floor pool table was taken away. Put in its place was an obnoxiously large bed, boxy and cream colored. The room no longer held the enchantment and excitement that it once had. That magical room was no longer grand. My mother called it a guest room, for people who came to visit us. People rarely came. As a result the room became a sort of a, holding place, a junk yard that I often tried to voyage though, only to be stopped two feet in the door by an old dresser or stack of papers. The third floor was a distant place from the small second floor room that I shared with my sister. Almost no one went up there any more. Almost no one had reason to. No one really spoke of pool anymore.
I first learned how to play pool in a small room in our favorite summer resort. Every year at the end of August, before school started, we spent a week at Mohounk, a secluded resort in upstate New York. It was an old Victorian mansion with some eight hundred rooms. It was not like most vacation spots, and that’s what we liked about it. There was nothing surrounding it but nature. There were trails for walking, courses for rock scrambling, a pond to boat and fish in. They had teatime every day at four o’clock. However, for children there was not much to do, with only two common TVs in the whole place. But there was a poolroom, small and out of the way, and that’s where I learned to play. My brother played frequently. He was so talented, and I was so jealous. I wanted to be as good as he was; I wanted him to let me play.
My father had been taking him to a pool hall near our house for years and teaching him all the tricks, the tricks I was dying to know. I always wanted to go with them, even just to watch. But they never invited me. It was something that my father and brother did. I dreamed that my father would knock lightly on my bedroom door and ask me to throw on my shoes and go play pool with him, but that never happened.
We never really did much together, because my family was always busy. Between my father working crazy hours, my mother simply working, and the homework that started to accumulate as my brother, my sister, and I grew older, we only managed to spend time together on Saturdays when we went to synagogue and had lunch together. That seemed to be it, seemed to be enough for us.
My father developed brain cancer, and when I was thirteen he died. After he passed away, the thread that held us together snapped, and soon after our bonds snapped to. We no longer went to Saturday morning services, and we no longer had lunch together. We saw each other for five, maybe ten minutes during dinner, and that was all. I didn’t talk to anyone in my family anymore; my mother and I were having problems and could hardly stand to be in the same room together because we were always yelling at each other. My sister and I, who had always been close, were subtly pushing each other away as a result of the pain. We no longer stayed in each other’s room talking for hours. We tended to stay in our own rooms, separated by a hall, seemingly as big as the Atlantic. The family member I talked to the least was my brother. I was lucky if he maybe said hello to me once a week. We seemed to no longer have anything in common; we had nothing to talk about, nothing to say.
All of this changed, however, when I moved out of my smaller third floor room into the magical room where the pool table used to be. This place suited me better than my smaller room; it felt more like home, more like dad. My sister and I now truly seemed to live in our very own shared world on our very own floor.
The summer before ninth grade was not unlike the previous. My brother, sister, and I all went our own ways, joining different summer programs. My brother and sister went to their academically inclined camps while I went to some frivolous arts camp. But like always we spent a week together at Mohonk.
Unlike past trips there, we did less together, doing many more activities in the factions we had unconsciously broken into: my mother and my brother, and my sister and me. It was around five o’clock on our second-to-last day there. I had seen little of my brother, so it seemed odd when he and I both ended up in the poolroom. I wanted to practice, as it was our tradition that my sister and I play pool after dinner, early enough that we could have the room to ourselves before the adults came down to play, late enough that we still felt cool. As usual my pool skills were lacking, and it surprised me when my brother’s deep voice quietly asked me if I wanted him to teach me how to play. I simply nodded, nervous that anything I might say would sound un-cool to his older ear. He showed me the way to hold the stick; he told me about the angles, and how to set up a scratch shot. He said I should use the bridge to make up for the fact that I was too short to reach across the table. He tried to show me the right way to break, his white ball hitting the top of the pyramid like a gunshot, the balls ricocheting in every direction until one lone ball sunk down into its own pocket. Every time my ball fumbled into a pocket, an imagined cheering section shook through my ears. An hour or so later I still seemed to play as terribly as ever, but he told me that at least my shots were connecting, and if I could manage not to scratch on every shot, then I would successfully learn how to play half of the game. I thought to myself that this was it, the thing that would bring David and me together. This is what we would talk about, this is what we would bond over, this is what would make us a family.
When we got home the first thing David, Rachel, and I asked for was a pool table. In the basement is where our new table lives. The pool table is sleek, modern, black. Boxy legs and bright blue felt. The pool cues hang on the wall beside it, still taller than I am. The table presented us with a new thread. A stronger thread, no longer made of flimsy material but now a thread of rope coiled around and around our family, so as not to be cut. It was not beautiful like our first table, but we found it perfect enough to hold us together.

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