It's mid-summer, between my second and third rounds of chemotherapy. I've been working out. Riding my bike, running, doing push-ups and sit-ups like crazy, creating a makeshift gym in our living room after everybody's gone to sleep. I stay up late, watching TV, doing concentration curls and triceps extensions and shoulder shrugs. Then I tell myself to drop and give me twenty, gritting my teeth, elbows wobbling, swearing. Screw you, cancer, I say. You're not going to win.
Scott and I play fungo at Lindbergh. The wooden bat is the best, because it's more realistic, the crack of the bat. One of us stands at home plate, a half-dozen baseballs scattered around the backstop behind us. The other is in right-center, where the fence is closer. We try to knock it over. We try to lob the pitch up, then grip the bat with both hands, foot up, crack. It's best if it's not a ground ball. You want the hard drive to right-center. You want to make Scott run, to pedal backwards to the warning track and watch the ball sail over the fence, bounce hard and high on the road just beyond, then scatter into the woods to be lost forever. It's worth buying a new ball at Toys-R-Us if you can hit the home run with the wooden bat.
The aluminum bat travels with us in the trunk of Scott's car, and we even bring it out with us when we hit balls and shag flys on sunny summer days. But it's a lot easier to carry the fence when you're using aluminum, and, besides, it pings. A ping is not the crack of the bat.
When we're not shagging fly balls at the high school baseball field, then we're smacking golf balls into houses when we mean to hit fairways. Pitching and putting, spending hours in the sun. Or we're playing hoops at the courts near Tiffany Park, across the street from where Rico used to live. Scott's never afraid to put his body into it, under the hoop, banging me out of the way to get his own rebounds. He always kicks my ass at basketball.
So we play tennis. There are a couple of courts at Coulon Park. I try to make him run. I'm this lean, mean, can't hit a backhand machine, trying to speed my way to victory. They're crazy gorgeous, these summer days.
Mom worries that I might pull out my Hickman. She tells me to just take it easy. I tell her that I've had months of taking it easy, and that I need to be stronger, still, for the third round that's yet to come. I need all my strength, I tell her.
And so my tennis racket (or the golf club, or the bowling ball, or the Frisbee) won't catch the two ports dangling from my right chest, I tape them to my stomach with strips of white tape. When I'm wearing a tank top, you can't even tell it's there. I don't take my shirt off, even at Coulon, with the water so cool and inviting. I'll wear a white tank top with my blue Carleton shorts. It'll be hot, but I don't care. It's just so great to be outside, out of bed, getting stronger every day.
I'm walking back to my truck. Coulon was packed earlier, and I had to park half a mile away, across the train tracks, along the hill near what used to be an old Boeing parking lot. Everybody is streaming away from the park. The sun is fading. We need to get cleaned up. We need to get showered and dressed and ready for whatever adventure the evening will bring us.
This time it's a guy in a car. Just like before, it's absolutely the last thing I'm expecting at that moment. He's in a black Civic, stopped at a park sign, four windows and a sun roof wide open, base track thumping low over unintelligible lyrics.
"Hey!" he yells. He sticks his head out the window. He's driving away, now, up the hill in front of me. Clutch all the way down, gas all the way down, rev that engine. "Go back to Idaho, you skinhead bastard!"
The car jerks forward when he lets the clutch out. Tires squeal. Instant acceleration. He's gone.