They take the field to warm up: TACO BELL in the wrong font across their tee shirts, some in jeans, some in shorts, some in actual baseball pants (possibly betraying their parents’ aspirations more so than their child’s).
How. Precious. This team in miniature! The intricacies/intimacies of baseball’s higher mechanics will come later, when these kids grow into their hats. For now though? Stand here, run there. Don’t eat the dandelions!
But wait: something in the outfield: 4 warming up with 10.
“Come ooon!” 4 yells, when 10 drops the ball.
“Seriously?” 4 yells, when 10’s glove falls off his hand.
“Dude you suck,” 4 yells, when 10 is busy with a cloud.
4 seems to have already mastered the art of shitting on the other players; and here you are, just strolling through the park on a random Thursday when suddenly 4’s specific frequency of jerk is the only thing you hear above the pings of aluminum bats and the gabbling of parents while they cluster in lawn chairs. It’s like the cop-show computer whiz placed two different audio pieces on top of one another to reveal: this kid, this 4, sounds exactly like the 4 (or whatever his number was) from your childhood. Oh, you remember – all too well – his descending, 2-note, fog-hornish “Come ooon” when you dropped the ball and his weird congested snicker when you struck out.
Poor 10! You know how this will play out: 4’s trash-talking is first gonna spread to his future cellmates 12 and 8, then to the coach (who always seems to be a 4’s father, naturally/ predictably), then on to the kids at school who, at this age, are in that experimental phase of
dividing their classmates into cliques (without your knowledge); then there are a couple of teachers who aren’t so much the romanticized, inspirational sages of teaching lore but half-baked 20-somethings who don’t mind adding a joke of their own at your expense. In front of the class. Which is only your whole universe.
Your less-than-spectacular baseballery becomes a thing, beyond you, creating a You that other people know rather than the you-You that just wanted to play baseball, and their You radiates outward, and outward, and outward, until those ripples slap against something and return inward, back into you, downward, maybe you start trying to convince yourself that you don’t really like baseball anyway; you decline invitations from suspicious (read: popular) kids because it might be some kind of social trap that would only embarrass you further; you experiment with self-deprecation.
Look at you! Game going on, everyone else is having a grand old time, small-townery at its finest, and you’re just standing there, next to it all, struck dumb by a bolt of middle-aged existential clarity thrown by a loud-mouthed kid. It’s like you turned around and climbed back up your own timeline of anxieties and self-disillusionment to find 4 (or whatever his number was) holding the other end. Was he the first person who first chipped away at you?
It can’t be this simple, can it? All that time, all those moments when you couldn’t/can’t get away from yourself, wondering like a simpleton What the fuck happened to me? or How did I get this dented? Was this how the You that you’ve spent so much energy against started?
How much of you was formed and eroded by an adorable, little fucking monster?
Timothy C Goodwin has work included in Maudlin House, Every Day Fiction, Flash Fiction Magazine, and 365 Tomorrows. He lives in NYC with his partner and their dog, Awesome. @timothycgoodwin