'The One & Only': Haunting truths uncovered beyond small-town tragedy
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In Emily Giffin's "The One & Only", a longtime Walker community resident's comfort level is put in question after an unexpected tragedy disrupts the small town. Here's an excerpt.
The first photograph ever taken of Lucy and me together features the two of us lying side by side in a playpen, staring up at the ceiling with cross-eyed, blank baby expressions. We can’t be any older than two or three months, just two blobs—one with blond fuzz and blue eyes turned red by the flash (Lucy), the other with a thatch of dark hair and eyes (me). We were wearing matching onesies with the vintage Walker logo, a cursive W ensconced in a horseshoe. I couldn't find the negative, and the only surviving copy was yellowed and ribbed from the sticky pages of one of my mother’s cheap albums that predated acid-free scrapbooking. So I carefully excavated it, took it to a specialty photography store, and had it restored, then framed—one for me, one for Lucy. I put mine on the mantel over the faux fireplace in my apartment, along with a handful of other momentous photos, and gave Lucy hers for her thirtieth birthday, a few weeks after mine. For a year or so, she kept hers in an equally prominent spot in the family room of the three-bedroom bungalow she and Neil had bought together. But I recently noticed that the frame had been demoted to a dresser in her guest bedroom and, more troublesome, our photo replaced by a professional shot of Caroline, standing alongside a white picket fence, wearing a pink monogrammed sundress.
When I called Lucy out on the unsentimental swap, she looked sheepish, a rare emotion for her. “We have far better pictures together. Like that one,” she said, pointing to a shot of the two of us, arm in arm, sporting buns and voluminous yellow tutus from our first ballet recital. “Besides,” she said, “don’t you hate the way they used us as props like that?”
By they I knew she meant my mother and her parents, all Walker grads and close friends during their school days. My father had even adopted the Broncos, because Williams, his alma mater, didn’t have much of a football team. As Lucy reassembled the frame, our photo on top again, she said, “I will never foist that rah-rah crap onto Caroline.
Don’t you ever feel . . . brainwashed? Just sick of it all? The same thing—year in and year out?”
“No,” I said, thinking that summed it up, really. Lucy was absolutely correct in saying that our mothers used us as yet another way to highlight their love for Walker—right along with the flags and banners that they raised over their front porches on game day. But I could never understand why she had always seemed to resent our shared heritage, the way our friend Aubrey seemed to resent the red hair and freckles she inherited from her father’s side, and Pastor Wilson’s sons balked at Bible camp. Football was our religion, the very fabric of our hometown and state, and praying for the Broncos should have been effortless for her, a joyous experience from her sweet box seats on the fifty-yard line. She cared about her father’s team, of course, hoping that they’d win, disappointed when they didn't. But she never truly devoted herself to it. Never became one of the faithful.
Coach Carr once explained it this way: I was born on February 22, 1980, within the very hour that the U.S. Olympic hockey team defeated the Soviet Union in the semifinals of the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, in the game dubbed the Miracle on Ice. It would have been more fitting if it had been an epic football game, Coach said, but the fact that it is widely considered one of the greatest moments in sports still seemed noteworthy—a foreshadowing of my destiny. And then there was Lucy, born in March, on the night J.R. was shot on Dallas, the greatest prime-time soap of all time. In other words, Lucy emerged into the world on a rare night when nobody in Texas was thinking much about sports. I told Coach it would have been a better analogy if Lucy had become an actress instead of the owner of the only upscale clothing boutique in Walker. But still, his point was funny.
In any event, maybe Lucy was right about our mothers’ attempt to brainwash us. But right out of the gate, I willingly drank the Kool-Aid. As a little girl, I dressed up as a Walker cheerleader virtually every Halloween (except for the few times that I donned pads and a helmet and went as a player). I painted my face with little horseshoes before games, belting out our fight song after every touchdown. I collected autographs and hung team posters in my room with hearts around the cute players just as Lucy did with Keanu Reeves and Leonardo DiCaprio.
As I grew older, my obsession only became more intense and focused. I pored over Walker media guides, studying details of every player, learning their numbers and positions, hometowns and majors, heights and weights. I memorized useless trivia and endless stats and scores, rattling off players’ rushing and receiving yards, sacks and interceptions, to anyone who’d listen, including some of Walker’s biggest boosters, who could never get enough of my party trick at the Carrs’ social gatherings.
“Ask her about the Texas game on Thanksgiving ’seventy-eight,” Coach Carr would say, grinning, as I regaled them with the epic battle that predated my birth. Play by play, I knew it all.
By the time I got to junior high, I was a serious student of the game, subscribing to The Sporting News, traveling to any road game that didn't require a flight, and hanging around the fields after my own school day ended. I became a fixture at practice, an honorary mascot of sorts, and did my best to make myself useful, lest someone decide to send me home. Some days, I’d help the equipment managers pass out Gatorade, or collect balls that were kicked over the chain-link fence separating our main practice field from the wheat fields beyond. Other times I’d man the cumbersome video camera or fold towels or time sprints using the stopwatch Coach Carr gave me for my twelfth birthday. But mostly I’d just sit in the stands, watch, and listen. Get my fix. Feed my addiction. Quite simply, I was in love with football, every aspect of it. The smell of the freshly cut grass, the sight of the tight huddle against a backdrop of postcard-blue sky, the sound of the quarterback bellowing out the plays I knew by heart, one even named Shea 80 after me and my year of birth—a play action screen to the fullback. Most of all, I loved the inspiring sight of Coach Carr pacing the sidelines with his clipboard and whistle, throwing out his trademark quips and colorful colloquialisms, often under his breath, cracking everyone up even when he wasn't trying to be funny.
Excerpted from THE ONE & ONLY by Emily Giffin. Copyright © 2014 by Emily Giffin. Excerpted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.