Copyright© 2021 by Mark Elias
After Jason made his proclamation, he had to leave, so I had no real time to respond or talk some sense into him. My only response had been “Hell no,” but Jason seemed to think I was just joking or something. I’m not sure he realized how badly the idea of playing sports scared me. If I played sports that means I would have to depend on people! I would have to get to know more than just the two people I was friends with! I mean it was bad enough I was having to go to a brand new school this year and I would meet all sorts of new people, but if I were to play sports, that would mean I would actually have to TALK to them! And God forbid, actually trust them!
“He can’t be serious! I mean, what do I know about baseball?!” Allison was sitting in the other seat of the Polaris. It was close to sunset. Allison and I had discovered a spot along the large pond on the eastern side of the ranch that was fairly secluded. We found it by accident several years ago, long before our fight. The small grouping of trees was hidden away and became Our Place.
“I’m sure he’s very serious.” Allison laughed. “Jason’s actually pretty good at baseball. I mean they don’t just let any eighth grader play on the high school team.” She had her feet propped up on the dash of the Polaris so that her knees were at her chest. Both of us found the little copse of trees to be relaxing, and the fact that there was a natural clearing in the middle of the trees that made for an ideal spot to lay down and stare up at the night sky was just ideal.
“I’ve never played though!” We weren’t lying on the ground tonight since it had rained earlier in the day, but we were both waiting for the sunset. It had quickly become a tradition for us. We would finish supper and she would ride the Polaris over to my house and pick me up. Then I would drive us to the trees where we would wait for the sunset so we could watch the moon and stars. We didn’t always talk. It was good just to be beside her. There was a certain peacefulness that I found in her presence, even if she wasn’t speaking.
“There’s a lot of things you’ve never done, Alex. That’s part of your problem. You’ve been too afraid to do them. What could it possibly hurt to practice with Jason until it’s time for tryouts? And if you DID tryout, what would it hurt if you actually found out you were good enough to make the team?”
“What would it hurt? I’d have to ... I mean...”
“EXACTLY! It wouldn’t hurt at all! Yes it would mean you’d have to meet new people and maybe you’d have to add a couple of people to your friends list, but you are going to have to do that anyway.”
“Do I have to? Make new friends that is? Can’t I have you and Jason and just be happy with that?”
“AL-ex...” she said exasperatedly.
Dr. Markov’s session with me came to mind. One fact? It would be easier to share with Allison. With each new day the barriers that Allison and I had erected between the two of us were breaking down. As I put more and more distance between myself and the day I tried to commit suicide, I found myself trusting Allison more and more. One fact? I could do that.
“It’s just that ... it scares me, Allison. I mean having to meet new people. Having to trust people. Having to learn new things about people. I’ve never been good at it.”
“And what has not trusting people gotten you? It left you feeling alone. And that feeling of being alone led you to...”
She couldn’t finish the statement. Even months later, it was still too fresh for her.
“I know.” I had words in my head, but for some reason I couldn’t bring those words from my head to my lips. “I wish I knew why I was the way I was. What am I going to do?”
“I can’t make friends for you, Alex.”
“What? You mean you can’t just walk up to someone and tell them they are now my friend? It would make my life easier.”
She laughed, “If that would really help you, you know I’d do it in a heartbeat, but that won’t do you any good. You actually have to do the work.”
“You sound like Dr. Markov, now.” I laughed. “For three years I went through hell. What if I get to high school and it happens again? What if I try to make a new friend and they just laugh at me? God I feel so stupid right now.”
“Alex stop being so hard on yourself.”
We sat in silence for a few moments as the last few rays of sunlight gave way the gentle embrace of the moon. As I looked into the sky and stared up at the almost full moon, I couldn’t help but think of the wonderful person sitting beside me. In so many ways Allison was the moon in my sky. When my life felt the darkest and like there was nothing good, there was always the light of the moon to shine on me. It was always there, even when there were clouds hiding it from me. The moon was always there, and so was Allison.
“Just being you.”
She smiled that moonbeam smile at me and laid her head on my shoulder.
“So you really think I should let Jason teach me to play baseball?”
“What have you got to lose?”
It was Allison’s fault that two days later I found myself in my backyard with Jason. We had a radio ready to blast some music that Jason insisted would help us. I just stared at him blankly.
“Jason, what does music have to do with baseball? How is that going to help?”
“Well that’s the thing. Before you can really start getting ready to play baseball, we have to get you in better shape. Working at the ranch has obviously helped you, especially with being able to throw like you do, but throwing isn’t everything. You’re going to need to work on endurance, strength, and overall conditioning.”
“Oh, great. Is it too late to back out?”
“Yup! Trust me on this. It’s going to be hard, but I know you can do it. Plus it’ll help you with doing things around the ranch.”
“Fine. What are we going to do?”
“Well, we can’t exactly do anything with strength around here. We will need to get you in a gym somewhere so that you can work with a trainer. I’m not going to tell you to do something and risk you getting hurt. But what I CAN do is start working with you on endurance and overall conditioning.”
“You know I’m probably going to hate you for this, right?”
He only laughed, “I can promise you that you’ll hate me by the end of the day but give me two weeks and you won’t hate me near as much. I promise.”
We only worked for two hours, in total. The first part was easy. He called it ‘warming up and stretching.’ I called it ‘luring me into a false sense of security.’ We were mostly stretching and doing some basic exercises that I knew from gym like jumping jacks. Then Jason started “training” me or as I thought of it, ‘making me regret the day Jason was born.’ I had never been one for working out. I wasn’t fat, and due to a naturally high metabolism, I had always been on the lean side. But being skinny didn’t mean I was used to working out. We were only about five minutes into our routine when I was already gasping for air. I had never been asthmatic in my life, but I was fairly certain I knew what it felt like right about then!
Jason led us into what he called high intensity interval training. Basically for a stretch of time we would do whatever exercise he laid out for us for a period of time and we would do it as hard as we could, as fast as we could. Then we would slow down and do something light for a really short period of time. When that very short break was over, we could go back to doing another high intensity workout. It was rough and I was fairly certain that Jason wasn’t actually my friend, but instead was a robot sent from the future to exercise me until I died. It very nearly happened, or at least it seemed like it.
At the end of the two hours I didn’t have a dry piece of clothing on me. Sweat had poured from every part of my body and I found out that I had muscles in places that I never knew about. I found out about them quickly now though, because they hurt like hell! I was laying on the ground gasping for breath when my mom came out, laughing.
“I see you boys had a good time.”
“Mom, I take back all the good things I said about Jason. I hate him. He’s not allowed over here anymore. At least not until the feeling returns to my legs.”
Jason laughed, “I told you you’d hate me. You agreed to do it. It’s your own fault.”
“No, it’s Allison’s! She convinced me to do it! She said I’d have nothing to lose! I think I lost a lung somewhere around hour seven of this workout.”
My mom laughed, “Jason supper is almost ready. If you’re staying, then you best go take a shower. You aren’t sitting at my table smelling like that. You can use the guest bathroom.”
Dinner wasn’t anything special but did provide a chance for my parents to grill Jason and I on what we were doing.
“So, Jason, what exactly are you trying to do with Alex?”
My mom was both curious and concerned. This was only the third time Jason had ever been to my house. The first time being right after school let out. My mom, open and willing to forgive and accept Jason, couldn’t help but be guarded against him. I couldn’t blame her as I had been the same way when we were still in school. Each time he came around she seemed to get a little more comfortable with him and today it really showed. On her own merit she had asked him to stay for dinner and offered him a place to shower, but there was still that motherly instinct to protect her child.
“You know I play baseball, right?”
My mom shook her head, “I don’t think so, sorry. Alex may have mentioned it, but if he did, I didn’t pay attention.”
“It’s fine. I’m still new to you, so I figured you probably didn’t know. Well I play in a summer league and I am also on the JV team at the high school.”
“But you aren’t even in high school.”
I could tell my mom was confused.
“When a middle school doesn’t offer a sport that the high school does, they allow eighth graders to play on the JV team. Our school didn’t offer it and my summer league coach was wanting me to get some more playing time in so he called the school and got me a spot on the JV team. I was mostly just the backup second baseman, but I got a fair amount of playing time this year.”
“So what does that have to do with Alex?”
“Well, the other day he called and wanted to hang out. I had practice later that afternoon, so I brought my stuff with me. That way my mom could take me straight to practice when she picked me up. Alex and I talked for a bit and he shared some things with me.” He looked at me, “It was cool to be trusted.”
He looked back to my mom, “Anyway, after he got some things off his chest, I could tell he needed to get his mind off of things. He was freaking out and worrying, so I let him use one of my extra gloves and we went to throw the ball around some. Do you know what sort of arm this boy has?”
He looked to my dad as he spoke the last part.
“I can’t say as though I do. Alex hasn’t ever really shown any particular interest in sports. There was a time when he was around nine, I think that I tried to get him involved in baseball, but he didn’t want to do it. The most we’ve ever really done is watch some baseball games during the summer.”
It was weird to sit in the middle of a conversation, about yourself, and have nothing to say while others just talked about you nonstop. It wasn’t a bad feeling, at least not this time. They were saying positive things about me.
“Well he’s got a great arm. I mean a frickin’ CANNON!”
“Really?” my parents said at the same time and looked at me. I just gave them a shrug.
“I can throw around 150 feet before I start to lose velocity and accuracy. Alex can throw over 250 feet before he starts to drop off. His accuracy sucks, though.”
“Hey cut me some slack!”
Jason laughed, “I’m just messing with you.” He looked at my dad, “I was watching a video on YouTube. The Pirates had an outfielder named Jose Guillen. In 1998 they were playing the Rockies. They had a guy up to bat, I can’t remember his name. Anyway, he hit a ball to deep right field. I mean it was maybe a few feet from being a homerun. So Jose Guillen, the right fielder for the Pirates, doesn’t manage to catch it. So the guy is running and he’s going to try for a triple. Then Jose Guillen grabs the ball and comes up throwing. He throws the ball ALL THE WAY FROM THE WARNING TRACK! But he doesn’t just throw to his cutoff man, he throws it all the way to third base ... AND THROWS THE GUY OUT! That throw was probably well over 300 feet. That’s some Roberto Clemente stuff! I’d be willing to bet that, with enough practice, Alex could make that same throw. I mean his accuracy really does suck, but he’s never played baseball, so I get it. We can work on it.”
“Work on it?”
I sighed, feeling now was the time for me to talk. “Jason wants to practice and train with me so that in January I can try out for the baseball team. I told him no, but he was stubborn. Then I told Allison about it thinking that she’d support me, but the little witch took Jason’s side and convinced me to give it a shot.”
“I think it’s a great idea,” my mom said as she began to clear the table.
“Hopefully, Jason will realize I’m a lost cause long before January gets here and he gives up. Because this exercise stuff sucks.”
Jason laughed, “Don’t get your hopes up yet. Today was just the first day. Next time, we start running.”
That night I got a chance to finish my homework for Dr. Markov. We were sitting around the living room watching TV when I decided just to get it done. Maybe it was all of the endorphins from the exercise I had done with Jason that day. I’ve always heard that when you exercise it gives you adrenaline and endorphins and they are supposed to make you happy, right?
“So what’s the latest on the trial?”
My dad just shook his head, “Don’t worry about that. Everything is fine.”
I sighed and steeled myself. One fact? That’s all I needed to share right? One little piece of myself to let them know what I was thinking and feeling. Quickly, before I lost momentum, I picked up the remote off of the coffee table and muted the TV.
“It does worry me. In fact, it scares the crap out of me. I’m almost 15 years old and I have been through more than most people twice my age, and I don’t know how to handle it all. I’m getting better with it and talking with Dr. Markov is helping me a lot, but it still overwhelms me. What makes it worse is not knowing; because when I don’t know something my mind fills in the blanks and it goes straight to the worst possible scenario. Dr. Markov says it’s anxiety and that it’s part of the depression thing. Medication helps some, but what helps the most is being able to fill in the blanks with facts and not just paranoid delusions.” I looked to my mom, “I heard you talking with Mr. Smith not too long ago. I know they are trying to get the case thrown out. Do you know what my mind has been telling me?”
My mom was quiet, knowing it was a rhetorical question, and that I needed to get this off my chest. She didn’t interrupt me and let me keep going.