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A Father's Gift
(previously published by THE DANA LITERARY SOCIETY, winter, 2001)

I loved the diamond and you knew it. I loved the fences and the ninety foot spaces. I loved the sounds. The thrill of success drove me to try with every muscle I possessed. I needed success to learn how to breathe. I was suffocating under the allusion of failure and self doubt. I craved your approval, your support.

Baseball fields smelled so wonderful to me when I was a kid. The grass had its own identity. Gloves and bats, too, owned unique odors. I could almost taste excitement when I played the game. A game. It was just a game, but, for me, it was such an important part of those days.

There were always such unique sounds. Wood hitting wound fabric. The ball traveling at varying speeds. The sounds of the ball slapping leather. My team mates shouting encouragement. The opposing team doing the same for its players. Proud parents lent their voices to the aural sensation. The sounds.

You were a cop, one of New London’s finest. You worked double shifts so that Chris and I could know the wonderful material world that evaded you. I tell people to this day that your day off was the one day in seven that you just worked eight hours.

You worked hard in your garden. You didn’t use machinery. Rototilling was never an option for you. You used your muscle and your masculinity to prepare the ground. You even dug holes, seven feet square and seven feet deep, to bury the rocks. You said that the army taught you that holes had to be seven feet square and seven feet deep.

You bought an in ground pool and that, too, sucked up some of your precious time away from the job. Oh, how meticulously you cared for that pool. You treated the crystal clear water in just the right way at just the right times. You skimmed it and checked the pH almost daily. We were so lucky to have that pool.

Your job didn’t treat you well. It must be difficult when the main goal of one’s employment is to find people doing things wrong. I suspect that this, as well as the rough upbringing you experienced at the hands of immigrant parents from Sicily who couldn’t speak English, played a very large part in your cynical view of the world and its inhabitants. Success was not fancy, just hard work and enough money for an in ground pool.

I guess this is why you weren’t there often, but you were there then. The sun shone over the diamond. I, too, wanted to shine and present you with pride. You were watching me as you stood just a few feet from the left field foul line.

Kids today want to be Arod, Nomar, Barry. Back then, I was Cepeda, as I dug my back foot into the ground. I was Rocky, as I pointed my stick directly at my foe. These were the heroes I mimicked.

My actions were not intended to cause you embarrassment. In fact, at the time, I thought you’d get a kick out of my imitations. But you later let me know, in no uncertain terms, how foolish I looked and how it distressed you. I would never have carried on as I did if I knew it would hurt you.

The ball was thrown in my direction. I swung the lumber and watched the sphere sneak into the outfield in between first and second base. A hit! I got a hit! I felt like a hero, even though it was just one hit.

My mate struck the ball with more authority than I and it traveled considerably further than mine. I ran. I knew that I could produce a point.

I ran two hundred and seventy feet, staying in line with the bags like the coach had taught me. The plate was in sight, but I knew I was in a race with the ball. I had to slide.

I felt excruciating pain. All I could do was scream and let the tears flush from my eyes. The spikes which helped me home had betrayed me. My ankle twisted like a tree branch in a wind storm. It was fractured, an experience I’d never known before. I couldn’t even conceive of the idea of moving. The anguish froze and stiffened me like an I-beam.

You approached me and briskly dragged me to the car. You walked so quickly that I could hardly keep my foot from trailing along the ground. I thought you were worried sick.

I was puzzled when I noticed that you were driving me home. I cried. My pain was worsening. You didn’t speak to me.

You were in your forties, well built and considerably taller than I was. When we arrived home, you lifted me onto the kitchen table.

I couldn’t stand the throbbing of the ankle that was double the size of its mate.

You left for a moment and then returned with a bucket of water and a cloth. My feet were filthy. You began to vigorously clean them.

As you scrubbed, you ranted that you wouldn’t be seen in a hospital with me and my filthy feet. You scrubbed and swore. The pain was fierce. The words were confusing and hurtful.

You cursed the day I was born. You said that I was thoughtless to have such tainted limbs. My pain became twofold. Joining the injury was the agony of guilt. I let you down once again. I could not think to understand.

What in the hell were you doing? What in the hell were you saying? Did you see this as thoughtfulness? Were you trying to teach me right from wrong? Was this a demonstration of the love you had for me?

I walked with crutches during several months that followed. During those months, my ankle healed and the physical pain took its place along side the other memories of my life.

That was not the only memory that followed me into now. I can’t forget the suffering caused by a man who cared more for his dignity than for the pain of his son.

That was but one nightmare, a father’s gift.

COPYRIGHTED 2005 by Michael Bonanno

Reproduction of "A Father's Gift" or any part therein,
is prohibited with the exeption of "fair use" circumstances.

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