Woodburn: Another ‘four-dot’ day in America

Another school shooting, an all-too-familiar daytime nightmare in America, and my heart weeps again not only for the victims senselessly murdered, but for everyone who knew them — most especially their young classmates and friends who will be haunted the rest of their lives, of this I am personally certain.

Back when tennis balls were white instead of optic yellow, instead of numerals to help identify them when they strayed onto an adjacent court they had one, two, three or four blue-colored dots. Superstitiously, I always favored using one-dot balls.

The summer I was 10, my superstition changed to four-dot balls — I refused to play with them. If I opened a can that had four-dotters inside I would trade these new balls with someone else, even for used ones. You see, I had four-dot nightmares.

To this day, in fact, fully five decades later, the same nightmares return from time to time, triggered by certain headlines and movie storylines. These terrible dreams are proof that our childhoods never leave us for mine have followed me from childhood in The Sixties in Ohio to adulthood in Southern California in the 21st century.

David was one of my childhood tennis buddies. When he was 10, he was kidnapped from a tennis court. Days later, his lifeless body was found in a remote wooden shed and I will spare you further horrific details. It was a very, very long time before I slept peacefully through the night.

David and I were not best friends. We lived far across town from each other and went to different schools. But we were the same age and we both played tennis and we took group youth clinics together.

The weekend before the kidnapping, we had played each other in the first round of a tournament on The Ohio State University campus. Since we were in the youngest division, we got sent to a court in the boonies a bike ride away from the check-in table.

My recollection is fuzzy on the final score of our match, but this part remains in sharp focus in my mind’s eye: Early in the second set, after I had won the first, David broke a racket string. Back then youth players did not have a spare racket, or two, at courtside as is commonplace today.

Two older kids, waiting on deck at courtside to play their match after we finished ours, impatiently said David would have to default. Thanks to my two older brothers teaching me to stick up for myself, I said we were allowed to find a racket to borrow. We eventually got one at the check-in table and rode back and resumed play and I won the match.

A week later, and forever since, I wished I had lost. I even felt guilty about winning. You see, as mentioned, David was abducted from a tennis court. “Maybe,” I reasoned, “if he had won our match he wouldn’t have been motivated to go practice his serve all alone.”

All that was found on that public tennis court where David was last seen alive was a single tennis ball. Importantly, a tennis ball with four blue dots on it.

Important because four dots, his older sister told police when David was first reported missing, was their secret code: a four-dot ball purposely left behind meant “trouble.”

In the first 86 days of 2023 there were 129 mass shootings in America. In other words, statistically every day here has become a four-dot day and the victims are not limited to those who are shot.

Woody Woodburn
Woody Woodburn

Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com. His books are available at www.WoodyWoodburn.com

This article originally appeared on Ventura County Star: Woodburn: Another ‘four-dot’ day in America