Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The leaving.

The room was filled with a dusty sunlight and even though the lights were out and the curtains were drawn, it was light enough to read or thread a needle. Hector and Teresa's guest room was nearly perfect for me--I had stayed there virtually all season--but it could have used a couple sets of black-out blinds.

I saw in the sunlight, the thin silhouette of Karmen Rodriguez, my inamorata of the last few months. She was busily moving around the small room. I reached over and was able to grasp her left ankle. It was small enough that I could wrap my hand around the whole thing, with my fingers over-lapping.

"C'mere," I said, pulling her toward the bed.

"No," and she kicked my grip away.

I sat up, annoyed, in bed and reached up and opened up what passed for curtains. Now I was wide awake and I could see what she was doing. She was filling my small canvas duffle with all my things.

"Karmen," I said, dumbly.

"No," she replied. "Today is your last game and you will go."

I've noticed through the years that there's no arguing certain facts. This was one of them.

"I've told you, Karmen," I said in Spanish, "I am leaving but not tonight. I know it's my last game. But I'm staying till November first." One week from now.

She had emptied the small set of drawers in my room and now sat down on the bed.

"The season is over for me, too." She was a ticket-taker at the Seraperos' stadium--the Estadio de Beisbol Francisco D. Madero. "I will to New York go with you."

I got up out of bed and removed a t-shirt and a pair of jeans from the bag Karmen had packed. I dressed in hurry, without answering her. Then together we walked from the bedroom we had been sharing into the house's kitchen. Teresa and Hector were there, at their small tile-topped table, drinking coffee. 

I poured myself a cup, large and black and poured half as much for Karmen, filling the rest of her cup with cream. Just the way she liked it. Teresa got up and kissed me good morning, and then Karmen.

"Huevos?" She asked and began cracking before I could answer.

Hector and I talked baseball. We had had a game the night before, against el Indios, and we had won 7-2. As ever, Hector went over the game, virtually pitch by pitch, highlighting especially my two singles, the second of which had driven in a run. He had a memory like that--a memory of every pitch, every play, every error.

I scooped my eggs down and drained my coffee and then a second cup. Hector got up and put on his Seraperos wind-breaker. Karmen put on mine. And the three of us took Hector's old Datsun to the stadium, each of us kissing goodbye Teresa.

We prepped for that afternoon's game with the Guerreros de Oaxaca--the Oaxaca Warriors. Puente was on the mound, our best arm. I was at third, and the rest of the line up was our usual one, except Rigo Beltran would be in center, in for "Brutus" Cesar who was out with a groin.

The game came and went, like the tide. Of no consequence at all. Nothing really has consequence when you compare it to the tide. But we were no-where in the league standings and Oaxaca was worse.

Unlike the 49 other players who were suited up that afternoon, I was approaching the game a little differently. I knew I'd never play serious ball again. No college ball for me, I had played pro, after all. Nothing from here on in other than fat-guy softball leagues in the park. Softball is like kissing your best friend's sister. It just doesn't count for much.

We were down 5-4 and had two men on with two out in the bottom of the 9th when it was my turn to bat. A pitch came in as fat as a grapefruit, but instead of plastering it and giving the Seraperos the win, I got over-eager and swung from my heels, popping a towering out to the Guerreros second baseman who fielded the ball in right center.

That was it.

It was over.

There was beer in the locker-room and, though we had lost, a genuinely celebratory mood. The season was over and we were 25 young men with most of our faculties in tact. A few of the guys, Buentello, Garibay, Munoz, Robles, Bernal, had lugged their suitcases to the ballpark and would be driving home for the winter. We hugged them goodbye. We said have a nice winter. We might have even expressed sincere emotions and feelings, things unusual among a group of guys.

I dressed slowly--I had no place to go, and packed my stuff for good. My Rawlings glove and Ridell spikes another season older. I threw on an old grey sweatshirt I had worn in high-school and walked into Hector's small cinder-block office.

"I'd like to keep my hat," I said to him. "Is that ok?"

The uniforms were property of the club and unlike American baseball leagues, we didn't get new ones each season. Our flannels were worn and patched--darned like my mother used to darn socks, if you can imagine.

"Si," Hector said. He motioned me to sit and I complied.

"You play next year," he said. "Beisbol should not for you be over. Do the fall season of college and play with us all spring and summer. You should not end on a pop-up."

We'd been over this and I did not answer. Finally, I said, simply, "I have to go."

He threw back on his windbreaker and we drove home together.

I can't remember much of my off-week in Saltillo. I helped Hector fix things up around his house and painted the kitchen for Teresa. I spent, you would have too, as much time as possible with Karmen, but it wasn't enough.

Then, as quick as bad news, it was time to leave. Karmen, Hector and Teresa walked me to the bus station in Saltillo. A dusty stump of a building just off of Route 40 leaving town.

I hugged Teresa first, for a good five minutes. Hector grabbed my hand and held it tight for another five minutes. "Mi hijo," he repeated, "my son."

Then it came time to say good-bye to Karmen.

I kissed her softly and handed her a small envelope I had had in my pocket. I gave it to her. Inside was 10,000 pesos. Virtually all of the money I had made that summer. Almost one-thousand dollars. I also handed her a poem I had translated from 19th Century English into the best Spanish I could muster.

No son de largo - Ernest Dowson
Vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat incohare longam.

Ellos no son largas, el llanto y la risa,
El amor y el deseo y el odio;
Creo que no tienen parte en nosotros después
Pasamos por la puerta.

Ellos no son largos, los días de vino y rosas,
Fuera de un sueño brumoso
Nuestro camino emerge por un tiempo, luego se cierra

Dentro de un sueño.

"I want you to have this," I told her.

"I want you to stay."
They Are Not Long - Ernest Dowson

Vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat incohare longam.

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate;
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses,
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

The bus, a rickety affair that had a greyhound wearing a sombrero painted on the side came in and dieseled.

It was time to leave.

Time to say goodbye, also to Jorge Navidad.

Saltillo disappeared behind me. Eaten by dust and memory.

It was time to return to the home I never had.

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