By Jourdan Robbins
I grab the barely-used neon yellow softball and my black baseball glove, sliding the stiff material onto my hand. I mimic a move of my father’s, throwing the ball into the net of my glove. I grin at the soft thwack and the smell of new leather from the gust of wind from the ball.
Out in the living room, my dad sits in his recliner in the corner, his laptop sitting on the stand he made to hover it over his legs. He’s wearing another one of his baseball hats, some of his black hair sticking out. I rarely see him without one of those hats on.
“Dad,” I say, and he looks up from the screen.
“What’s up, kiddo?” He smiles, rubbing his salt and pepper goatee.
“Will you play catch with me?” My heart thuds wildly in my chest. He’s busy with work a lot, so we don’t get to play catch often, but it’s really nice out today. I hope he will decide to take a break for a little while.
“Please don’t say not right now, please don’t say not right now, please don’t say not right now,” I chant over and over in my head as I wait for a response.
He reaches up to the screen of his laptop and pulls it down so it’s nearly closed. He then shoves the leg rest down with a metal clang. He moves the lapboard to the floor. My heart soars.
“Let me get changed,” he says as he gets up.
I’m practically vibrating where I stand. As he passes me on his way to his room, he puts a hand on my shoulder. “Go on out, I’ll be there in a minute.”
I run outside where our two Siberian Huskies are lying in the shade of our deck. Maya, our black husky, perks up, her ice blue eyes locking onto me as the screen door hisses closed. The sound of a lawnmower is a quiet hum in the background. Maya’s claws clack against the wood as she follows me. In the yard, I throw the ball in the air and catch it as I wait.
When I hear the hissing of the door again, I perk up like Maya had. I smile when I see my dad walk across the deck in his basketball shorts and his Pittsburgh Pirates jersey. The sun is bright, so I have to squint. The gentle breeze carries the scent of fresh cut grass from one of our neighbors. When my dad gets into the yard, glove tucked under his arm, he takes his baseball hat off and turns it backward so the visor is in the back. This is how I know he’s getting serious.
“Let’s get this party started,” he says with a grin.
“Honey,” my mom whispers and gently puts her hand on my shoulder. I open my eyes and blink rapidly. Her blonde hair is the only thing I can see in the dark. “Get up, honey, we have to go to the hospital.”
My brain is too dead at this hour of the morning to manage any thought, and I crawl out of bed at a sloth’s pace. My mom leaves once she knows I won’t be going back to sleep. I get dressed in an oversized shirt and my favorite black velvet pants that are starting to get a hole in the knee. My room is still pitch black, but the hallway is shining like the sun popped in for a visit at three in the morning. I can barely keep my eyes open as I shuffle out into the hall and into the kitchen where my mom and brother are putting their coats and shoes on. I follow suit, used to this happening.
My dad is sick, and he has been for as long as I remember. I don’t think much about it because I don’t understand it. I don’t understand why the doctors can’t fix what’s wrong with him. They’ll try another medication or procedure, then wait to see if it works. It never does, because I always get awakened at night to make another trip to the emergency room.
I trudge to the car, still half asleep, and crawl in. My dad is already sitting in the passenger seat, and when I get into the back, he turns around and gives me a weak smile.
“Sorry, kiddo,” he says, voice strained.
“It’s okay.” I get comfortable leaning against the door, resting my head against the cool glass. As we drive to the hospital, I watch the street lights zoom past. They’re the only thing that holds my attention this early in the morning. The lights burn bright against the night sky behind them. Falling snow is illuminated as it drifts past the lights. Every time we pass one, it shines a soft yellow light into the car for a moment before disappearing into nothing only to return a second later.
I really hate hospitals.
My dad takes me to the field to practice. He’s going to be my softball coach and I can’t wait. He always coached my brother when he was in football, and I finally talked him into being my coach, too.
We park at the elementary school and hike up to the forest line. The smell of crisp fall leaves fills the air and they crunch as we walk over the little land bridge, mud sticking to the sides of my shoes in clumps. Once we get through to the other side of the forest, I run up the hill and go up to the home plate.
He pitches to me so I can practice hitting. I love hearing my pink metal bat smashing into the softball. The loud ting echoes around the field as the ball shoots through the air. The metal vibrates and it ripples down the bat and into my hands making them tingle.
My dad whistles, his hat on with the visor in the front, but he still puts his hand up to block the sun as he watches the ball soar through the air. He turns back to me with a big grin. “That’s a home run, kiddo.”
I sit on the loveseat in the living room, the bright summer light shining through the large window, illuminating a square on the carpet. On the coffee table is a gray Wal-Mart bag and I stare at it for a while, trying to see what’s inside. That’s when I notice the Avatar logo and the blue case makes sense.
“When did we get Avatar?” I ask my dad, who is sitting in his recliner.
He glances at the bag and smiles. “We just got it. Your mom and I thought it would be fun to watch it together tonight.” The smile he’s giving me feels weird, but I can’t put my finger on why.
Maybe it’s about his health is getting worse. He’s been going to see the doctor a lot, trying to fix the problem, but it clearly isn’t getting better.
Later that day, my mom and dad sit my brother and me down on the couch. They each take a laundry basket, flipped it upside down, and sit on them.
“Your mom and I are getting a divorce,” my dad says.
My heart stops for a moment and I don’t know what to think. Tears begin to blur my vision. Does this mean I’m not going to get to see my dad anymore? Is he leaving? I thought they were happy. Why did they lie to us? I look at my brother. He doesn’t look fazed, almost like he knew this was going to happen. So I’m the only one who was left out of the loop.
Anger and sadness bubble up in me. My parents don’t tell me anything because they think I’m too young. I’m 12. I’m sick of being treated like I’m a toddler.
They keep talking, but I tune them out. I hear my dad mention Avatar, but I don’t want to watch it anymore. When my parents stand up, my dad turns to me and opens his arms. He has tears in his eyes but he smiles at me and I lose what little composure I have left. Tears leave cool lines down my cheeks where the sun’s rays warm them.
I stand up and my dad pulls me into a hug. I stiffly hug him back. I don’t like hugging people, or touching others in general, but I do it because I know he wants to. It would be weird not to hug back. He holds me for a long time, and when he pulls back, my mom grabs me and does the same.
I’m being ripped from my stable life for the first time. I never thought anything like this would happen to me.
Two years later, I decide to move to Virginia to live with my dad. I’m terrified about starting a new school, but I want to see my dad more. Once a summer isn’t enough.
It’s warmer in Virginia and the sound of cicadas is much more prominent here. My dad got remarried and I now have four stepbrothers as well as a new brother. I like Zach, my little brother. I never thought I would be a middle child. I am given the biggest room in the house because it used to be an office. I love it. I have a lot of space.
“Dinner’s ready,” Jessica, my dad’s new wife, shouts. That means it’s time to awkwardly sit around the table for dinner. I don’t like being forced to be around people I don’t know well, even though I am the one who decided to move down here.
I open my door and Zach is standing on wobbly legs in the kitchen. When he sees me, his face breaks out into a huge grin. He screeches and runs to me. My dad smiles at me. “He always gets so excited when you open your door.”
I chuckle and watch Zach struggle, trying to climb up the little step, the last obstacle between him and my room. My dad picks him up. “We’re gonna eat, bucko. Not play time.” Zach pouts and looks like he’s about to cry.
All the boys come stampeding down the stairs and into the dining room. There’s so much more noise than I’m used to: plates clacking, the boys arguing and shouting at one another, chairs scraping against the hardwood floor as we all sit down. Right before we eat, we all have to bow our heads to pray. This is new to me. I’m not religious, never have been, so I just look at my plate awkwardly and wait until I can finally eat.
Near the end of the school year, I want to move back home. It isn’t that I don’t like it here with my dad, but I miss friends and other family. I have decided I’m going to do it without telling my dad. I don’t know how to tell him. I hate confrontation, and I know if I tell him, he’s going to get upset and ask why. I don’t want to tell him I like school with my friends back home more. I know what he would tell me. He’s said it to me before. “You’ll make new friends here.”
I guess I have, but they aren’t close friends.
Now as the end of the year comes around, he keeps talking about what classes the high school here offers. He’s so excited.
My stomach twists and I feel like I have to throw up. I should tell him, but I can’t get the words out.
My mom is the one who calls my dad and tells him. The whole time, my heart feels like a jackhammer in my chest and I can’t breathe. It’s a chicken move, and I know he’s going to come in as soon as he finishes the conversation, more than likely upset. Rightfully so.
Turns out I’m right.
My dad comes in with red, glassy eyes. My throat tightens and I fight back my own tears. I’ve done this. I should have told him in the beginning, and we could have talked it out. But I could never bring myself to ruin his enthusiasm. I didn’t want to be the reason for my dad crumbling before me.
Ironic, really, because that’s exactly what’s happening now.
My mom shows up about two hours later, but it feels more like ten. It feels like everyone in the house wants me out of there, like they think I’m the devil incarnate. I feel like I am, so I can’t say I blame them.
While my mom and I are out in the garage loading my stuff up, I hear the front door open. My heart does a backflip into my stomach. My dad comes out, eyes still puffy. He doesn’t come close, but he turns to my mom to direct his hurt at her instead of me, where it should have rightfully been aimed.
“You should have told me about this sooner.”
My mom replies, but I can’t hear anything. I block it out in order to fight back the emotions welling up in my throat.
He doesn’t hug me, and while I don’t like hugging, I desperately want him to.
If I’d known that this was the last time I would ever see my dad, I would have hugged him one last time.