Two weeks ago, while we were cooking a quick dinner of grilled chicken and salad, Erin suddenly doubled over and started moaning. What she'd thought were just cramps quickly turned into the worst pain of her life, and we went to the emergency room. We had to wait for three hours, and she just kept getting worse, to the point where she had a fever and threw up. I argued with the nurses, pushed to get her admitted, cleaned up her vomit, and held her in my arms as she cried. Also, I missed a Mets game.
My favorite pitcher was José Escuelaverde, a twenty-three year-old homegrown Met who came up that season from AAA Tidewater, and that night was his third start of the year. His first start he'd gone seven and a third, striking out nine. By the end of his second game his ERA was a ridiculously good 1.25. The only thing that kept the Mets out of the World Series the year before was not having one more solid starting pitcher. José Escuelaverde was the answer to my prayers, the hope of New York, and the first round draft pick in my fantasy league.
As I sat beside Erin's bed, kissing her, holding her hand, and imagining the perfect two-seam fastball José Escuelaverde was using at that moment to strike out David Eckstein, Erin wiped the tears out of her eyes, turned to me, and said, "If I die, my password to everything is Jason Giambi."
Before she could elaborate a doctor came in to tell us that Erin had kidney stones. They were small enough to pass on their own, so all they could do now was give her some painkillers and strain her urine.
Once Erin was asleep I went into the hallway and tried to find the waiting area that smelled least like latex gloves and Betadine. The whole place was making me feel sick. Hospitals had that effect on me ever since two years ago, when I'd spent a week in a psych ward after a half-assed suicide attempt. It wasn't a big deal. With me depression came upon me suddenly and in bursts, so that I came out of it without really understanding what happened or why I'd been upset. I remember sitting in a small room at a metal table with the social worker, nurse, and psychiatrist that had been assigned to me, and saying, "I'm actually a really fun guy. Seriously, get a keg in here and some digital cable and I'll show you a damn good time." They put me on Zoloft and in the substance abuse group. It was late March, so I watched NCAA games in the community room with the orderlies, who were a rowdy group once they got going, and we had a damn good time, keg or no keg.
This hospital had nothing loud and comforting inside. Walking through the hallways all I could hear were hushed voices behind closed doors and the buzzing of the overhead fluorescent lights. I stopped at one end of a corridor, leaned carefully against the emergency exit, and looked down in front of me, to the place where the wall met the floor, and though the whole place reeked of bleach, the edge of floor was crusty and pale green. The idea that we were all trapped in a giant concrete box, covered in filth and mildew, rotting from the inside out, made me want to sit down in a corner and cry. Not the manliest thing to do when your girlfriend's sick in a hospital.
Before I could let some little pile of dust push me over the edge, I took my phone out and checked the Mets score. It was better than I'd imagined: 7-1 Mets. José Escuelaverde had lasted into the seventh and given up only one run, which I blamed on an error by Milledge anyway.
Even though my team had won, I couldn't get my mind off Erin's confession. I'd heard from my father that kidney stones caused unbearable pain, so I wasn't surprised that she'd imagined the worst and chosen to give me her password. After all, Erin did all our finances. If God forbid she died, there would be tax filings, web banking, and automatic bill payments, all which required passwords.
But Jason Giambi? Giambi was the designated hitter for the Yankees. But Erin wasn't into sports. And even if she was, I'd expect her to go for one of the more traditional chick-crushes, the pretty boys, like Joe Mauer or Derek Jeter. A girl into them was a tourist, just doing it so she had something to think about while you were watching the game.
Jason Giambi, on the other hand, was not pretty. He was large, and he was sweaty, and he had formidable thigh muscles. I was the polar opposite of all this. He was older too, on the downswing of his career, which meant either Erin had a thing for old guys, or she'd been watching Giambi for longer than I'd known about.
Erin was discharged the next morning, but she still felt horrible, so it would've been rude to ask her to justify her choice of password while she was in such pain. However, I wasn't so noble that I didn't try it out on every website she had bookmarked. Our bank: username erin12, password jasongiambi. Gmail: username erin1985 password: jasongiambi. Her blog: username theater_erin password jasongiambi. Amazon.com, Verizonwireless.com, Theatermania.com, it was all the same. Even websites like Yahoo where I knew she'd had an account since she was in high school. This Jason Giambi thing had been going on for longer than we'd been together.
If Erin had spent all this time in love with Jason Giambi, what else didn't I know about her? Maybe she was a closet hockey fan. Maybe she and her friends weren't spending the next Friday at a college production of A Midsummer's Night Dream, but were instead gathering at a bar to eat Buffalo wings and watch pro basketball. Maybe when I was asleep she got out of bed and watched NFL games. How could I live with a deceiver? A two-timer? A Yankee fan?
The next day, after making breakfast for Erin and laughing with her about straining urine, I went back to work. My assistant Nellie was sitting in my chair and organizing my messages. Erin liked to pretend she wasn't jealous of Nellie, but she got annoyed when I worked late with her, and she hated when Nellie answered my cell phone. I liked to tease Erin that she was actually jealous of me, because she was in love with Nellie. I, being a progressive and modern man, would gladly support her alternative lifestyle, and all I asked was an occasional threesome and some high-quality video I could sell on the internet. I usually had these conversations with her over the phone, to prevent the inevitable punch to my shoulder. Erin was stronger than she looked.
"Before anything else," Nellie said. "Talk to Sam."
Just then Sam entered my office behind me. He was one of the owners of the company, and the one responsible for all project management. "Talk to Sam about what?"
"Eagan Residence," Nellie said.
"Fucking Bob Eagan," Sam said. "Almost had to break his fucking arms, but we got the job."
"We got the job?" I'd been working on the bid for weeks, and it would be the largest residence in the history of the company. "Two million?"
"One point seven." Sam patted me on the shoulder. "Good work."
"One point seven?" I took a step away from him. "You signed the job for three hundred less than I bid? How the fuck are we supposed to make a profit?"
Sam held one hand out. "Don't worry -"
"Are you on crack?" I continued. "Please tell me you're on crack, because at least then we'll have your crack income to keep the company in business after you've bankrupted it by letting everyone lowball my bids. I take one fucking day off -"
Nellie was already out of her seat and pulling me out of the office as best she could. "We have a meeting with Jim," she said to Sam. "We'll finish this later."
"One fucking day off for my sick fucking girlfriend," I continued, but Nellie yanked me through the doorway until I couldn't see Sam's confused face anymore.
The pathetic thing about this is that there's a protocol. You know you have a problem when a nineteen year-old college girl develops guidelines for when you scream at co-workers. She pushed me into the single-stall bathroom, locked the door, and sat me down on the closed toilet lid. Then she hopped onto the sink, pulled her knees up to her chest, and lit a cigarette.
"I knew you'd be upset," she said. "So you don't have any meetings until after lunch, and even then it's just Jim."
I put my hands on my knees and leaned my head down, as if the air below me could somehow make my heart stop racing. I'd only had this job for six months, and now it looked like I'd be fired before I could even start collecting vacation time. "They're gonna blame me," I said. "Six months from now, when Patty runs the cost sheets, they'll blame me for underbidding the job." My voice was shaking, and hearing it made me angry at myself for getting upset, which only made me more upset.
Nellie flicked her cigarette ash onto the floor. "No one's blaming you. Breathe."
I didn't notice I was taking shallow breaths until she mentioned it, but as soon as I started breathing deeply, the tears began. I put my hand over my face, mortified at doing this again.
But Nellie only took her phone out of her pocket and started typing on it. "Just keep breathing," she said. She was probably texting her boyfriend, probably discussing something blissfully stupid, like what type of beer they'd buy tonight or what movie to see on Friday to wind down from a long week of working for her crazy boss.
Baseball is the opposite of clinical depression. Clinical depression is a persistent, oppressive, constant feeling that everything is completely hopeless. Depression is heavy and cold and stagnant. Baseball is warm. It's sunlight on bright green grass and crowds of people all chanting for the same thing. Baseball is junk food and falling asleep in an easy chair. Baseball is comfort. Baseball has numbers, statistics, scores, rivalries, fights, rumors, trades, drug scandals, and a hundred other things that distract you from the fact that you can't stand waking up in the morning and you genuinely don't want to live anymore.
That weekend Erin started feeling better, and was finally out of bed and walking around the apartment. I made her a celebratory dinner, and then made out with her up against the refrigerator. On Saturday she went with some of her friends to see performance art in the West Village. I stayed home and watched Tom Glavine pitch a disaster against the Atlanta Braves. They beat us 12-5. Even worse, they announced that José Escuelaverde had strained a muscle in his forearm and would miss at least one turn in the rotation. By the time Erin got home I was restless and miserable and itching for a fight.
"It was so good to get out," she said as she leaned over the arm of the couch and kissed me on the cheek. "I just couldn't spend another day in that bed. How was the game?"
"Awful," I said. "How was the thing?"
"If getting naked, covering yourself in vanilla pudding, and screaming at the audience in German is theater, then what isn't theater?" She shrugged. "Maybe I'm just getting old." She sat down on the couch next to me. "So Melinda has season tickets to Lincoln Center, and tomorrow there's some Brecht. You wanna go?"
I turned the television off and dropped the remote onto the coffee table so that it made a loud thunking noise. "Why don't you go with Jason Giambi?"
I stood up. "You know, Jason Giambi, your one true password?"
She chuckled. "I used to watch the A's when I was a kid, that's all. Are you really upset about this? Don't be silly."
"He took steroids, you know."
"Yeah," she said. "And he apologized."
"But he never said what exactly he was sorry for. For all we know, he was apologizing for taking a crap in the dugout."
"I don't know much about sports, but I'm fairly certain Jason Giambi never took a crap in the dugout." Erin stood up and tried to kiss me, but I took a step backward. She only smiled and grabbed one of my hands. "Did you know Melinda's a Democrat and Lenny's a Republican? If they can be happy together, surely a Met fan and a Yankee fan can too."
"This isn't a joke," I said as I pulled my hand away. "You've been secretly lusting after someone for the entire time we've been together. How am I supposed to trust you?"
She folded her arms across her chest. "You don't see me getting all uptight about your pretty assistant, the Christmas cards from your high school girlfriend, your creepy man-crush on José Esca-whatever."
"Escuelaverde!" I shouted.
She only raised an eyebrow at the outburst. "Are you taking your medication?"
"Don't fucking patronize me," I said.
Erin sighed and went over to the chair in the corner where she'd dropped her purse. "This is just a sleeping pill." She removed one pill from a bottle and set it down on the coffee table. "If you can't calm yourself down, take that, and I'll be waiting for you in bed. Okay?"
She tried to kiss me again, but I flinched without even thinking about it.
"I love you," she said.
I just turned and walked back to the couch.
I didn't go to work the next Monday. There were some blueprints in my car that Sam needed, so Erin offered to drop them off on her way to work. "I'll be home at six," she said as she leaned down over the bed to kiss me on the cheek. "Unless I run into Nellie, and then we'll send you a postcard from the tropical island where we're having hot gay sex."
Even that thought didn't make me feel good enough to get out of bed. I watched some TV, but mostly I just slept. On Tuesday I convinced myself that I would be fine if I had a better job, so after calling in again, I posted my résumé online. But the three phone calls I got just that morning sent me into a panic, and I turned my cell phone off. I went back to bed at three o'clock and slept straight until Erin's alarm went off at six the next morning, but when I woke up I didn't feel rested at all.
I stayed home for the rest of the week. I slept twelve hours at a time and took at least two naps during what was left of the day. I watched the Game Show channel, where they reran programs from the early seventies with celebrity guests that were all dead now. I wore the same pair of sweatpants for four days and didn't take a shower. I ate nothing but frozen waffles and chocolate chip cookies. I flushed all my Zoloft down the toilet. I started watching Mets games on mute. I imagined the world outside as a self-contained sphere, perfect and organized without me to disturb it, like a snow globe, like one of those tiny Christmas villages where plastic figurines ice skate on a pond, their motions controlled by magnets, which made their paths random, yet somehow they never collided and crashed.
On Friday afternoon I ventured out of the bedroom for a glass of water, but before I could make it to the kitchen I noticed Erin in the living room. She must've gotten home from work early. She was standing in front of the bookcase and running her finger along the spines of her books, as if looking for a title, but her eyes were focused on the framed picture above the couch. It was an enlargement of a Polaroid some sidewalk entrepreneur had taken of us on our first date. In the picture, we're sitting at an outdoor café. Erin's smiling, looking genuinely happy. I look a little surprised, but I'm smiling too. Behind us there's a reflection of the flash in the front window of the restaurant, and it looks like an angel hovering over Erin's left shoulder. After she buys the picture for five dollars, Erin will ask, "Do you like Tennessee Williams?" and I will reply, "He plays for Baltimore, right?" I'm a little thinner, with a bit of scruffy facial hair I thought made me look dangerous, and Erin has a fuller face and lush breasts that curve up out of the V-neck of her sweater. She doesn't look much like the tired, gaunt Erin now running her finger along row after row of dead men's words, weighed down by her half-dead boyfriend.
On Saturday Erin had a follow-up appointment at the hospital, and she asked me to go with her. I reluctantly took a shower and put on clean clothes. Outside the sun was too bright and the traffic too noisy. I told Erin to drive, curled up in the passenger seat, and covered my head with my jacket. We drove there in silence.
Erin left me in the clinic waiting room while she went in to see a doctor and have some more urine strained. Unlike the quiet and creepy ICU, this was a more lively area, with plenty of loud conversations, screaming children, and a television. I'd forgotten that today was the Mets-Yankees game. And as I sat down in the chair closest to the overhead TV, the camera went to the mound, where José Escuelaverde stood .
"Holy shit," I said. A man sitting behind me and holding a baby gave me a dirty look, and I held my hand up apologetically. Someone else must've been injured to get José Escuelaverde back in the rotation so soon. But if his arm was still sore, he wasn't showing it. It was the bottom of the fourth inning, and the Yankees hadn't gotten a single hit yet. As I watched, Johnny Damon struck out and Derek Jeter ground out, bringing Jason Giambi to the plate.
I started clapping. "Go get 'em, José! Show that motherfucker who owns New York!"
The man behind me cleared his throat.
I turned around. "Listen, buddy. My girlfriend just had kidney stones, she loves a baseball player more than she loves me, and later today I'm gonna kill myself. So just take the baby to the other side of the room, all right?"
The man muttered something under his breath that sounded like "asshole" and went over to another cluster of chairs.
Giambi worked the count, getting three balls and one strike before he swung. But it popped straight up, and José Escuelaverde waved away Carlos Delgado to make a perfect catch and end the inning.
"Yeah!" I stood and held my hands up triumphantly. "Eat it, you sweaty fat fuck!"
I turned around to see Erin standing there. "Hi honey," I said weakly.
"There's still some residue in my urine," she said, "so they want to do another MRI. It might be a while." She took a step closer to me and lowered her voice. "I asked, and your old psychiatrist is still here. If you have time I'm sure she'd see you."
"Erin, I'm fine."
She looked down at her shoes. "Well, when you're ready to admit you're not fine, I'll be here."
"Well, maybe you shouldn't be here." I turned back to the TV.
In the fifth inning José Escuelaverde returned to the mound and knocked down another three Yankees in a row. By now the announcers weren't afraid to speculate about a no-hitter, and the man with the baby came back and sat next to me. The Mets came to bat and scored the first run of the game with an RBI by Beltran.
The sixth began with a double play where David Wright collided with Robinson Cano, and a ground out by Xavier Nady. It ended with José Escuelaverde getting three quick outs again, including a brutal strike-out of Bernie Williams.
"Wow, that's some pitcher to strike out Bernie looking," the man with the baby said.
I gave him a sideways look. "You know, it's one thing to be a Yankee fan, but do you have to inflict that on your innocent child?"
"You think it's gonna be a no-hitter?"
"Hey, hey, hey," I held up one hand, as if directing traffic to stop. "Let's not go jinxing anyone here."
In the next inning José got Damon on a ground out, then quickly retired Jeter and Giambi. The normally cool Jeter spiked his bat to the ground as he headed back to the dugout, and I cackled with joy. José Escuelaverde, a Mexican kid who this time last year was considering himself lucky to get a turn to pitch in a near-empty minor league stadium in Virginia, was now flattening one of the strongest line-ups in Major League Baseball. And he didn't need long trade talks or millions of dollars to do it; he just needed to work hard, have faith in his own ability, and be patient that the hard times were going to end. Everything I couldn't do.
The Mets went scoreless in the top of the eighth, and then José returned to stand in the center of an eerily silent Yankee Stadium. "Come on, José," I said, my voice shaking. "You can do this. You can do this."
The man next to me noticed the change in my tone. "Dude, it's just baseball."
"Don't think you're safe just because you're holding a baby," I said without turning my head away from the screen, though my threat was somewhat diminished by the tears in my eyes. I wiped my face with the back of my hand.
José picked up the rosin bag and tossed it between his hands, looking anything but nervous. In contrast, I was chewing on my thumbnail and trying to prevent myself from crying by alternately holding my breath and clearing my throat.
Abreu struck out first, followed by pop-outs by both Rodriguez and Posada. Mariano Rivera was called in, and held the score at 1-0 Mets. José Escuelaverde was three batters away from having a no-hitter during his first year in the big leagues at the age of twenty-three. It would be the first no-hitter in the history of the Mets organization. And if that wasn't amazing enough, if he could keep from allowing a walk too, he would have thrown a perfect game, an event so rare it only occurs on average once every eight years.
First to the plate was Robinson Cano. José smiled and shouted out something in Spanish that the cameras didn't completely pick up, maybe making reference to the 2006 no-hitter which Daniel Cabrera of the Orioles had ruined by a ninth-inning hit from Cano. But Cano had no such luck this time, going down on three swings.
By now a small crowd had gathered around the baby man and me. One young woman was holding an ice pack to her knee, but faced with the greatest of José Escuelaverde, she seemed to completely forget her pain, dropping the pack as she raised her arms and cheered along with the group. As Bernie Williams came to bat, the admitting nurse called out, "Eddie Sykes?" but Eddie, sitting nearby with a bloody towel wrapped around his hand, just shouted back, "In a minute!"
Bernie Williams hit the first pitch hard, and I think I stopped breathing as Reyes fielded it cleanly, and fired a cannon shot to first, getting the second out of the inning.
I reached up to wipe away some moisture in my eyes, and realized my hands were shaking. On the television, José Escuelaverde stood with a baseball in his steady hand, turning it over and over in his palm, the shadow of his cap just barely revealing the slight smile on his lips.
Melky Cabrera came to the plate, and swung and missed at the first pitch. The second pitch looked low, so Cabrera didn't swing, but it was called strike two.
I moved my mouth to form the word "José", but I was too nervous to actually speak. Everyone around me was completely silent, and even if an ambulance sounded outside, we couldn't hear it.
José Escuelaverde gripped the bill of his hat, looked up to the sky as if in silent prayer, wound up, and threw a perfect, hundred-mile-an-hour two-seam fastball with late-breaking movement, the kind that could intimidate even the most seasoned major league player, the kind that was virtually unhittable. I clenched my hands into fists, raised them above my head, and took in a breath, poised for a celebratory scream that would rattle windows and awaken coma patients.
And then Melky Cabrera hit it.
The ball streaked into left field, far enough back that the infielders had no chance of catching it, but far enough forward that the outfielders couldn't make it there in time. Cliff Floyd scrambled to get the ball, but Cabrera easily made it to first base.
The screen went blurry, and it was a moment before I realized it was because I was crying. Luckily the crowd around the television was thinning quickly, and no one seemed to notice that I was covering my face with my hands and trying desperately to stop the panic rising in my throat.
Somehow I ended up on the floor, my plastic hospital chair flipped over backwards, my head aching, my throat sore, my body convulsing with sobs. And somehow Erin ended up sitting next to me, with her arm around me and her soft lips leaving little kisses on my wet face.
"I'm such a fucking mess," I sobbed.
"Yeah, but you're my fucking mess." She rubbed my back. "Whenever you're ready, your doctor's waiting to see you."
"Erin." I sniffed and wiped at my face, trying to get some control back. "Erin, promise me. Promise me that, if I die, you'll find someone else."
Erin gave me a long look, then shook her head sadly. "The only state that allows same-sex marriage is Massachusetts, and I couldn't stand to live there. Too many Red Sox fans."
And somehow my hysterical crying turned to laughing, and I leaned against Erin's chest and tilted my head back, breathing deeply until I could finally see straight again, focusing on the dusty drop ceiling like it was the only thing that could save me, and listening to her heart beat as we went into extra innings.
©2008 by Valerie Lewis