Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Summer Days - Intro

My family is completely, dysfunctionally fucked up.

In every family, there are stories that are told and retold and told again. They become part of our collective memory, so that you don’t realize whether you are actually remembering the event that happened, or the story that you heard throughout your childhood.

In my family, those stories revolve around baseball. Little League games won and lost, Tiger heroes and goats. Even family birthday parties, like when my grandmother played with us at her 90th birthday party weekend. I was only five years old, but I remember she hit the ball, and I ran for her all the way to first base with my parents and uncles cheering me on, while my dad’s cousins tried to field the ball and get me out.

I got my first glove when I was six years old. Not one of those junky plastic ones; a real leather mitt. It was tan, just like the gloves of the major leaguers I would watch on TV on Sunday afternoon, and had Cal Ripken Jr.’s signature inside. My dad and I would go out into the back yard, or take a stroll to the park. He would toss it underhanded to me. Sometimes I caught it, and he made a big deal about it, but most of the time it bounced away from me, and I had to chase after the ball. Then I would throw it back as hard as I could, usually missing him by a mile and laughing as he had to go chase the ball.

As I got older, and learned how to catch and throw, those games took on something of a religious ritual. Usually, there was no talking while we were playing catch. It was a sacred time between us; a time when words would only stand to get in the way and interfere with the connection between me and my dad. The whizzing of the ball through the air and the thwap of the ball hitting our gloves were the only sounds.

As my sister Allie got older, she joined us in our games of catch, breaking our silence by begging dad to throw her the ball. He carried a tennis ball when we went outside, and would toss it to her whenever she shrieked loud enough. Sometimes he would toss it right to her, but usually he would toss the ball over her head, and have Allie chase it down while he and I continued to throw back and forth. As Allie got older, and learned how to throw and catch, she would usually join us after dinner, when dad got home, and throw with us.

Allie was three years younger than me. Justin was three years younger than Allie, and Caitlyn was a year younger than Justin. My mom used to say she wanted a big family, and so that’s what she set out to do.

My dad loved to BBQ. All summer long, he would have his friends over, the guys he grew up playing baseball with. The guys he spent countless summers with, living and dying a little with each Tiger win and loss. I grew up sitting next to my dad as he drank beer and downed hamburgers with his buddies, talking to his friends about the glory days. After a while, all the kids would all run out front, and play running bases or Five Hundred, or just toss a ball around.

My mom used to make a big deal out of Opening day. She would take all four of us out of school. Well, three of us. Caitlyn’s too young to school. An hour before lunch, she would come to the school, and then there would be a loud announcement over the PA system telling us to come to the lobby. She would take me, Allie and Justin out of school, and tell the school it was for a dentist appointment. Then we would go to the car, put on our Tiger caps, and head on over to the ballpark. When I was in second grade my dad came too, but now that he has a big fucking important job, he says he’s too busy and can’t take the afternoon off.

You’re surprised I dropped the “F” bomb? Don’t be. I use it all the time. Fuck Fuck Fuck Double fucking fuck fuck.

My therapist told my dad that kids who walk in on their dad screwing their best friend’s mom on the couch when they come home early from opening day because it was rained out frequently lash out in anger. It’s why I get a pass from my Dad when I swear like a sailor. And its why may sister walks out of the house looking like she is going to work on a street corner when she goes to school. Dad gives her a pass on that too.

Mom kicked dad out of the house that day. She gave him an hour to get his stuff and get out. I didn’t really understand what was going on; I knew about the birds and the bees, but I guess it never really hit me before that sometimes adults did it for fun.

I cried as I watched him carry his bag to the front door. He stopped, hugged the four of us, and said he would see us soon. Then he took his baseball glove and a jacket from the front hall closet, and walked out the door.

Mom and dad spent the next year in court. When it was all over, mom got the house and us. My dad got us on occasional weekends.

We lived like that for a year. It was a really angry time in my house. Mom didn’t trust anyone, and yelled at us all the time. She started to work, and I would come home from school to an empty house. We would see dad, but it was never the same. Sometimes we would play catch, but most of the time, we would just sit around, go out for some fast food, and then get dropped off back at home.

I didn’t play too much ball that year. Every time I picked up a glove it made me feel sad. So I stopped playing with my friends, and dropped out of Little League. Dad tried to convince me to play, but he didn’t understand; playing baseball hurt too much.

Around then, I guess, was when mom first found a lump on her breast. Dad started spending more and more time with us at our house, as mom was spending more and more time in the hospital. I had never known anyone who died before I lost my mom. By the time she had taken her last breath, she had made peace with dad, who was living in our house, in a small bedroom in the basement.

After she died, he took his time before moving her stuff, but after a while he was in the master bedroom. It was a confusing time for the five of us. I was 11, Allie was 8, Justin was 5 and Caitlyn was 4. We had spent the last year watching our dad move out, our mom die, and our dad move back in.

Even though everything had changed, we now had to go back to living as a family.

Before he left, my dad was the greatest. We never knew that the reason he was such a good dad was because of all the effort my mom put in behind the scenes. With her gone, my dad seemed overwhelmed with the task of raising four kids. He couldn’t sit down and joke with us at dinner time the way he used to, because now he was getting dinner ready. Evening games of catch became infrequent, as he needed all the time he find after dinner to get Caitlyn and Justin into bed. But he trudged onward, giving us everything he had.

That summer that I turned 12 was the summer I rediscovered who I was. I fell in love, again, with baseball.