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Never Get Back
Standing there in faded blue jeans, the dust of the exposed earth fresh on the tips of the white sneakers I’d worn since I was twelve and my feet mysteriously stopped growing, the ones that carried every Sharpie mark and every dust scuff I’d ever known, I could feel a little bit closer to what we had once been.
The baseball cap my father had given me when I was thirteen, the one you hated because of the Big Two logo, the opposite side of your own, the deep navy blue one with the white overlapped N and Y. Even though they never were my favorite team, it was precious to me, that gift of years ago, bought at Yankee Stadium. A side-effect of my birthday gift.
Standing on the home plate, staring at the outfield under the dim and staring lights I felt as if nothing had changed. As if the years hadn’t passed and you were still standing on the pitcher’s mound with that beat-up glove by your feet and the red-stitched ball in your hand, mock-announcing as I held my favorite, cherry-red bat. The rubber grip that had once been black, now some kind of beige-grey.
“He winds up for the pitch! Here it comes, ladies and gents, the most spectacular pitch this side of the Mississippi! Maybe even in the whole country!”
How I would laugh at you, pretending it didn’t irritate me, this innocent egotistical mockery. The way you’d send that ball soaring and I’d count the seconds it took to reach me, how I’d calculate the force, the time, the wait until I could swing, if I could swing.
And when I did, and the timing was right, just perfect, the ball would crack against the bat and that little orb would go flying. You’d grin and back-track, speeding backward like some circus bear, shading your eyes from the sun as you watched it fly.
“It’s a stunner, gents! There it goes!”
How I’d run, sneakers pounding against the frayed white lines to reach the bases, the wind flinging my ponytail of hair to the breeze. Rounding first one base, and then another, and then another.
“She heads for home! Oh, man, it’s a homer! Rounding on the final stretch, ladies and gentlemen. The other team’s rallying, but they just can’t catch her!”
I can still feel that run, even though it had happened many times before and since. Somehow, that June evening, just a week after school had faded into winter memories, stands out.
My stillness, now, seems unnatural.
You wouldn’t recognize me, not anymore. Not unless you were here right now, to see me in the same kind of clothes you used to find me in, the faded blue jeans, the black t-shirt, the Yankees cap, not unless you were standing just behind the safety gates the way you used to when you came to see me play…(You’d laugh to know I turned to check, at that thought. You weren’t there, in case you were wondering.)
I look so different now, outside this momentary lapse of time. I’ve traded in my torn jeans and baseball caps for dress pants, skirts, and silk blouses. My hair isn’t the mass of blonde you remember: I’ve tamed it, now, with braids and buns and twists and bobby pins, things even I wouldn’t have seen in my future. I’ve tamed myself, and you’d probably hate it.
I don’t have to be running through the neighborhood, now, to be content.
I’ve taught myself to be still. To sit at a desk in front of a computer screen, day in and day out.
Answering phone calls. Checking e-mails. Filing papers.
It’s what I wanted, I suppose. Not what I thought I’d ever be, though.
It’s been years since I’ve set foot on the actual ground of a diamond. Years since I’ve held a bat, since my feet touched a base.
I run. Now, in this moment, I run. Convince myself that if I just run hard enough, touch every base just right, you’ll be there, pivoting on the pitcher’s mound to watch me fly.
My hat flies from my head and the wind presses over my hair, but I barely notice. I’ll return to pick it up later, but now the second base slides under my foot, and I’m off. Past mid-field and toward third.
There’s no one to stop me, and it isn’t the same. There is no impending danger of being caught out. Just me. Just me and the ground and the bases and the August sun with its unforgiving heat.
I hit home with no problem. No problem but one: you weren’t there to greet me.
It’s silly, the things that make you cry. You know?
Presence. Absence. Reunion. Separation.
It’s just fodder for tears. You can’t escape it.
And I cried as I walked past the gate that opened into the field, the one we used to swing on when we came and left. It creaks on its hinges as I slide by it. I don’t want to disturb the memory of the neighborhood kids that cling to its chain links, laughing.
But I save the brunt of my tears for the interior of my car. It’s seen me through everything. Seen most of my tears. My disappointments and my greatest fears come true.
I lock myself into the driver’s side, pull the hat I retrieved on my way out from my head and toss it on the passenger’s seat. Pull my hair down from the elastic and let it rest, wild and wavy and nostalgic, against my shoulders. Rest my hands on the steering wheel, ignore the silver necklace that hangs from the rear-view mirror: the crossed bats with the image of a baseball nestled between the wide ends.
You gave it to me when I turned sixteen, and I laughed because I couldn’t picture you buying jewelry, not for anyone, even if it was baseball-themed.
But you did for me.
We were the other’s weakness, I guess. The long days and nights of childhood bonded us to each other, an indelible chain of loyalty. And then, somehow, it was gone. Simply vanished into the bustle of New York and Chicago and San Diego and London and all the other places we’ve been without each other.
Funny, how things happen.
But once upon a time, we could barely go twenty-four hours without hearing the other’s voice. And it didn’t even start out as love, not really. It got there eventually, I guess, but it didn’t start there. We were play-mates. Friends. At one point, we wished we were siblings so that we’d never have to go our separate ways. It wasn’t until later that we realized two things at once: we were glad we weren’t siblings, and that, at the same time, we were closer than that. Sometimes, it isn’t blood and water. Sometimes it’s blood and memories, and it’s debatable as to which is thicker.
I took the time, when my eyes were cleared, to drive down our old streets, retracing our steps. The things we do on whims of nostalgia are ridiculous, sometimes, and most of the streets look nothing like they did before, anyway. But I drove them because I could replace the paint jobs and the cars and the people, the new upscale supermarket where Mr. Lewis’ corner store used to be, where we used to sit at the faded white bench and eat huge, twisted popsicles, our lips turning green or blue or red in the furious sunlight.
I could replace all of that with what I used to see, so deeply where they ingrained in my memory. The good as well as the bad: running, crying, holding your hand as we chased the ambulance that took your father away when we were ten, sirens blaring. Come back, come back, please come back.
Running out to meet my mother as she came in, holding my new baby sister in her arms and then, three years later, my brother.
Playing kick-ball in the quiet suburban street that was our whole world.
Roaming the sidewalks in a pack until we dispersed, one by one, to meet curfews and dinner calls, you and I walking the last stretch alone, kicking stones along the sidewalk.
Drinking champagne you stole from your parent’s cabinet, stocked for the New Year’s party they threw every year. You and I chinking glasses and drinking the whole bottle out behind the giant tree in your backyard, stumbling home in the darkness and up stairs to our bedrooms to fake sleep at three o’clock in the morning, hoping our parents would think we’d simply gone to bed as they chatted, tipsy and cleaning up the remaining confetti and streamers and abandoned paper plates.
But most of all, I remember that baseball diamond, baked gold and white like a sugar cookie in the summer sun. I remember your dad teaching us how to play, setting up tees at first, tossing slow, then pitching, really pitching, when we had the hang of the at-first-unwieldy bats. When the aluminum things became extensions of our own arms.
It was your dad who coached us, when we were eight or nine or ten, one of those ages that you can’t distinguish, later, one from the other. Your dad who trained us when we were older, those sometimes unforgiving drills of sprints and lunges and catching practice. Even when he had to sit on the bleachers, because of his heart, and watch and shout instead of running with us.
And I remember it was just you and I, eventually, pitching and batting and running in turns. Sitting on the bleachers with you that autumn of junior year as I cried into your jacket, you arms around my shoulders, telling me he didn’t deserve me, anyway. It was where we went when we were overwhelmed, and we could always find each other there. The day your dad died, the day I got into college, the day you did. The time they couldn’t find you, but I could. Sure enough, there you were, with your mom panicking back at your house, your neighbors spanning the blocks while you swung angrily at imaginary baseballs because you couldn’t stand your mother’s boyfriend.
It felt safe there, somehow. As if the outside world couldn’t touch us, there. As if the outside world didn’t exist.
I parked in the driveway of my house; my parents have gone away for the summer, somewhere in Europe. I can’t even remember where. And the house is dark and empty, and I’m just here to fill a certain time, to scare away burglars that might think I still live here. I turn on the lights and sit on the couch and listen to the world drone on outside the familiar walls and remember when this was everything.
I don’t know where you went. I’ve not been able to find you in any phonebook, directory or social network site. Nothing I do ever reveals you, though I wish it would. I’ve searched professional baseball players, reporters, sports commentators, coaches, and bat boys. I’ve searched everywhere I could think of, anywhere you could stand to work.
I still haven’t found you.
And I’m running out of ideas of where to look, next.
And this is where the present meets the past., I guess. Here I sit, on the couch , Tuesday passing away behind me with my hand cramping around this simple little pen, the ink starting to run out, writing everything that’s ever crossed my mind in the past day or month or year, or even millennia. I can’t be sure. Time just passes so much differently, now.
And I’m sitting here, almost unable to breathe, hoping that I can finish this in a way that makes sense, even if you’ll never read it.
I guess what I’m trying to say is this: I miss you.
Three simple words don’t seem enough to describe how much I wish that things had gone differently. But that doesn’t make it any less true.
I miss you.
I wish I could find you.
Please come home.