The Thumbs-Up is Meant Ironically

I can safely say that my thirty-ninth year has not been my easiest. From the devastating, if short-lived, breakup with the Manly Fireplug, to the car accident, to my sudden financial insecurity and hasty return to the world of pecking orders and cubicles, my self-worth has been, well, frequently challenged over the last few months.

The most beneficial and unexpected development, running counter to these obstacles, was D-league gay softball, which pretty much shocked me with how deeply and thoroughly it transformed my confidence, self-esteem, and overall world view. One season with the Lonestar Inferno and I now totally get why people go nuts over sports, and why teams inspire such bizarre devotion. A whole substring of the American vernacular opened up for me.

Even in the post-season, as I consoled my softball cravings with the Fall Ball’s pickup games, and as the Fireplug and I enjoyed a whole new sense of camaraderie, spending our days off playing catch or hitting the batting cages, that newer, stronger sense of confidence, so foreign but so welcome, carried me along in its sure, steady arms.

And as a ragtag division of our team convened – between rain-soaked weekends – for a couple of practices before the Sin City Shootout, a gay softball tournament that brought teams from all over the country to Las Vegas this past weekend, that confidence surged as I watched the balls I hit sail farther and farther into the outfield. I began to harbor secret fantasies of transforming, in the space of one year, from a guy who could reliably strike out every time he stepped up to bat, to a guy who could hit home runs.

And though I played poorly – addled by nerves- in our first game in Vegas, I began to redeem myself in the second, snagging a fly ball in right field. My next time at bat I exhaled, let a couple of bad pitches pass, then nailed the third. As I scurried towards first I could see, from the corner of my eye, the ball pass over the outfielder’s head and fall short of the fence. This was it, this was my first chance at a home run.

I ran as fast as my stiff, 39-year-old legs could go, and as I rounded second I locked eyes with our third-base coach, who gave me the sign to run for home. I could hardly believe it; I had never hit anything more than a single at games, and as I rounded third I could hear the growing roar of both teams as the ball and I both headed for home plate, where the catcher crouched in anticipation.

I should have slid, but to be honest with you I’m still green, and I thought my speed could carry me. Everything that followed took less than half a second, and in no discernible order. The ball sailed into the catcher’s mitt, and he rose just as I touched home plate, and I felt a low pain where we collided. I could not tell you at the time where our bodies met, only that the umpire cried, “He’s out!” and my team’s roar of outrage swelled around me as my heart fell and my lungs sucked for air.

A couple of guys in the stands questioned the call. “Good hit, number 20,” one of them called to me as I walked back into the pen. “Don’t worry about it, that was a home run,” my coach whispered in my ear, and the Fireplug hugged me with, I was touched to see, tears in his eyes. “You were robbed,” said a teammate, but I was too out of breath to answer.

As the minutes passed and my adrenaline waned, I could feel, with growing dread, a pain slowly consuming my wrist, and by the end of the game (we lost) I already knew the tournament was over for me. The Fireplug (who made me so proud with his stellar softball debut) and I went back and forth over our limited out-of-town-out-of-network health insurance options as my wrist and hand swelled and bruised. Ultimately he was placated by my assurances that it was only a sprain.

So it wasn’t until yesterday, two days later, that the doctor at Kaiser glanced at my x-rays and pointed to the rather long fracture in my distal radius, and hinted at the recovery, which stretched ahead of me several months, well into my team’s regular season.

So I am writing this to you with one hand and a brave if broken heart. Also with the dawning realization of what challenges exist for a one-armed man. Like button fly jeans after a restroom break at the firm. Also, if one more queen makes a fisting joke I will shove this cast up his….well, you know.

I grew up on TV and movies, and I still struggle, daily, to reconcile myself to the limits of real life, which is not like a Nike commercial. Sometimes you do not prevail. Sometimes you are clumsy and green and a split-second too slow. Sometimes you are called out. Real life is lived in the spaces after such times, when like a child you place your feet in your partner’s hands, so that he can tie your shoes.

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