The Perfect Throw

ThrowingStonesI’m in position. I’ve rocked forward, left leg in front, body planted on the right. Now I’m rocking back. My left knee rises, my right should cocks back, my elbow, and then my right hand follows. Now I explode like a spring, hurling every joule of available energy—from my leg, torso, shoulder, biceps, forearm, wrist, and fingers—into the projectile which I release. And then, in slow motion, I feel my body settle back: left foot strikes, perhaps a hop and stagger; I rock back; I watch the flight, and then it’s gone.

The perfect throw.

I confess. In moments of achievement, I fantasize about specific beaches I’ve known, their specific slopes with the sun and water levels in specific orientations, a specific roar of wind and waves. These beaches have left throwing rocks studded against shimmering sands. I could take one step or two, curve for a rock, and in that same motion, cock, throw, release, watch, and reach for the next. I remember a few river edges with perfect rocks, and one with half-rotted chunks of wood. We threw the chunks upstream, and then bombarded them with the perfect rocks as they floated by.

I was taught from childhood how to find the perfect rock, a little heavier than an egg, with the right geometry for my hand to grasp. The last three fingers are important; the trigger finger starts slightly flexed. I lift a rock, rotate it, get it in the sweet spot, and throw.

And I’m not even rhapsodizing here about the magic of the flight of skipping-stones, those flattened lozenges that I outsmart in their helicoid attempts to descend. My brothers were the world masters of skipping stones. I tried, like them, to outsmart them by skipping ones with jagged edges instead of smooth, or by skimming into choppy waters instead of flat. I could outsmart them because the stones seemed to have expected to fall after seven, ten skips, but I’d have spun them on an axis, and given them so much force that they would have to skip again and again and again until they entered a state of sliding across the water’s surface –hydroplaning, with an uncountable vibration. Then, without ceremony, they would stop and plunk through the surface. Or so I imagined. Actually, it was my brothers who had made those throws, although I took them as my own.

There was the softball phase that turned into a baseball phase because my brothers didn’t want to throw softballs. They and my dad used to yell “pinch!” as I bobbled the ball in the hand-me-down mitt that my brothers no longer used. There was the tennis phase: the sweet pong of the ball off the racket. There was the Frisbee phase. There was the discus phase—I loved to uncoil and let it fly.

But the phase most dear to me is my football phase. It lasted some thirty years, through girlfriends and boyfriends, a marriage, small kids, and injuries; from California to Pennsylvania to Alaska to Texas and up through New Hampshire, and still going strong in Oregon. The football was a projectile large enough to watch, and one that gave feedback on its release.

If something in my life is perfect, for one perfect moment, I think of my body in its final descent at the moment of energy transfer from me to the football.

And I have dreams at night—real dreams, very happy dreams, in which I throw footballs.

And if I witness a perfect pass, even on the television, my voice says, “I threw that,” and I believe it. I’m proud. The perfect spiral takes everything my body has, and it takes it far away. A lumpy throw is a dud, but no matter. I try, I try again, and again, and again. No harm done, just throw and throw and throw.

When there was no one to throw with, I had another game, which I could do alone: the hurl. I’d cradle the football in both forearms, bend both knees, and then roll the ball down my arms to my fingertips and then heave it up, so it rose almost vertical. It would hover above me as it slowed, stopped, and began its descent, usually over some utility line, before it descending–that perfect spinning football–toward earth. I’d take one or two steps forward, maybe a half step to the side, accept it into a waiting cradle. With one leg forward, I’d dip to soften its descent. My cushioning curtsy.

My family threw keys. We knew to throw then gently, with an arc. The recipient would reach a hand up to snag them. If I felt particularly sportive, I would catch with a downward scoop—arm up, slice down as if to bat it to the ground, snag, and continue out the door. And there were the occasional hot potatoes tossed through the dining room door. “Catch,” and the potatoes, one after another, would bang into my hands. I’d juggle—catch, put on plate; catch, put on plate; catch, put on plate. Once, I recall missing, and the potato landed smack in the center of a stout burning candle.

My main throw these days is on the sly. We have a small dog. We use newspaper-protector bags—long, and narrow—to pick up from him on the evening walk. The mass is about perfect for the sling. I hold the knotted bag, then I do a couple of underhand back and forths, calibrating for the object’s natural frequency. Then I fling it up–I go for an arch, the better to find it later. It loops over the vehicles and some branches, the length of the driveway, and then lands. The best throws land near the garbage can. The worst ones are too high and then the bag falls on the roof of the car, in the raspberry patch, it hits the house, or worse, it goes to the neighbors. It may have gotten stuck in a tree a time or two. And the very best throws are ones that I remember to pick up in the morning before my husband sees the evidence, because he doesn’t entirely approve.

But with the lure of a perfect throw, I can’t resist.

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