This is How You Stay Alive
You’ve worked beside these young men for two summers now. Together at this amusement park, this Sesame Street-themed amusement park, you’ve cleaned bathrooms and swept up juice boxes and hauled overstuffed, dripping plastic bags from trash cans and tossed them into big whales as the Count counts backward in Spanish from loudspeakers all around you. The whales are mostly gray, and you picture them spouting not water from imaginary blowholes but all of that trash juice. You’ve joked with these young men, fielded their casual flirtations, and mostly tried to conform to their world.
Standing next to home plate now, that need is even more urgent. You grip the bat tight, knowing you stick out more because you’re a lefty. You’ve always felt that to make it, to be accepted, you had to play by the guys’ rules. You can’t complain about the smell of the dumpsters. You can’t be squeamish about the pink-from-cotton-candy barf soaking into the sand you’ve poured onto it. You can’t let your male employees pull one over on you when they hide in the men’s bathroom instead of doing their jobs. A female manager is looked down on for crying when things get tough. So, later in the summer, when you accidentally drive the trash truck over the parking lot’s curb and into mud, you lock your face.
Just hit the ball, you think. You don’t even have to get on base. Just show them you know what you’re doing up here. Matt had said you were the first girl they asked to be on the department softball team. Like it was some great honor. But it was. You gained their respect enough for that. Matt and Leo call you Reese, a nickname your older sister uses, so you feel that the three of you have become a weird kind of amusement park family. A family that pressure-washes shower stalls and unclogs toilets. You know those guys would look out for you. But I don’t need looking out for, you think, sizing up the pitcher.
You swing and miss at the first pitch. Your arms are stiff, and you can feel the guys on your team behind the chain-link fence. You dig your toe into the dirt and breathe. You’re in your backyard holding a yellow Wiffleball bat, and your dad explains how to choke up, how to swing. Not like a golf club, he tells you. You are five. When you reach the baseball unit in gym class in second grade, you are incredulous that anyone doesn’t know how to hold and swing a bat. But when you play a season of softball in fourth grade, you’re stuck, clueless, in right field, balls soaring over your head. But you like the night games. The field grows bigger; you’re onstage. It’s a night game right now, and you feel eyes on your back. The second pitch is lobbed at you. You swing. You connect. You gun it to first base. Too late. But it doesn’t matter. You whammed that ball and a runner advanced to second. Leo gives you a high five. Way to go, Reese, Matt says, his eyebrows raised on his freckled forehead.
In your solar plexus, you feel a glow in spite of yourself. You grab your shirtfront and wave it to bring some of the night’s cooled-off air to your skin. You made it. You balance on the perimeter of the ramshackle dugout in your secondhand cleats while Matt and Leo stretch and compare their favorite Kings of Leon songs. You sit down alone on the end of the bench and wait for the inning to be over.
THERESA BECKHUSEN is Staff Editor at Metonymy Media in Indianapolis, co-editor of Corgi Snorkel Press, and co-leader of Vouched Indy. Her work has appeared in #GOODLITSwerveAutumn: An Anthology of Independent Literature about Kanye West and Plain China.