“I bet I can clear the tree line!” I teased, hands firmly planted on my hips. My husband, Robert, threw back his head and laughed. “In your dreams.”
I actually wasn’t sure that I could hit the t-ball hard enough or in the right direction to send it flying into the woods behind our house, but I was certainly going to try. It was a rare, cool afternoon in our southern Florida neighborhood and we were celebrating with backyard batting practice. The dingy t-ball set had sat on the porch for months – a spider skyscraper accidentally stumbled upon that late October day. The unearthing of the tee, the still bagged whiffle balls, and the slightly dented aluminum bat stirred up a buzz of excitement. By the time the sun began to dip behind the houses, the whole family was bundled up in Florida “snow gear” and huddled outside the new-found baseball diamond.
For the first time in half a year, the humidity had let up, and I could finally breathe. The air moved lightly carrying the scent of dirt and moss intermingled with newly uncovered barbecue grills and what roasted inside. The neighbors stirred outside their doors, washing off patio furniture and window sills. It would soon be time to open the windows and welcome the cool air inside – even if for only a few days at a time. The bright blue birds sang a different song that day. They sang a softer, more peaceful tune from their well-padded nests, now empty of their spring chicks. Their focus was finally not on seeking shelter from the scorching sun.
We had been waiting weeks for that day. Cleaning out the back porch had become a bi-annual ritual. When the weather teased cool we went in search of treasures hidden away for the seasons – beach coolers, tents, and kites for the spring; barbecue grill, footballs, and the immortal plastic Christmas tree discovered in the fall. The fall was definitely the more exciting of the two. I anticipated the tucked away Christmas present finds I had gathered throughout the summer and hidden on the porch. I itched to pull out the mother deer and her fawn whose twinkling lights would decorate our meager yard in those early winter months. The finding – that was the fun part, really.
For six years I had stared at the tree line from my bedroom window. However, at that moment, standing just outside my window, in front of the tee, I could not tell you for certain how far away it was. Maybe 15 feet? Maybe 50? Curling and uncurling my fingers around the bat, I silently cursed my arrogance. The only thing worse than missing the shot would be the torturous laughter that would surely ensue. I straightened my back and shifted my feet in the cold, hard dirt. Robert was a Red Sox junkie so I had watched my fair share of professional ball games. I mimicked the warm ups I had seen on television. Lined up the shot. Shifted my weight on my feet. “Stalling!” they called from over my right shoulder. I didn’t look back.
When the masquerade of preparation had gone on just long enough, I sucked in the skyline and held it tightly in my lungs. Eyes glued to the flaking pine tree dead center beyond me, I leaned sideways, drawing my left leg in and up. The rules of form echoed in my head, my whole body tightened willing power into the palm of my hands. The cool breeze picked up just as my left foot made contact with the earth, driving the aluminum bat into the snow white whiffle ball balanced atop the impossibly tiny post. Clink. Out of the corner of my eye I witnessed the battered base crash sideways to the ground, defeated. The force of the swing, the rush of the breeze, and the voices in my head reminded me to follow through. Follow through. Clink.
“Did I make it?! Did it hit the tree line?!” I gasped as I remembered my need to breathe.
I spun to the right to see Robert standing there, mouth gaping open. A smile spread across my flushed face. Surely I had hit the tree line! He was speechless and Heaven knows that is hard to do. Juggling cocky witticism in my head, I turned to my left to see what Andrew thought of my home-record-breaking grand slam. At eight years old he had something sarcastic to say about everything – “What’s up now?!” I was thinking in my head. It took several seconds for my mind to process that he wasn’t there. By the time I realized that something was wrong, Robert was standing beside me breathing close enough for me to feel it on my exposed neck. The air was charged and I instantly felt like I was going to vomit. There at my feet was Andrew – my son – lying in the dirt, blood covering his face.
Oh my God, he’s dead.
The words tumbled across my mind before I could stop them. Without hesitating I dropped to my knees and jerked his body into my arms. In the near distance I could hear the baby crying – my daughter – it didn’t seem to matter right then. The slick, dry leaves yanked at my feet, threatening to trap us forever in that moment. I pushed against the ground, holding him close to my heart. The front door was open when I got there and suddenly I became hyper aware of the blood; it ran down my arms and splattered ahead of us every step I took: big fat, shiny red globules. The carpet would later, and forever, tell a story that our feet could never hide. In the moment I had no idea where I was heading or why…
And then I remembered that story:
A serial killer read an advertisement for home furniture, complete with address of the seller; he drove to the house and knocked on the door: “I’m interested in buying your table.” Once inside, he viciously murdered the woman and her two year old son who were home alone that day. He murdered them, in the bathtub. That part of the story has always stuck with me. It’s calculated, to murder someone in the bathtub. More than that, it’s practical. I guess that is why the bathtub is where we ended up. I would like to say I wasn’t worried about the blood in the face of the moment, but, I was.
Ripping back the shower curtain with my three accessible fingers, the monkey studded rings shattered to the floor. I shuddered in expectancy of my next obstacle: tiny blue sailboats, perpetually water logged rubber ducks, and souvenir kid’s cups – permanent fixtures of the wash basin. But not today. Somehow, there were none. I laid Andrew in the tub. Desperate to uncover the source of the blood, I tugged at the silver zipper lining his brand new hoodie. I blinked. When I opened my eyes he was staring back at me. Pupils dilated, mouth hanging open – between gasping breaths he gagged. He tried to speak but the words caught in his throat.
“Have a seat. Someone will be right with you.” Her face was ashen, sagging skin, exhausted eyes. A barrage of defensive comments paraded through my mind. How in the world could we sit here and wait when this child could be seriously injured? I collapsed into a mood blue hospital standard plastic chair and pulled him tight against my chest. His head lolled from side to side as he drifted in and out of sleep. Precariously, I rubbed his shoulders and his hands: “Stay awake. Please. Stay awake,” I begged aloud, or maybe not aloud. His deep brown stared at me flat and regretful. His eyelids fluttered once more to a close.
We circled the tattered curtain to find an army waiting by the bed. Almost as soon as I laid him down they eased their way around me blocking me completely out. I watched from behind dancing arms, listening to the demanding questions, forsaken fears implied. The story spilled from my lips in a waterfall of broken visions. We were playing baseball. I swung hard. Clink. Clink. There shouldn’t have been two clinks. He was on the ground. The blood. So much blood. But he’s breathing. Thank you God, he’s breathing. “I hit him in the face with a baseball bat.” Silence.
“Step outside,” she asked me; and I did. I waited, crouched against the wall, helpless to his aid, while the mumbling continued behind the closed door. The nylon curtain over the window bore the shadows of their progress. The room thinned out, blood soaked gloves and gauze tucked neatly into the crimson containers on the way out the door. Finally, the door opened and stayed open – the nurse smiled, relieved, invited me back inside. “Seven stitches,” she sighed. “He is quite the trooper.” Looking past her shoulder I could see Andrew sitting up in the bed, eyes closed, lips padded from the inside. The blood soaking his clothes had been washed from his swollen face. I stared, frozen, watching for the rise and fall of his chest beneath the starched bed sheet. It came. I allowed myself to follow suit.
Mumbling something about the papers to sign being on their way, the nurse and the doctor turned to leave. The door clicked shut – the sound a startling, nauseating reminder of why we were here. I perched myself on the side of the bed, suspicious of the dangers of my own proximity to him. His eyes peeled open taking in the room, a thousand questions swallowed in a sigh. I was relieved to know that he could not yet see how distorted his face was, though I knew he could see it in mine. I had wanted to gather and hold him once more but before I could reach out, the moment passed. “Mom,” he whispered. The sound of his voice filtering through the blood soaked gauze simultaneously turned my stomach and gripped my heart. “Yes, baby,” I forced myself to smile back.