Sometimes, and I’m not entirely sure why, I get a recollection in my head that plays out as vividly and indelibly as a scene from a good movie. Maybe this is a function of growing older—of having more years to look back on than you have to look forward to. Maybe, there was an image or an aroma that triggered something limbic in my cortex. Maybe it’s sheer chemical synapses—a connection with my past that just snapped, somehow, into my present.
This morning, a cold windy day in New York with bright sunshine, I was leaving my psychiatrist’s office. As I do every Thursday morning, as I’ve done every Thursday morning for the past 23 years, and I thought about this ball game I was playing in when I was nine or 10 years old.
It was a Little League game and the most important thing in the world to me at that point while also being of no consequence whatsoever. I remember it being a hot day and muggy, even though it was just eight in the morning. Oddly enough, my old man was there as was my little sister, Nancy.
When I was a kid, I probably played a thousand baseball games, through Little Leagues and Junior Leagues and high-school and summer leagues, and I can count, virtually on one finger all the times my father decided to watch me. He had more important things to do.
But my sister, who wanted more than anything to play ball like her brothers did, would regularly show up. She was a tomboy in those years and wanted her swings at the ol’ horsehide just like the boys did. Of course, there was no baseball for girls back in 1966, so girls, if they loved ball, were relegated to the sidelines.
I was playing 3rd base, I recall, and my sister was in foul territory down the 3rd baseline, maybe holding my old man’s hand, or maybe he was off chatting with another dad.
When I was a kid, we didn’t enjoy the same level of caution kids today are raised with. There was no fence down the foul lines, and nothing to prevent spectators from standing as close to the actual field as they could get.
A batter came up, I remember, and after a pitch or two, he hit a pitch funny and cued the ball wickedly foul at an acute angle. I remember the smoosh like a fallen watermelon as it crushed into Nancy’s cheekbone just below her left eye. I remember her screams. I remember the blood. I remember my father, who earlier that year had almost died from a massive coronary, knowing he couldn’t lift Nancy and couldn’t run for his old Ford to take her to the hospital.
I didn’t know what to do at 3rd base. I ran over to her and heard Nancy’s screams and saw the pink red purple of her face. But the adults had forced us kids away. They were taking charge.
My old man left me on the field and took Nancy to the hospital. When he brought her home two or three hours later, the left side of her face was bandaged, but, I was told, her eye was undamaged and she was going to be ok.
For the rest of Nancy’s too short and too hard life, when she smiled, as she did not often enough, a dimple formed on the top of her cheekbone where the baseball had dented the bone.
Nancy died about 11 years ago in a motorcycle crash on 12th Avenue and 52nd Street. I’ve never, truth be told, recovered from her deadness.
So I think about that dimple, as I did this morning as I was waiting for a cab to take me to work.