|Life goes on|
Over there, across the blacktop is a mom whose taken C after school several times since Riley died. She’s talking to a woman that I recognize, but am not sure I’ve ever officially met. She scoops her long hair with her arm and it cascades down her back. There is smiling and laughing and small talk; there is clapping and an ease at just being in the moment talking with a friend. I’m largely scared of the non-grieving population, as I’m sure they are largely scared of me. Sunglasses are adjusted, hair is twisted and tied at the back of her head. The sun bakes our mid-March bodies, forces layers to be peeled away and pale skin soaks the up the heat and threatens to become pink.
Their interaction seems effortless, easy, relaxed, normal. I wonder about the baseball season three years earlier when Riley played on this field. At the time, the kids seemed so big, grown-up, skilled for eight- and nine-year-old players. They whacked the ball into the outfield. They sprinted to first base. They dove to catch balls that seemed almost out of reach. I notice the kids on the field doing those things now. When did C become a big kid?
When Riley played on this field those three years ago, I made a connection with another player’s mom. She marveled at my son who’d endured five heart operations, yet was very much alive. Very much a part of the game. Very normal looking despite his mixed-up insides and uncertain future. That season she joined me in celebrating Riley’s accomplishments. To an outsider, my enthusiasm and praise may have seemed beyond what was called for, beyond what a child with normal abilities may have received for hitting, catching, running, and just swinging his bat. Every at-bat was praised—every walk, every foul ball, every strike out. For trying, for getting back in there again and again, even though it was hard for him, the boy with the faulty heart and not enough oxygen to nourish his cells.
Riley didn’t run fast—it was more of a shuffle—so if he shuffled to first base after getting walked, it was a big deal. If he snagged the ball from the air, it was a big deal. As he trotted to the grassy spot where the ball smacked the earth after missing his glove, I cheered. Him showing up again and again for every game and every season—he played for seven years—was a big deal. He was out there trying, even though each of those things involved an effort so far beyond normal effort. He loved the game.
I always feared the day he would decide not to play another season. When the games became more about winning and less about having fun. When he felt his struggle on the field was hurting his team and decided to use his energy reserves for something more stationary like art or reading. He never made that choice. And I’ll never know if he would have signed up for this season. I like to think he would have. In the meantime, I go to C’s games and wonder about the cheering and the life-goes-on normalcy around me. Like so many things in life, I will always feel sad about all of the things that did not happen, the life experiences un-experienced, the milestones met and marked by others, the seasons coming and going, the beginnings and the endings.
C had been invited to throw the first pitch on Opening Day for the league Riley would have played for. Some of Riley’s friends showed up and helped C warm up his pitching arm. C told me: “I feel sad all of the time, even though I don’t always look sad on the outside.” I was amazed at his eloquence; that's definitely how I feel too. That morning on the mound, he looked proud and happy and sad and nervous. That’s probably how I looked too, at least when I wasn't hiding under my hat.