It is a mid-summer’s afternoon –late, and I am standing on the pitcher’s mound, playing catch with my son on a deserted baseball field, surrounded by other empty diamonds and rectangles. In just a few short weeks, these overgrown areas will be filled with children changing lives — late-game heroics and crushing defeats. In the end, they will all walk off the field and into the arms of sideline parents ready to congratulate
“That was a great score! You dominated!”
or console, where cheers and high-fives intermingle with hugs and the more somber tones of comfort:
“You’ll get ’em next time. Hard work pays off.”
Their dreams pure, the outcomes unknown, the responses timeless.
My son throws the ball from home plate and it makes a loud pop as it smacks the leather in my worn glove. I give him a smile.
“Good speed on the throw, son. A real zinger.”
He smiles and waits for my wind-up and toss, a pretend breaking ball that we both learned the other day while watching YouTube videos of how to throw the tricky pitch.
My pitch never breaks, and the ball sails over his head and rolls against the backstop. He shakes his head and turns to retrieve the ball.
“I don’t remember them teaching that throw on the video,” he says.
Just behind him, on the other side of the tall fence, a couple emerges from the woods on the footpath that winds around the perimeter of these fields. They are old, even by my standards. I look at the woman’s face, and she carries the same set of wrinkles my mother wore when she was nearing 80.
The cancer was already running through her body a good year by then, which didn’t help. And the chemo drugs made her lose too much weight, darkening those lines and creases to the point where I just wanted to put my hands to her face, smooth them back out, and give Mom a few more years, you know? Let her end this thing with some youthful dignity.
She did that with her heart, though, a love so smooth and so young that, in the end, that’s all I saw in her eyes, her smile, as she lay dying.
I haven’t forgotten that.
The tall man she is walking with seems even older, shuffling along as best he can to keep up with his ever-patient partner.
She looks ahead, ageless blue eyes that seem to smile, finding beauty in the solitude, the walk, the companionship.
He looks around, catching a glimpse of a father and son playing ball, the sparrows that dip and peck along the path–all these things, yes–with a certain appreciation. He whispers something to her, and when their eyes meet, they both smile as they continue their walk.
I turn back to my son and see the ball in mid-air, coming toward my head at that same zinger speed that had just put a good pop in my mitt a minute ago.
I wince in anticipation of the pain, bringing my glove to my face in some kind of auto-jerk defense that deflects the ball and sends it rolling through the grass toward the first-base bag.
I take a deep breath, aware that I want to yell something in anger.
You could have hit me! Smashed my teeth, broken my nose, blackened my eye! What the hell were you thinking?
I say nothing, though. I can see the look in his eyes that he realizes his mistake. He doesn’t need chastising; if anything, he needs to lighten up a little on himself.
He starts to walk toward the ball, and I wave him off.
“I got it. No worries.”
I jog over to the base to get the ball and notice that the couple has passed on from our field, continuing along at the same, slow and steady pace.
As they crest a hill and begin to disappear in their descent, I notice that they are holding hands, and I realize that they have been since I first saw them emerging from the woods.
Fingers interlocked, a certain fluidity of love and understanding shared among the intermingling wrinkles of the long journey. It seems to make no difference if those decades were spent together. Maybe they walked these fields in youth, still left untouched by the plows and pains of change, only to be separated until recently. Or, as was the case with my own mother: united with a companion in an unexpected second life, years after my father’s last breath, paying the ultimate price in the line of duty.
I can feel the pulsing love in the joining of their hands; the intertwined beauty of a harmonious heartbeat ripples along the path, back to me, and into my own hand.
“Sorry about that, Dad.”
My son, now standing beside me, places the ball in my bare hand. Our eyes catch as we both grip that tattered ball for a split second.
We share a quick smile and time stops.
A whirlwind carries me to my own back yard, playing catch with my dad when I was my son’s own age; to the old street in front of my house, where my sister’s hands rested on mine as I gripped my little bike’s handlebars for dear life; and to the old treehouse in Veronica’s woods, where we placed our hands on our hearts, discovering young love. In each, the pulse was almost too much to bear — timeless no doubt, rippling from the memories of loved ones long gone.
Then it is all over.
The couple disappears over the ridge. My son returns to home plate, and I walk to the mound, wrapping my fingers around the old leather ball.
“Remember, Dad. It’s all in the fingers. The rest just happens naturally.”
I spin the ball in my fingers, feel the red laces that, like fingers intertwined, are woven together in perfection, and start my wind-up.
It takes just a split-second to leave my hand and fall into his, a masterful pitch centuries in the making.
–>The pieces I run in the “Creative and Uncut” series, formally known simply as “Rus Uncut,” are raw drafts that I publish within hours of an experience. These experiential journal entries are written without a plan and are published for their raw appeal. For this piece, the image of an elderly couple holding hands sparked something deep within me about the timelessness of love. However, as I sat down to write this piece, I had no idea that it would tie in the game of baseball like it did (in fact, I wondered earlier how I could get around that I was even on the field playing ball with my son, as I thought the focus of this piece would be on a topic much too mature for such familial imagery). These pieces are hardly polished; therein, I believe, lies their beauty.