The One That Got Away
Where is she today? It’s better that I don’t know.
Back when I was about 17-years old, when the world lie open before me like a pearled oyster, I once found myself on a green expanse of outfield grass, spring breeze whispering sweet nothings in my ear.
It was as good as it could get. Better, even.
Though I was no longer the twelve-year old boy who called the shots in the daily drama that was our neighborhood sandlot baseball team, I hadn’t yet been smacked in the face with my grandfather’s sudden death by stroke, lingering on a gurney in a hospital hallway while the nurse sought purple nail polish from a cheap handbag.
I held my glove up to my face, breathing in the scent of hundreds of baseballs and thousands of hours sweating in the summer sun of past seasons. Not one of them, however, could compare with this particular moment of present time.
A girl to my right stood in left-center field, oblivious to her role and responsibility as an outfielder, but driving me into the arms of lustful thought and sin. My girlfriend, Beverly G., (none of your damned business, friend,) wouldn’t know a balk from a goddamned fig newton, but as she propelled herself forward after a sharp ground ball past the shortstop, I could swear I could tell what color panties she was wearing.
The double intoxication of a sweaty leather baseball glove and the promise of post-game frolicking with my girlfriend of six weeks proved too much for me. For as Aphrodite mesmerized me with her soothing, diabolical charms, a line-drive hurtled toward me like an angry bullet, aiming squarely for the bridge of my nose.
At the last moment, which would have been my last moment, I got my glove up in time to deflect said missile. I had never before batted away such an easy chance, or at least not since fifth grade, and the moment of my deep, dark embarrassment destroyed the sexual rapture that had overtaken me since about the second inning.
Two runs scored and one teen’s spirit was ground to dust as, to add insult to injury, Beverly retrieved the deflected baseball as it rolled toward her, picked it up and tossed it more or less in the direction of the infield. I had no idea what the score was, but I knew that I had already lost the game.
Imagine if Bill Buckner had not only allowed that cue shot grounder to get by him, but then had to watch as his girlfriend picked it up, thereby exposing the inadequacy of his manhood for all the universe to see.
Such was the fate reserved for this broken youth, bereft of spirit, only an R.C. Cola available to mitigate the disaster that was his most recent stint in center field.
But as I stood there on that outfield grass, waiting for the next 60-years of my life to hurry up and go by already, Beverly came up to me and smiled.
“Did you see my throw? Wasn’t it good? I got it in almost to the short-man!”
“Shortstop. You mean the shortstop,” I muttered like someone responding to a question at the scene of a car crash.
“Yeah! That was so much fun!”
Clearly, this was why I loved her. There were no clouds in her universe, only darker shades of light.
We walked off the field together toward the gravel parking lot where my ’74 Challenger was parked, and the best / worst day of my life concluded with Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” trailing behind us on the Post Road heading toward I-95.
But summer was already being seduced by fall, the hot sun dappled a cooler orange about suppertime. All things born in the summer have a tendency to die faster than their heartier fall and winter counterparts, and our brief summer of fun was no exception. An Irish boyfriend with a wispy blond mustache reclaimed “his” Beverly soon after she’d returned to high school for the 11th grade.
Attending a different high school in a universe entirely foreign to Bev’s world, I knew I had about as much chance of keeping her as the Mets had of winning the pennant with Pete Falcone and Neil Allen fronting the pitching staff.
Beverly broke up with me two weeks before Halloween. Another baseball season was clawing its way to a frigid ending, and I was sure I would never play center field again.
Yet there I was just yesterday — a different park, a different state — standing on the outfield grass fifty feet from home-plate on a little league field in Simpsonville, a cool millenium since I’d looked over my right shoulder at Beverly’s brown hair and bare feet.
Now, a little guy, my eight-year old son, shouts at me to toss the ball over to him.
I hold the ball a while, knowing that this moment, too, shall pass away, leaving an imprint visible only to our souls. These moments and memories are just too delicate to touch; they accumulate like slowly melting snow on a winter’s warm windowsill.
If we are lucky, we love much, and many, but are always haunted by the ones that got away.