May 18th, 2015.
I grew up inside a baseball park.
The smell of the dirt, clinks of the bats, and everything in between is home to me. When I was younger, I would barely pay attention to the game in front of me. I was more concerned with catching every foul ball in sight and eating my tiny body weight in hot dogs. But over time, as I watched my older brother immerse himself into the game he loved…I too fell in love with it.
I found myself anxiously awaiting each pitch, strike, and hit with trepidation. Which is how I find myself here, in the stands of my high school student section, about to bite my finger nails off. Through the thin metal gates, I can see my older brother, Cooper, take his position behind home plate. If I strain my eyes hard enough, I can see you as well, smiling against the bright lights in the outfield. It’s the sectional game of your senior year, and you are only up by one run, yet that smile remains on your face. I wish I could be as calm as you are right now, but it is the top of the 7th inning and the best hitter in the state is coming up to bat.
I look to my left, and see the rest of my high school slowly start to draw in.
Not only is it the game for state, but also graduation for the 2015 class. Since you are a senior this year, you will graduate on the field after the game is over. In my opinion, the coolest graduation a kid could have.
Farther down to the left, I see my father sitting away from the crowd. He always does this during games, as he likes to have his quiet while watching the two of you play. It is hard work shifting your eyes between the two of you during games, but he finds it easier away from the other parents. My mother, on the other hand, stands directly behind home plate with her eyes on both of you at all times. I think she gets more nervous for your games than I do…if that’s even possible.
A strange feeling wafts into the air as the opposing batter makes his way to home plate. One of anticipation, nervousness, and something else that I can’t quite put my finger on. There are currently two outs sitting on top of the score board. If he strikes out, you will be headed to state, and graduating in a few short minutes.
The first pitch comes flying in.
Times seems to stand still as I await the second pitch. Amongst the nerves, I feel a sort of peace come over me. It is crazy to think of how my whole family got here, not only to watch Cooper play, but you on your graduation night.
You stand in a sort of crouched position in the outfield. A position needed to make a diving catch at any given moment. You are one strike away from going to state. One strike away of completing something so simple, but so monumental. I hold my breath as the third pitch comes zooming in. Over the hush of the crowd all that can be heard is the clink of metal as the bat makes contact with the ball.
September 21st, 2011.
The bus ride home from school is crowded and hot.
The cheaply made school bus’s windows barely rolled down, and the air conditioning often didn’t work. I roll my eyes, as a couple of eighth graders in the back throw paper airplanes towards the front. It had been a long, eventful day of sixth grade, and all I wanted to do is get home and play with my new puppy.
A month or so ago, I had hopped off the school bus to find that my mom had adopted another dog. Sometime during an away baseball game, she had found an adorable lab in need of a home. Naturally, she adopted it, but only when my dad was off away on business.
She had a nasty habit of bringing things home while my dad was gone. This would usually include a purse, shoes, or an amazon package or two. The puppy was the biggest addition yet. Because of this, I fully expected something new at my house when I got home. Never in my wildest dreams could I have guessed what she was going to do next.
Finally, it was my stop on the bus route and I eagerly bounded down the aisle and waved goodbye to the driver. I quickly walked through the front yard, careful to avoid any dog poop, and opened my front door. Once inside, I placed my Vera Bradley backpack and matching lunchbox in the mudroom and headed straight for the kitchen. I was almost to the container of goldfish when I heard a loud thud come from the hallway.
Curiosity got the best of me, and I made my way towards the noise.
I knew my brother wasn’t home, as he always had practice on Tuesday, so I was interested to see what my mom had gotten up to now. Once down the hall I find that the source of the noise is coming from the guest room. That’s odd? It’s the end of September, and I don’t remember my mom mentioning any guests coming soon.
I creak the door open, and find my five-foot three mom trying to shove an awfully large dresser for her size against the wall. Surrounding her are piles of clothes, and boxes that I had never seen before. In the corner sit some baseball and football posters that stand out against the usual grandma like theme of our guest room.
“Mom what the heck are you doing?’ I ask as I take in the room around me. At the sound of my voice, my mother is quick to abandon her battle with the dresser.
“Oh, you’re already home…how was school?” she questions back as she wipes some sweat from her forehead.
“School was school. So, why are you rearranging the guest room?” I counter back, stepping further into the newly invented room. She stares at me for a few moments, and right as she is about to answer, I hear a creak from the hallway behind me.
I turn to see a young boy standing just outside the door with another box in his hands. He looks familiar, but I can’t put my finger on where I know him from. I stare at him confused, and he simply gives me a shy smile in return.
“This is Jarcques. He is going to be staying with us for a while.”
My mom says as she slips by me to grab the box from his hands. At the sound of his name, I finally realize who is standing in front of me. Jarcques is a boy who played on my brother’s travel baseball team over the summer. He often rode with us to and from games, and quickly became one of my brother’s favorite teammates. My mom would usually buy his dinner after games, or ask him to spend the night. Up until this point, I always assumed his appearances were because he was one of my brother’s best friends. I never assumed that it could be because of something more.
“We are going to continue getting the room ready for him, but I am thinking of making breakfast for dinner if that’s okay with you?” She asks as she goes back to war with the dresser. Noticing her struggle, Jarcques goes over to help and quickly gets it up against the wall. At the victory she gives him a small, side hug. It’s a simple gesture, but the giant grin that encompasses his face shows that it is so much more than that.
I merely nod at her question, and turn to retreat to my own room. As I shut the door, I try to wrack my brain for all the things I know about my new house mate. I know that he plays centerfield for my brother’s team. I know that he likes to dance in the outfield in between pitches. I know that he usually gets his best hits after the first couple of innings (he needs a little bit of a warm up). I know he likes Wendy’s nuggets. And now, I know that he is going to be living down the hall. What I don’t know is why?
As if she could hear all the questions bouncing around in my head, my mom knocks on my door and asks to come in.
She joins me in my current fetal position on the bed and stares at me for a long moment. I don’t say anything, but simply wait for her to begin the conversation.
“I know you must be confused, but I am going to have Jarcques move in with us for as long as he needs. I have already put in the transfer request for him to start at Cooper’s high school, and he will be moved there by the start of next week.” She explains calmly.
“But why here?” I ask.
“Because he needs a home.” She states and there are no more questions to be asked. The answer tells me everything else that I need to know.
May 18th, 2015.
There is complete silence over the crowd as we all watch the ball fly into the air and towards the shortstop. Time stands still as I watch your teammate leap into the air and catch the ball seamlessly.
I watch you race from the outfield and towards Cooper at home plate.
The two of you embrace with the rest of the team dog piling on shortly after. I hope that you guys can hear my cheers over the crowd.
The transition for you and Cooper was hard at first. Nobody has exactly written a handbook for how to turn best friends into housemates. But over time, the two of you learned to adapt and see each other as family. And now you two get to celebrate as teammates, best friends, and brothers.
Our transition happened quite effortlessly. I had never given much thought to the idea of family, but you opened my eyes to a new definition. In one ordinary afternoon my family of four became a family of five. We didn’t share the same last name, history, or even experiences, but you quickly became a part of my version of home.
Over the cheering crowd, I look to my left again and see my father beaming with pride. He was shocked to say the least when he came home to the dining room table having an extra seat. I always wonder what that conversation was like between my parents when he returned from his business trip. I imagine, however, it went much like mine.
I tear my eyes away from him, and divert my attention back to the field. The dog pile is now over, and the seniors are making their way towards third base. The principal hands out the caps and gowns and you quickly slip it over your baseball uniform.
You will be the first person from your family to graduate from high school today.
The twelve of you patiently wait by third base as the principle and assistant principle make their way towards home plate with the diplomas. As you wait, I watch Cooper go up and give you a hug. The two of you are celebrating more than one triumph today. I can’t decide which one is sweeter. The embrace you share reminds me a lot of the one you had with my mom the first day you moved in. Only this time you are conquering high school instead of a dresser.
Each of the twelve seniors will walk from third to home base and receive their diplomas. One by one I watch as each senior gets their name called. Kids I have grown up watching for years, but all I am waiting for is you. Finally, after what seems like ages your name is called.
All you can hear as you make your way towards home is my mother’s cheers amongst the crowd.