Chapter Twenty-Three: Lake Forest
Little League dealt us a rough schedule. Moshe’s game in Foothill Ranch was the same time as David’s at Heroes Park. Rachel and I decided we had to split up. She would go to Moshe’s game, and I would go to David’s.
David put on his uniform and packed his bat bag the moment he got out of bed. We had gathered around Moshe’s bedroom door waiting for him.
“Come on, Moshe. We’re going to be late!” Rachel called.
“I’m coming,” he whined from behind his door.
After a moment, his bedroom door opened. Rachel looked up and down his uniform. Her eyes narrowed. She knew something was wrong.
“Where is your cup?”
“Do I have to wear it?” He whined, “It’s uncomfortable, and it hurts!”
“It will hurt more if you get hit there.” She pointed towards his room. He slumped his shoulders and walked back in.
David sat quietly on our way to Heroes Park. A glance in the rear-view mirror showed me why. He had his earbuds in, and he bobbed his head to the music. The iPod was a birthday gift from his father. There was no way Rachel would buy her kids their own. An iPhone was out of the question.
I was lucky to find a space in the parking lot, and it wasn’t too far from the field. I got out first. As David got out of the car, I took a quick glance at his screen. Rachel couldn’t have possibly let him download that song.
I waited until he pulled out his earbuds. “Aren’t you a little young to be listening to that?”
“It gets me pumped for the game.”
I opened the lift gate and hoped he had the radio edit version of that song. As David pulled out his bat bag, something in the bed caught his attention.
“Is that your glove?”
I forgot about the glove. It was a softball glove I bought when Muriel started playing. We used to play catch in the park. I later used it with Dylan when he played. It wasn’t made for baseball, but I had broken it in enough by then so that I could grip baseballs with it. I kept it in the back of my Explorer. When I gave the Explorer to Dylan, I moved the glove to my RAV4. When the RAV4 got totaled, I moved the glove to my new Lexus. I didn’t know why I kept a glove with me long after I stopped playing catch with the kids. Or I didn’t know until David asked me.
“Can you warm me up?”
“Sure.” I smiled and reached into the bed for my glove. It felt stiff from sitting unused for years. I flapped it opened and closed to loosen it up. David walked down a slope to an open strip of grass next to the AA field. I followed him down and picked a spot a few yards away from him. I kept flapping the glove open and close, but it still felt stiff.
David already had his bat bag open and his glove on. I called out to him. “Do you have a ball?”
He pulled out a ball and tossed it to me. He had a strong and accurate throw that made the ball pop solidly into my glove. My glove still felt stiff, so I chucked the ball hard into the pocket to loosen it up some more. I did several times until I thought the glove was loose enough. I pulled the ball out of the glove and looked at it. It was an old yellowed ball that said “Saddleback Little League” in faded blue print. That was the league Mom would have signed me up for if I had the heart to continue playing after Dad died. Or if Grandma Dinah allowed me to play.
I looked down the field. David held up his glove and wiggled it a little. It was how baseball players said, “Throw it to me.”
My muscles still remembered the proper mechanics of throwing. I still worried if my throw would be strong and accurate enough. It popped into his glove. He scooped it out of his glove and into his throwing hand. He gave another strong, straight throw that made the ball pop in my glove. I threw it back to him. Then he threw it back to me. We started getting into a rhythm. Throw and pop. Throw and pop. The ball made a beige arc between us.
“Dr. Glass?” David started another arc towards me. The ball popped in my glove.
“Yes?” I hurled the ball back.
The ball popped in his glove. “How long have you lived with us?”
He threw the ball back. I waited for the ball to pop in my glove.
“About six months. Why do you ask?” I threw the ball back. It popped in his glove.
“I don’t know anything about you.” He threw the ball.
The ball popped in my glove. “What would you like to know?”
I could tell he was thinking as he watched the ball arc into his glove.
“Why did you become a doctor?”
I stood and thought as the ball arced towards me and popped in my glove.
“I want to help people. I know how hard it is when people get sick. I want to help them get better.”
Throw and pop.
“Did any of your patients die?”
Throw and pop.
Throw and pop.
“How did that make you feel?”
Throw and pop. I took the ball out of my glove for a second and studied its yellowed skin.
“It’s a part of life. It happens to all of us.”
I threw the ball. This time, it went off target. But David scooted over and made the catch. He stepped back to where he stood.
“I don’t want to be a doctor.” He tossed the ball back.
“Why?” The ball popped in my glove. I held it there as I waited for his answer.
“They’re always tired and unhappy. And they don’t feel anything.”
I found myself staring at the grass at the tip of my tennis shoe. I then looked up. David was holding up his glove and wiggling it.
David’s team broke from their huddle and lined up along the third-base line as their opponents, the Hurricanes, lined up along the first-base line. The two teams slowly walked towards home plate. As they passed each other, they held out their arms and gave a sportsmanlike slap on the hand and a murmured “Good game.” Each team then rushed to their dugout.
The Bruins won 10-6, but both teams seemed equally enthusiastic about getting out of the dugout and getting snack.
Some parents went down to the field for maintenance duty. I stayed on the bleachers and waited for David.
As I looked out on the field, I wondered if I ever saw Dad happy. I had seen him smile a few times, including when I won that trophy. He could even tell a joke in a quiet, droll sort of way. It made people burst out laughing because no one expected that from him. People especially laughed when he said “goodbye.” It seemed random and funny to them, even as it made me cringe and caused Mom to turn away in grief. He stopped telling jokes after that patient died.
If I got that unhappy after any of my patients died, I would have hung myself in the garage long ago. It was better not to feel.
I looked down. David was holding up a red ticket.
“Mrs. Fernandez gave us all tickets for food at the snack bar!”
I nodded. “You remember what your mom said. Get something healthy.”
“Yes, Dr. Glass.” He ran to catch up with his teammates.”
I realized I gave him useless advice. They never sell anything healthy at a snack bar.
I followed David to the snack bar. It was at the other end of the park in a brick building. The kids gathered around the windows to place their orders while I stood with a group of parents chatting nearby.
“I hope they get what they deserve,” a woman behind me said.
“Greedy bastards like them give us Christians a bad name,” a man grumbled.
“You got us good today.”
The words seemed to be directed to me. I turned to my side. A short stocky man in a San Diego Padres t-shirt stood in front of me. I assumed his son played on the Hurricanes. I could tell from his dour expression he took the loss to my son’s team personally. Muriel and Dylan’s teams had been on both sides of the scoreboard, so I knew how to respond.
I gave a sportsmanlike smile and held out my hand. “My name’s Ollie.” Again, I knew better that to introduce myself as Oliver.
“Grant.” He gave my hand a solid firm shake. “Who’s your kid?”
“David. He’s number 12.” I glanced towards the snack bar as he handed the woman his ticket.
“Good player. Turned a mean double play.”
I smiled, but not too much. David’s play killed their rally in the third.
“Which one’s yours?”
“Emmett. Number 47.”
I thought for a moment. I didn’t recall seeing him on the field.
“What position does he play?”
“Bench.” His expression soured. He then reached out and touched my arm. It was a signal to move away from the rest of the group of parents. I followed him to an open spot a couple feet away. He lowered his voice. “His coach. Total daddyball. His kid and his friends always get the prime positions. That’s the problem with sports. Too damn political.”
I heard this type of talk before. The parents who thought their kid would be the next Jennie Finch or Derek Jeter if their stupid coach would let them play. There was something in the frustration in Grant’s voice to kept me from just blowing him off.
“If he wants to play next season, I’ll let him play. If he doesn’t, I’ll let him quit. No point forcing your kid do something he hates. Sports don’t do a damn thing for kids anyway. See him?” Grant turned his head towards a tall man with a Mets cap walking towards the Majors field. He had a large equipment bag over his shoulder. I assumed he was a coach. “Fredrickson, managed an All-Star team to a District 55 championship last year. His oldest got a girl pregnant at 15.”
Dylan had his problems, but at least he didn’t get a girl pregnant.
“So what would your son do instead of baseball?”
Grant’s frown grew deeper. “Why make kids do anything? Doesn’t matter how many organized activities you put them in. They’re going to be their own people anyway. Let them be who they want to be.”
“Dr. Glass?” David he held up a hot dog and a can of Coke.
I turned to Grant. “See you later.”
“See ya,” he replied.
I started walking with David. I patted him on the shoulder. “You better finish that before we get home. We don’t want your mom to see that.”
David turned his head towards me and gave a conspiratorial smile.
There were no smiles when we came home. I could hear Moshe’s cries before I reached his bedroom door.
“He made a fool of himself today!” Rachel’s narrowed eyes and tight frown gave a display of anger I had never seen from her before.
David seemed to shudder as he stood beside me. I patted him on the shoulder.
“Why don’t you get changed?”
Without a word, he rushed into his bedroom.
I extended my hand a little and waved my fingers to tell Rachel to follow me. We walked into the living room. I turned and faced her. She folded her arms and stiffened her stance.
I spoke calmly, “What happened?”
“There was a fly ball. He ran away from it. It dropped right in front of him.”
I saw this happen many times when eight-year-olds play softball and baseball. I’ve even seen Major League players drop routine fly balls. The anger on Rachel’s face showed there was more to the story.
“Then what happened?”
“The coach tried to correct him. But Moshe, he threw his glove down on the ground. The coach had to pull him off the field and made him do pushups behind the bleachers. Now he wants to quit!”
The words “Then let him quit” formed in my mouth, but I couldn’t bring myself to say that. Nor did Rachel give me a chance to say it.
“Do you know how expensive it is to have your kid play sports? The registration is expensive enough. Plus you have to buy the equipment, the cleats, the uniforms. And most parents pay to get professional coaching for their kids. And have them play on travel teams. I don’t want to spend all that money and have him quit just like that! And what if it’s not just baseball? What if he wants to quit soccer too? What if I can’t get him to do anything!?”
I could tell her about what Grant said to me, but I couldn’t bring myself to say that either.
Instead, I softly said, “Do you want me to talk to him?”
She turned away from me. “He’s my kid. I’ll deal with it myself.”
I felt useless in this situation, so I retreated to the study. I tapped the trackpad to wake up of the MacBook Pro. I opened Mail to look for a reply from Dylan. No reply.
I could understand why Rachel didn’t want me to talk to Moshe. He was her son. But if she did, what would I say to him? What advice could I give him? What advice did I give to Muriel and Dylan?
I tried to replay every conversation I had with them. I came up blank. I could remember clearly what happened with Dad 35 years ago, or Grandma Dinah 20 years ago, or Teresa 13 years ago, but I couldn’t recall any experience with my own children. I remembered once talking to Dylan about some Captain America movie, but that was about all I could recall.
What was wrong with me? Was I so focused on my own career and my own pain that I missed out on Muriel and Dylan’s childhoods? And if I were more present, could I have helped Dylan? Would have things turned out better? Would he still get kicked out of his house and wind up missing?
In my peripheral vision, I noticed the Orange County Register next to the sofa. I picked it up and opened it. That large-type headline, that photo, and that article I couldn’t bring myself to read. I folded the newspaper up again and put it into my briefcase. I figured that someday, I could bring myself to read it.
And someday, I would show it to Dylan.