It’s ball season again. I used to be able to see the remnants of softball season’s past at the ballpark as each Spring revealed its new recruits and last year’s echoes pressed themselves against the white lines between first and third. I spent the last few years turning away from that magic, unwilling or, maybe more accurately, unable to look at the promise in those young faces. I didn’t know that the time would come when I would let the memories return and bring my child with them.
While I prepared to lose my daughter, I found the pure simplicity of softball too painful to remember. Parents pace the park, desperate to see their girls win. I’d wonder (bitterly) if they knew how good they had it. Do they know the outcome doesn’t matter? Can they see the metaphor that lives in the relay throw from left field to home plate? I doubted it. I doubted them. I used to be them. This season, now that she’s gone from this physical world, the same ballpark calls me.
Year after year the park photographer lines the girls up and they heft the bat onto their shoulder and squint into the sun. Those photos come home with them at season’s end and find their way to the bottom of a lint-filled drawer, stuck in the folds of a box or the back pages of yet another full photo album. When the unthinkable happens, and that child dies, the flow of life’s photos stop, too. Every picture you have must last the rest of your life. Some spark of some photo somewhere dogged me. I rooted through the stacks of photographs of her that fill every vacant surface of my home and there they were. Two photos, a decade apart – same park, same place, same grip – you can see the church across the street over her shoulder. Hat-head. Check. Sun-squint. Check. Good stance. Check.
This season, as I sit in my car across from the park and eavesdrop on this year’s version of her past, I am struck by how each team looks as hers did. There’s the future softball scholarship winner at Virginia Tech on the mound; the stocky, fit third baseman with a gun for an arm; and the requisite one that doesn’t give a shit about ball but enjoys the camaraderie and uses the outfield hours she logs as opportune tanning moments. Through all the years that she was ill leading up to her death, I couldn’t see these girls for what they are. They represented a past with no future possibilities to me, and they broke my heart.
Now that she is gone, she takes her place beside them once again. She’s in every play at home plate. And each time one of them swings the bat and drops a high, hard one in no man’s land behind third base, I’ll see her trot off the field, casually toss her helmet into the dugout and glance my way just long enough to say with a look, “Did you see that?” Of course I did. That picture has to last a lifetime.
© Kim Reynolds 2012