Sometimes April was nice. Not too hot, tall white clouds slowly moving in the breeze. There were six or seven of us who would meet at a chain-link backstop on a rocky field to play baseball. The area was famous for the bonfire which was lit the day before every Thanksgiving as a burning reminder of how much we all hated the University of Texas. They’d pull a long flatbed up and the football coach would get up there and start inciting the crowd and introduce football players and they’d talk about how they were going to beat the hell out of Texas and everyone would shout hateful things into the night air.
That did not include me. I was passive about the whole thing and eventually, I’d grow to love Texas, particularly the girls in high heels and miniskirts walking across the courtyard in front of the Tower and people would call me a fag and a hippie because my hair was a quarter of an inch over my ears and I’d get in fights with corps of cadet members on campus, but that all came later.
Right now, I was eight years old. My white dog with four black paws was named Bo and my backyard gave way to a stand of Oak trees and then down to a creek. I’d follow the water to endless ground gently rising and in the distance were three grey, rough chain-link backstops waiting to make the game of baseball possible.
We’d start at 5:00 in the afternoon, but I always went thirty or so minutes early, because I liked to climb up and lay on top of the backstop. The chain-link was forgiving on top and it would sag into a metal hammock for my kid’s form. I’d use my glove as a pillow and stare straight up. There were always little black dots moving across the sky. They were buzzards or some other kind of bird. They seemed to be close to outer space and sometimes they would disappear and I assumed they had left Earth’s gravitational pull.
Laying alone on the chain-link gave me the opportunity to daydream about change. I knew I had to get out of my hometown, the question was how? Most people don’t realize that some kids start hating a place early on. It had nothing to do with my family, I loved them more than I could say, but I knew that the town was somehow evil. Maybe it had to do with the way they treated woman and black people. There were hardly any foreigners, except for the intermural soccer team, which played near my house. They mostly were from the Middle East and I’d shag balls for them and they’d yell in foreign languages I could not understand, but they sounded magical like they were speaking in code, constructing reality out of secrets.
In my chain-link dreams I saw myself in Africa or South America. Pyramids and jungles, animals and barefoot girls. I’d take my life into my hands and use it, always near a fire and a river. I’d live with the natives and I’d show them how to wear sun glasses like James Dean. Too bad about him, the way he died. Then I’d see the car crash and wonder how he could crack up so bad. Years later, I found out he had been sexually abused as a kid. Funny how when we are young, we look at people and we don’t know what we are seeing, but then I began to realize not knowing about people never went away. People don’t know anything about other people, even after they die, and we go through their personal possessions, trying to figure it all out, but we still come up zero. Who was my son, my wife, my sister, my best friend and we will never know. I guess we want to be fooled into believing they are who we want them to be and it can go on like that for years until they kill somebody or end up in jail or dead from an overdose.
So, I’d lay there on those April days before the regular season began, waiting for my friends, watching the pure white clouds drift by like drive-in movie screens. Nothing whiter than a drive-in movie screen unless it was a cumulous nimbus cloud against a blue sky and I could see everything the world had to offer in those moments, except I couldn’t see the pain. That was a big thing to leave out and I guess most eight-year-olds make the same mistake and now that I think about it, I suppose that is the main point of getting old, understanding pain and how it comes over us like an entire sky filled with falling bodies on their way to the ground.