Thursday, May 03, 2007

Summer Days - Catch

May 5, 2005

I played catch with dad today. I didn’t really want to do it, but it felt really good to play, the way we used to when I was a kid. This time, it was just the two of us, tossing the ball back and forth...

It was Sunday, which meant that my dad couldn’t hide out from us by going to work, or sending us to school. As he did most weekends, he encouraged me and Allie to find friends to play with, or something to do. Allie decided to sleep at her friend Sharon’s house on Saturday night, and then spend the day with Sharon’s family. My dad even found afternoon playdates for the little kids.

I planned on going fishing with Jimmy and his dad. We had talked about it for a few days, and I was really excited about driving to the lake with them, and fishing all day. I had never gone fishing before, but Jimmy made it sound so exciting. We were going to start on a row boat in the morning. After fishing in the middle of the lake, Jimmy said his dad would bring us to the pier, where we could fish, and sometimes, he said, his dad would even let him finish off his beer.

We would fish and horse around in the afternoon. Jimmy said his dad always brought a big radio, and we would be able to listen to the Tiger’s game while we fished. Around supper time, we would take out the fish we caught, gut them, and put them on the grill. They normally caught enough to eat and bring some home, but just in case, his dad always brought a package of Ballpark Franks. I was a little nervous about eating the fish, and was relieved when I heard about the dogs. Nothing like a hotdog on a Sunday afternoon while listening to the ballgame.

My dad looked really glad on Saturday night when I told him the plan. He had already found something for the younger kids. I didn’t know what he was planning, but he looked really glad to be kid free for the whole game. “Fuck you,” I thought to myself. “This is your family.” But I kept my thoughts to myself, and went up to my room.

I picked out some shorts and a shirt for the next day, watched TV, and went to sleep.

Unfortunately, I forgot to set my alarm, and when I woke up at 8:30, I had missed Jimmy and his dad by over an hour.

I went downstairs, grabbed some breakfast, and told my dad I was off to fish. He smiled, nodded, and away I went. I didn’t have anyplace to go, so I hopped on my bike and just started riding around the neighborhood. There wasn’t much traffic, and there wasn’t anything to do at 9 am on a Sunday morning. I rode around aimlessly throughout the subdivisions. I had been riding for almost an hour when I decided I needed to see a newspaper. I passed house after house with newspapers sitting in the box outside the house, trying to build up my courage and resolve.

Finally, I picked a house. The shades were drawn, and the street was empty. It didn’t look like anyone was home. I rode past the house three times, trying not to look suspicious. My heart started to pound, and for a second, I doubted whether I had the stones to lift the paper. Finally, I made my move. I rode over to the newspaper box at the edge of the street, reached in, and pulled the newspaper out of the box.

Some of the circulars fell to the ground as I rode off as fast as I could. I could swear someone was chasing me, but when I looked back, the street was empty. The only sound was my thumping of my heart.

“I did it,” I yelled, pumping one hand into the air.

It was the first thing I ever stole, and I didn’t know if I should be excited about getting away with it or sick about stealing. It’s only a lousy buck and a half, I told myself. If they want a newspaper that bad they can just go buy another one.

I rode for a while, clutching the newspaper in my arm, tucked into my chest, before I found a school yard. The sun was out, and I wanted to read the sports section, so I got off my bike, laid the paper on the merry-go-round, and read for a while.

I knew that I had all the time in the world. My dad thought I was fishing. No one knew where I was, and no one, at all, would be looking for me.

I read through the paper slowly, looking at the stats, the box scores and the week’s upcoming games. The Tigers season was just about over and it was only May. I crumpled the paper up, and left the stolen goods in the school yard. I was feeling hungry, so I climbed on my bike, and rode home. I made sure to avoid the street where I stole the paper from. I didn’t think anyone would know it was me, but I wasn’t going to take any chances.

I was starving when I finally got home. From the looks of it, no one was there. I walked in, and finding myself completely alone, I heated up some pizza in the microwave, and went out back to eat it. I was sitting in the back yard, eating my pizza, when my dad came home. I don’t know where he was coming from, but he was alone. And he was smiling.

A minute later he was out of the house. “Andy,” I heard him call out my name. I didn’t answer him at first, but then, when he called me again, I answered “Back here, Dad.”

My dad walked around the house, and came into the back yard.

“I thought you went fishing,” he asked.

“I woke up too late,” I said.

“Where were you all day?”

“I rode my bike around the neighborhood. Then I hung out in the park for a little while.” I wondered what he would say if I told him I lifted the newspaper from someone’s house, but decided to keep that information to myself for a while.

“Why didn’t you say anything this morning?”

“I didn’t think you wanted me around. So I just left.” I felt my body shake, and was surprised when I had to hold back tears. I caught myself, jumped up, and calmed down.

“Wanna throw a ball around?

His question caught me off guard. We hadn’t played catch since forever, it seemed.

“I guess,” I said, “I’ll go grab our mitts and a ball.”

A minute later I was outside. We stood where we had always stood in the backyard.

For a few minutes, as the ball flew in monastic silence between my dad and me, time stood still. We were back in the place where we both felt comfortable. It was the one place where we were transported back to a time when everything seemed normal.

I don’t know how long we played catch together. I can only remember the monastery-like silence that enveloped up, cocooning us a safety blanket where nothing bad could happen. I hope we play again soon.