I remember it all with a vividness that marks the moment as the watershed it would be:
The court was glowing, its wooden surface honey-brown beneath the overhead lights. Along the edges, players huddled with their coaches, and beyond, we were gathered, the clamoring rows upon rows of us, eager for the timeout to end.
Below, I spied the vendor approaching: a burly man, thick around the waist, with a crimson-brown ponytail dropping from beneath the back of his black-and-orange cap, our school colors. "Brats and wieners!" he cried. "Brats and wieners!"
I nodded, raising my hand. He nodded back, stopping three rows down to serve another customer first. I turned to my friends and asked them if they wanted anything.
Beer and bratwurst, each of them said.
"I don't think he's got beer, guys," I replied.
Out on the court, the players were returning to their positions for the last minute of the half. The crowd was getting to its feet.
Below, the vendor made change, then lifted the metal box to his waist and mounted the steps to settle at the edge of our row.
"You have beer?" one of my friends asked.
"Just brats and wieners."
"So two bratwurst and a beef dog," I said.
With a clipped nod, he tossed open the cover of his box and reached inside. I waved away my friends' bills, pulling out my wallet. The vendor handed me three shiny packets, soft and warm to the touch.
"Beef wiener's on top. That's nine altogether."
I handed off the brats, and paid.
Cheers erupted as our side raced down the court, driving to the basket. I unwrapped my packet only to find I wasn't holding a beef frank, but a marbled, brown-and-white pork bratwurst.
"Guys? Anyone have the beef dog?" I shouted over the crowd's noise at my friends.
Both shook their heads. They were holding bratwurst as well.
I turned back to the aisle to call out to the vendor when I stopped. What reason did I have anymore not to eat it?
None at all, I thought.
We drove to the basket again, where we were fouled. When the whistle shrieked, the roar was deafening.
I lifted the sausage to my mouth, closed my eyes, and took a bite. My heart raced as I chewed, my mouth filling with a sweet and smoky, lightly pungent taste that seemed utterly remarkable - perhaps all the more so for having been so long forbidden. I felt at once brave and ridiculous. And as I swallowed, an eerie stillness came over me.
I looked up at the ceiling.
It was still there. Not an inch closer to falling in.
After the game, I walked along the campus quad alone, the walkway's lamps glowing in the mist, white blossoms on a balmy November night. The wet air swirled and blew. I felt alive as I moved. Free along my limbs. Even giddy.
Back at the dorm, I stood before the bathroom mirror. My shoulders looked different. Not huddled, but open. Unburdened. My eyes drew my gaze, and there I saw what I was feeling: something quiet, strong, still.
I felt like I was complete.
I slept soundly that night, held in restful sleep like a baby in a mother's loving arms. When I finally heard my alarm, it was a quarter of nine. The room was awash in sunlight. It was Thursday, which meant I had Professor Edelstein's Survey of Islamic History in fifteen minutes. As I slipped into my jeans, I was startled by the bright prickle of new denim against my skin. The previous night's wonders were apparently still unfolding.
Outside, it was another unseasonably warm and windy day. After hurrying over to the Student Union for a cup of tea, I rushed to Schirmer Hall, Quran tucked under my arm, spilling hot water as I ran. I didn't like being late for Edelstein's class. I needed to be certain I would find a place near the back - close to the window he kept cracked open - where I would have the space quietly to reel and contemplate as the diminutive, magnetic Edelstein continued to take his weekly sledgehammer to what still remained of my childhood faith. And there was something else that kept me in the back of the room:
This excerpt is used with the permission of Little, Brown and Company. All rights reserved.
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