Restrained


All my life, I’ve lived in the shadow of the Phillies.  When I was a baby, my father would sit in my nursery, the baseball game playing softly on his portable radio.  While I slept, he would dream of his son playing pro ball.  He’d watch the way the lights from Veterans Stadium played across my fluttering eyelids; he’d watch the gentle rise and fall of my chest, to reassure him that I was, indeed, breathing.  And then, when the game ended, he would pull up the thin sheet to cover me up before heading to the front porch for a cigarette. 

When I was six, my mother packed her bags, changed her name, and moved eight blocks away with her new husband.  And the Phils moved, too.  Although they stayed a bit closer than my mother: At night, I could still see the lights glowing over Citizens Bank Park.  But I no longer saw my mother.


During baseball season, my father’s moods were dictated by the outcome of the game.  If the Phils lost, my father would be in a horrible mood the next morning.  A win, and he’d be ecstatic all day.

I loved baseball as much as I loved cheese steaks and water ice and South Philly.  I looked forward to the days when my father could scrape up enough spare change to buy us two tickets to see the game.  And when my father signed me up to play Little League, the coaches all said I was a natural.  Within a few years, I was pitching.

And my father began to believe in those dreams he dreamed watching me sleep in my tiny crib.  My father believed that his son would get to the majors.  Every sentence began with the words when you get to the majors….  He had plans, my father did.  We would buy season tickets.  We’d get out of South Philly.  Dad would quit his job at the refinery.  My mother would come back to us.

Last Wednesday, as soon as he got home from work, my father switched the game on.  The stadium was dark: It was an away game.  “Look at those scumbags,” he said, pointing to the Nationals warming up on the field.  “Pathetic team if I ever did see one.”  He took the paper plate I handed him—hot dogs, baked beans, potato chips—and sank into the dingy couch.  He jammed a chip in his mouth and wiped the salt on his pants.  “Watch this pitch, Billy,” he said.  He leaned in, pointing as Worley threw a fastball.  “Do you believe it?”  My dad shook his head in wonder.  “He’s got a chip in his elbow and he can still pitch like that.”    

I cradled my right hand, my pitching hand, in my left hand.  I reached a pencil beneath the cast, rubbed it against the back of my hand.  I pictured it, withered and gray and useless.

He nodded at me then.  “Don’t you worry about that hand, son.  If Worley can do it, you can too.”

I sat and pretended to watch the game.  Outside, I heard the rumble of cars; the occasional skateboard headed down the sidewalk.  I heard the anger of car horns and the bitterness of the residents of my street stuck in a frustrating life they could not escape.  The man who lived upstairs began to yell at his wife.  I held still, wondering if this time gunfire would ring out.

Without taking his eyes from the television set, my father shook his head.  “Summer heat always brings out the anger in people.”  He picked up the remote and increased the volume.

When he’d finished his dinner, I took his plate and threw it in the garbage.  “I’m headed to bed, Dad.  I’ve got work tomorrow.”  In the morning, I would rise and head to the Wawa where I would spend the next nine hours ringing up gasoline and bubblegum; candy and little packets of Advil.  My high school teammates would come to the store, as they always did, filling up large paper cups with Dr. Pepper, expecting me to undercharge them and throw in a tin of chewing tobacco on the house.

“Shame you’re so busy, Billy.  What with work and baseball practice, you haven’t had much of a summer.”

“It’s been all right,” I said.

“Well, just you wait, Billy,” he said, leaning back and lighting up a cigarette.  “When you get to the majors, you can kiss the Wawa goodbye.”

I nodded. 

And he took my nod as a form of agreement.  “Be sure you don’t sleep on that hand.  We got ourselves, what, six months before spring training?”

“That sounds about right,” I said as I walked down the hall to my bedroom.  I looked out towards the stadium, dark and silent.  I didn’t have the heart to tell my father that I broke my hand on purpose; didn’t have the heart to tell him I begged a coworker to drop a stack of pallets on it so he’d quit pinning all his hopes on me.

My father was never going to leave South Philly.

My father was never going to get a better job.

The neighbor wasn’t going to stop hitting his wife.

And my mother?  She was never going to come home.

Year after year, all of my father’s hopes and dreams were tied up in wins and losses and pennant races.  But your luck is your own and so is your hard work. 

How could I tell my father that I’d earned a full academic scholarship to a school nine hours away?

I rolled over in bed, pulled the thin sheet up to my chin.  Told myself that if the Phils won the game, I would tell him in the morning.


For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Barb Black gave me this prompt: Some mornings it just isn't worth chewing through the restraints.... I gave Caitlin this prompt: Write a story around a headline from today's newspaper.

Labels: , ,

Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams: Restrained

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Restrained


All my life, I’ve lived in the shadow of the Phillies.  When I was a baby, my father would sit in my nursery, the baseball game playing softly on his portable radio.  While I slept, he would dream of his son playing pro ball.  He’d watch the way the lights from Veterans Stadium played across my fluttering eyelids; he’d watch the gentle rise and fall of my chest, to reassure him that I was, indeed, breathing.  And then, when the game ended, he would pull up the thin sheet to cover me up before heading to the front porch for a cigarette. 

When I was six, my mother packed her bags, changed her name, and moved eight blocks away with her new husband.  And the Phils moved, too.  Although they stayed a bit closer than my mother: At night, I could still see the lights glowing over Citizens Bank Park.  But I no longer saw my mother.


During baseball season, my father’s moods were dictated by the outcome of the game.  If the Phils lost, my father would be in a horrible mood the next morning.  A win, and he’d be ecstatic all day.

I loved baseball as much as I loved cheese steaks and water ice and South Philly.  I looked forward to the days when my father could scrape up enough spare change to buy us two tickets to see the game.  And when my father signed me up to play Little League, the coaches all said I was a natural.  Within a few years, I was pitching.

And my father began to believe in those dreams he dreamed watching me sleep in my tiny crib.  My father believed that his son would get to the majors.  Every sentence began with the words when you get to the majors….  He had plans, my father did.  We would buy season tickets.  We’d get out of South Philly.  Dad would quit his job at the refinery.  My mother would come back to us.

Last Wednesday, as soon as he got home from work, my father switched the game on.  The stadium was dark: It was an away game.  “Look at those scumbags,” he said, pointing to the Nationals warming up on the field.  “Pathetic team if I ever did see one.”  He took the paper plate I handed him—hot dogs, baked beans, potato chips—and sank into the dingy couch.  He jammed a chip in his mouth and wiped the salt on his pants.  “Watch this pitch, Billy,” he said.  He leaned in, pointing as Worley threw a fastball.  “Do you believe it?”  My dad shook his head in wonder.  “He’s got a chip in his elbow and he can still pitch like that.”    

I cradled my right hand, my pitching hand, in my left hand.  I reached a pencil beneath the cast, rubbed it against the back of my hand.  I pictured it, withered and gray and useless.

He nodded at me then.  “Don’t you worry about that hand, son.  If Worley can do it, you can too.”

I sat and pretended to watch the game.  Outside, I heard the rumble of cars; the occasional skateboard headed down the sidewalk.  I heard the anger of car horns and the bitterness of the residents of my street stuck in a frustrating life they could not escape.  The man who lived upstairs began to yell at his wife.  I held still, wondering if this time gunfire would ring out.

Without taking his eyes from the television set, my father shook his head.  “Summer heat always brings out the anger in people.”  He picked up the remote and increased the volume.

When he’d finished his dinner, I took his plate and threw it in the garbage.  “I’m headed to bed, Dad.  I’ve got work tomorrow.”  In the morning, I would rise and head to the Wawa where I would spend the next nine hours ringing up gasoline and bubblegum; candy and little packets of Advil.  My high school teammates would come to the store, as they always did, filling up large paper cups with Dr. Pepper, expecting me to undercharge them and throw in a tin of chewing tobacco on the house.

“Shame you’re so busy, Billy.  What with work and baseball practice, you haven’t had much of a summer.”

“It’s been all right,” I said.

“Well, just you wait, Billy,” he said, leaning back and lighting up a cigarette.  “When you get to the majors, you can kiss the Wawa goodbye.”

I nodded. 

And he took my nod as a form of agreement.  “Be sure you don’t sleep on that hand.  We got ourselves, what, six months before spring training?”

“That sounds about right,” I said as I walked down the hall to my bedroom.  I looked out towards the stadium, dark and silent.  I didn’t have the heart to tell my father that I broke my hand on purpose; didn’t have the heart to tell him I begged a coworker to drop a stack of pallets on it so he’d quit pinning all his hopes on me.

My father was never going to leave South Philly.

My father was never going to get a better job.

The neighbor wasn’t going to stop hitting his wife.

And my mother?  She was never going to come home.

Year after year, all of my father’s hopes and dreams were tied up in wins and losses and pennant races.  But your luck is your own and so is your hard work. 

How could I tell my father that I’d earned a full academic scholarship to a school nine hours away?

I rolled over in bed, pulled the thin sheet up to my chin.  Told myself that if the Phils won the game, I would tell him in the morning.


For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Barb Black gave me this prompt: Some mornings it just isn't worth chewing through the restraints.... I gave Caitlin this prompt: Write a story around a headline from today's newspaper.

Labels: , ,

14 Comments:

At August 23, 2012 at 4:16 PM , Anonymous Annabelle said...

Oh, all that weight. I feel for him -- I remember how tough it was to disagree with my own parents' expectations, and they were not nearly so specific.

 
At August 23, 2012 at 8:51 PM , Anonymous SAM said...

I like where you went with your prompt. Its bittersweet yet filled with hope.

 
At August 23, 2012 at 10:08 PM , Anonymous wendryn said...

Oof. Well written. It's terribly hard to disappoint someone you love.

 
At August 24, 2012 at 8:12 AM , Anonymous Tara R. said...

The heartbreak of trying to live our lives vicariously through our children... this was beautifully done.

 
At August 24, 2012 at 5:10 PM , Anonymous November Rain said...

The voice of unheard words is sometimes the loudest. Well done.

 
At August 25, 2012 at 9:43 AM , Anonymous Heather said...

I hate just leaving a one word comment, but seriously, Fantastic! Fantastic voice! I could feel the disappointment, the frustration. Well done!

 
At August 26, 2012 at 7:12 AM , Anonymous idiosyncratic eye said...

What can I say?! This is amazing, I was gripped despite the fact that I know nothing of baseball whatsoever. Great voice, I hate writing in the first person. :)

 
At August 26, 2012 at 7:44 AM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

I really like first person. But I'm not a huge baseball fan. I wanted to try something different. Thanks for reading!

 
At August 26, 2012 at 7:45 AM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

Thanks for reading, Heather! I'm glad that frustration came through!

 
At August 26, 2012 at 7:45 AM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

Thanks for reading!

 
At August 26, 2012 at 7:52 AM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

Thanks, Wendryn. Missed the prompt for this week!

 
At August 26, 2012 at 7:52 AM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

Thanks, SAM!

 
At August 26, 2012 at 7:53 AM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

Thanks for reading, Annabelle. Yes, he's got a lot of pressure on him right now.

 
At August 27, 2012 at 1:43 PM , Anonymous jaum said...

Great story but you always leave me wanting more chapters... Is this ongoing? The best point for me is to trying to live vicariously is equally hard on both parties.

 

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