I asked the guy sitting behind us where his buddies were. The three of them have been sitting behind us at baseball games for the past four years. For awhile the middle guy, Harry (the only one of them whose name I know) was absent because he got cancer in his shoulder and missed the entire season. His other two buddies would give us reports on Harry’s chemotherapy, how he was feeling, the prognosis. We had all these conversations, talking backwards, you know, asking questions over our shoulders and waiting for the answers, not ever really taking our eyes off the game.
We missed Harry even though we didn’t really know him except as the guy in the middle who sat behind us with his two buddies. He was always the nicest one, his friends a bit snarky, cynical maybe but all three diehard baseball fans. They knew all the players and what they had for breakfast. My husband’s like that so he enjoyed having the three guys sitting behind us, his refuge from my baseball commentary focusing mostly on which players needed haircuts and how irritating other players’ walk-up rituals were.
Now it was Harry sitting by himself. “So where’re your pals?” I asked. He explained that one guy (the one on his left who wasn’t there) bailed out at the last minute and the other (the one on his right who wasn’t there), well, his wife was dying.
Because my hearing is painfully bad, especially in major league baseball stadiums, I looked at him and asked him to repeat. “HIS WIFE IS DYING,” he said again, enunciating so that I caught what he said. And then he explained how she had breast cancer and it had spread to her brain. He didn’t say she was really ill or that she was in the hospital. He said she was dying and that was why his buddy couldn’t come to the game.
There was no where to go with that news. Because she wasn’t sick, she wasn’t getting chemotherapy. She was dying. Done. Besides I didn’t even know her because she never came to games. Only her husband did. So to whom would I say I am sorry? And then, what do you say, that you hope it’s not true that she’s dying? It was, of course, so true, the news delivered so matter of factly that it had to have been true for a while. Maybe it was true the last time I saw the guy on the right just a few weeks ago but no one said anything so no cheerful tidings of recovery were offered. He was the same as always. Sitting there, muttering about the pitching, making the occasional wisecrack and drinking a bottle of water. And all the while this was going on.
It makes a person stop and think. About dumb stuff. About baseball and scoreless inning after scoreless inning for the home team and run after run for the visitors. About men left on base and crummy fielding, players who don’t play anywhere near as good as they look. About how it could just as easily be me or my husband whose absence might be explained that way. That from one day to the next, our attendance is probably some kind of gift and I ought to appreciate it more and stop complaining about being the fan of a losing team.
At least we are here. In our seats.
Re-published on the eve of what would have been Opening Day for the Milwaukee Brewers. There is no opening day tomorrow but there will be at some point. We’re patient. We’ll wait.