ENJOY THE SILENCE

ENJOY THE SILENCE

 

 

April, with its watery eyes and cherubic yawns, ushered in an unconvincing spring that year. Habitually late to the warmer seasons, Worcester County often manages to preserve winter’s morning frosts and gelid gusts until late May. Considering their frequency, such stillborn springs ought to be expected by residents, but are, without fail, met with indignation each year. The blushing hope for a racket of blossoms and shoots quickly turns ashen, leaving only the pale quietness of unnamed transition. These seasonal in-betweens promise a sudden detonation. If spring does not come to Massachusetts, summer surely will. And when she arrives, she will burst like a colossal thunderclap, rupturing the ground into a hot bouquet of yellow, green, and red.

My brother took the pitcher’s mound on a particularly raw day that April. The week prior, he had promised himself to Tulane University by signing a contract and theatrically placing a Green Wave baseball cap on his head. It was all very official—and not unlike a papal appointment, albeit a Skoal-sponsored, Gatorade-anointed one. Men in specific hats and color combinations made their decisions behind closed doors. For Peter, the smoke signal was unsurprisingly starchy white. At eighteen, he stood six feet and five inches tall and could throw a fastball over ninety miles an hour. Being both forgetful and of poor sight, Peter often forewent contacts, ascending the hill wearing sleek metal framed glasses. The sight of him, which culminates in peppered freckles and offshoots of red hair, was, without flattery, unforgettable. Even in the loud crack of an opponent’s hit, Peter looked powerful, exhibiting a reptilian stillness that comes only to those who are able to invent silence, to quiet their mind and, in the same instant, quiet the field.

Originally scheduled for late March, the game had been repeatedly postponed on account of bad weather. Our high school’s outdoor diamond stood buried up to its chain-link neck in what I call wet-diaper snow—a kind of precipitate that most closely resembles oversaturated sodium polyacrylate (the stuff they put in Pampers and Pull-Ups). When a wet diaper snowflake hits the ground, you can hear its dendrite sprigs make landfall with a sludgy whump. This sound, although Lilliputian, is strikingly similar to that of a falling man as he meets cement. After a night of this kind of snow, the gentle noises of the morning are muffled by the accumulation, leaving only the sound of cracking branches as they snap beneath white weight. Covered by this species of snow, the field was left undisturbed.

Although I do not recall the opposing team’s name, I am certain that their school colors were black and white. I am sure of this because it struck me as unusual. Against the hectic blue and gray pinstripes of the home team, the visitors appeared visually coherent. As the first monochrome batter reached the plate, the sky opened slightly, letting out a drizzling rain. Icy water began pooling atop the slick aluminum bleachers, helping to soak the numb backsides of spectating parents. As a brand-new sixteen-year-old with a budding hatred for adult-style small talk, I positioned myself far away from the parents, choosing instead to stand alone on the first-base line. I told myself and other inquirers that I could see Peter better from there, but this was a false explanation. In truth, I wanted to be one less mouth in the crowd, separate from the conglomerate chatter that my brother so diligently silenced with each pitch.

Peter and the visiting pitcher chipped away the first five innings. By the top of the sixth, the score stood zero to zero. A home team parent shouted, “The bats are dead!” before returning his attention to a wet, half-eaten Slim Jim. This low-scoring standoff is what baseball people call a “pitchers’ duel.” Like most sports-related terms, the “pitchers’ duel” is decidedly misleading. The excitement and conflict associated with the word “duel” is not at all relevant here. In fact, this is perhaps one of the most boring occurrences in baseball, a sport that is generally considered slow even in its most climactic moments. Regardless of the monotony, I chose to keep watching from the sidelines. To me, boring baseball is charmed. I want to know how the wave breaks. I want to hear the bat crack, to see the ball rip through the breath-bated diamond, bursting the crowd’s soporific bubble.

Peter took the mound again, and a bored hush dusted the field.

Warming up for the sixth, he kicked up dirt like a cleated bull in a ritualistic attempt to get his footing right. He rubbed chalk into his right hand, spit onto the pitcher’s plate, and then adjusted his hat (left to right) before securing his glove. The whole world seemed stalled, pickling between innings, between seasons. From my position at the field’s edge, I watched Peter silently compose himself, carrying out his micro-rituals one by one. To the uninitiated, these slight gestures were mere twitches. But each scratch of the nose or reorientation of the ball was intentional. Like most talented athletes, Peter could not accept that his sport was one of chance, that no amount of focus or practice could promise him the game.

I glanced down at an island of unmelted snow, noting that the grass surrounding it seemed greener than the rest. The blades which still managed to touch the island’s icy lip looked like skinny green waves, rolling towards a grey beach. While I was imagining seashores, Peter delivered an unusually slow fastball. The batter swung in perfect time, resulting in the clear and unmistakable thunder of a line drive. I looked up to see the play, but instead saw my brother lying crumpled on the left side of the mound like a giant pinstriped snowflake. His hat had come off, exposing his strawberry hair, which pulsed with the unmistakable scarlet of blood. I heard the Slim Jim eater scream, “Is he dead? Is the boy dead?” A deafening ring robbed me of my hearing. The uniformed bodies of referees and coaches charged the mound, only to wave each other away in an effort to give the body space. The deployed players, including the black and white batter, took the customary knee. Several of the boys buried their faces into their mitts to cry. The center fielder planted his head directly into the wet grass. From my vantage point, I could see Peter’s face balloon into thick purples. Like dogs to buried bones, the involved mothers trotted towards their sons, digging them up from the clay. Blue and red undulating lights would soon be cast over the diamond.

Peter was in the kitchen, high on oxycodone. A week had passed since the game, and he stared blankly into his third vanilla milkshake of the day. The ball struck his face low enough to miss his temple and eyes, and high enough to avoid his windpipe. A centimeter in either direction would have resulted in blindness, brain damage, or death; he was struck miraculously in between. In exchange for such luck, Peter’s jaw, molars, and wisdom teeth were shattered. To heal his newly crumbled jaw, his mouth would need to be wired for about four months. He would also need to undergo a handful of other invasive surgeries, some dental and some plastic. To complete these procedures, his mouth would be unwired and rewired repeatedly. During this time, Peter roamed aimlessly about the house, wearing a pair of wire cutters around his neck. In the event of projectile vomit, accidental tongue swallowing, or some other choking emergency, the wire cutters would have allowed us to pry open his mouth. Ultimately, they would only ever be used as improvised nail clippers.

Healing and rotting are often difficult to distinguish; the bruise serves as exemplary evidence. Peter’s purple welts thawed into deathly yellows and greens. A yellowing bruise is a bruise on the mend. Yellow signifies the breakdown of hemoglobin and the subsequent production of biliverdin. Soon the biliverdin will also disintegrate, producing bilirubin, an even yellower yellow. Knowing this, however, does not make a face full of biliverdin and bilirubin sit well. These are unsettling hues, but they ought to be welcomed like benevolent ghosts in sepia. Healing is perhaps one of the worst liminalities; the twin thresholds of improvement and decline can be crossed in sleep. It was imperative that Peter did not sneeze, cough, laugh, sob, or otherwise panic. It was imperative that he kept his mind quiet.

Peter and I share conjoining bedrooms, which converge through our respective closets. As kids, we would often use the in-between space to secretly eat stale Halloween candy, trade Pokémon cards, and chaperone hermit-crab playdates after our bedtimes. It was a particularly convenient place to hide out and discuss impish business, which perhaps reached its peak when we unveiled The Toad Hotel, a series of stacked boxes where we kept recently caught toads before releasing them. Throughout Peter’s healing months, I often stood at the threshold of our closets to listen for his breathing. On the nights in which I was unable to hear it, I would go down the hall to his bedroom door and crack it open. I often found him sitting up with tears running over his broken, freckled face. In lieu of speaking, I gestured towards his video game collection. We muted the television to avoid being caught by the involved parent a few doors down. Sometimes we would sit and play all night, leaving traces of synthetic light to seep out from under his bedroom door.

By the end of the fourth month, Peter had lost over thirty pounds and his acceptance to Tulane had been rescinded. Massachusetts skipped over the tulips and the crocuses, going straight for summer’s purple-throated irises. The usual chickadees and bluebirds who gorge themselves on suburban feeders didn’t bother to sing until June.

 
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