Also known as “Sometimes I read too much fiction and start to think I’m an author.”
Chicken feet. That’s what the tracks on the ground look like each time my sharp metal cleats puncture the dirt in the batter’s box. A lost baby chick must have been here, staring out into the field as it expands forever between the foul lines, like standing at the vanishing point instead of looking at it.
Or maybe that’s me.
It’s chilly and November, two of my favorite categories for days. Days are like little grab bags of time: some days are translucent and lyrical, and some days are orange and staccato. But today is chilly and November.
Playing baseball with my dad and brother is supposed to be idyllic, so much so that I feel the cliché American family taking root inside myself. There is no game today, nor is there a practice or otherwise planned occasion. We are a father and son, and daughter, going out to play catch on a Saturday afternoon.
I am a tagalong, even in theory. My presence doesn’t quite fit in the ideal; it throws off the balance just slightly. Maybe no one else notices, but I believe in it. “Don’t believe in it,” society tells me, I tell me, “and then it won’t exist,” but it’s like telling a child not to believe in Santa Claus while still filling their stocking.
I fill this stocking every time I act like I don’t know the answer when I really do, or act girly just for the sake of doing so. I fill it every time I take a little bit of comfort in being a tagalong.
Catching fly balls is hell. I don’t let the balls fall out of pure responsibility to an unknown force, throw them back in, breathe in cold air that feels like it doesn’t have oxygen, and then another ball is in the air, needing my attention. My ears throb, but I’m not sure if it’s the inside or the outside, whether it’s from exhaustion or pure numbness from the cold late autumn wind. They tell me what I’m doing wrong, not with malice, but with something so definite and straightforward to them but not to me.
I wonder if they know what this is like. The work, they surely do: my brother is strong and my dad is brave. The work isn’t so bad, anyway. But tears well in my eyes for reasons.
I want to be girly and I want to be strong, but I can’t find the bridge between the two, so instead I leap back and forth between two ledges, holding tightly to each until things change and I have to move to the next.
My dad hits me the last fly ball. He doesn’t tell me it’s the last one, but I know it is because it pulls me sharply to the right with the kind of arrogance held only by last fly balls and boys. I watch it fall from the sky as I run.
Diving is a sacrifice. I snatch the arrogant last fly ball out of the air just before it hits the ground, and land in the grass and mud and goose poop in its place. It had to be one of us. I don’t know why I chose me. The ball is safe in my glove now, and there are no more balls to save, so I break. Things have changed, and this is the leap. I stay on the ground, weighed down by the grass and mud and goose poop as if they’re burying me instead of beneath me, and I scream and wail hysterically about goose poop like girls are allowed to do.
They laugh at me, and I do too. Just as it’s my unspoken responsibility to catch these lifeless balls so that they don’t fall into the goose poop, it’s my unspoken responsibility to whine about the mess into which I have landed. I’m not sure why they exist, and I can’t take them both on at the same time, so I leap between them, holding on dearly to each until things change.
It’s only because I know that I can never hold so tightly to just one. And so I leap, sometimes gracefully and sometimes into goose poop, from one cliff to another, until one fine morning…