The season turned like the page of a glossy fashion magazine. In the park the daffodils came up and in the parking lot, the new car models were on parade. Sometimes I think that nothing really changes— The young girls show the latest crop of tummies, and the new president proves that he's a dummy. But remember the tennis match we watched that year? Right before our eyes some tough little European blonde pitted against that big black girl from Alabama, cornrowed hair and Zulu bangles on her arms, some outrageous name like Vondella Aphrodite— We were just walking past the lounge and got sucked in by the screen above the bar, and pretty soon we started to care about who won, putting ourselves into each whacked return as the volleys went back and forth and back like some contest between the old world and the new, and you loved her complicated hair and her to-hell-with-everybody stare, and I, I couldn't help wanting the white girl to come out on top, because she was one of my kind, my tribe, with her pale eyes and thin lips and because the black girl was so big and so black, so unintimidated, hitting the ball like she was driving the Emancipation Proclamation down Abraham Lincoln's throat, like she wasn't asking anyone's permission. There are moments when history passes you so close you can smell its breath, you can reach your hand out and touch it on its flank, and I don't watch all that much Masterpiece Theatre, but I could feel the end of an era there in front of those bleachers full of people in their Sunday tennis-watching clothes as that black girl wore down her opponent then kicked her ass good then thumped her once more for good measure and stood up on the red clay court holding her racket over her head like a guitar. And the little pink judge had to climb up on a box to put the ribbon on her neck, still managing to smile into the camera flash, even though everything was changing and in fact, everything had already changed— Poof, remember? It was the twentieth century almost gone, we were there, and when we went to put it back where it belonged, it was past us and we were changed.
From What Narcissism Means to Me. Copyright © 2003 by Tony Hoagland. Used with permission of Graywolf Press.