A Major Success|
Book 6 of Outside the Foul Lines
by Rick Beck
"Andy's Life, Do's Eyes"
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The drive out of Louisville was easy in the middle of the day. I couldn't wait to get home to stay. It had been a long season and the rest would do me good. Being with Andy would make me feel better about the difficulties we faced.
"How is he?" I asked, as I came into the house the day after the Louisville season ended.
"He looks terrible. He's lost more weight, J. D. I talked to the doctors at school. They shake their heads and tell me, 'it'll run its course, son.' What the hell is run its course? Horses run courses."
"I don't know, Harold. How is school?"
"Fine. Dr. Joy is letting me in the operating room during his operations. That's cool. You ever see what's inside the human body, J. D.?"
"No, can't say I have. Not much of that in baseball. You're only a second year, Harold. You haven't started premed yet. I didn't think you had any medical classes."
"I'm taking anatomy and some premed courses. My brain was going to atrophy from the boring classes they had me in. Dr. Joy had some premed added to the mundane crap they enrolled me in."
"You like those?"
"It's great, J. D. I get to hang with doctors. Dr. Joy stops and talks to me a couple of times a week. I mean he talks to me, man to man, J. D. We have coffee together," Harold said proudly. "He's a surgeon, and he talks to me. When I'm a surgeon, I'm not talking to anyone."
"You're what, nineteen? I just learned to tie my shoes."
"I was nineteen six months ago, J. D. I'm almost twenty now."
"You're nineteen and a half. Don't try to speed things UP. You'll wonder where the time went to one day. What's the mower doing in the front yard?"
"I tried to tell you, A. G. is seriously sick. He said he was going out to mow right after I got here. He started it up and came around the side of the house. It's as far as he got. A couple minutes later he was back in the house.
"Said he needed to lay down for a few minutes. That was hours ago. It's that chemo."
"He had a treatment yesterday afternoon. He was fine all weekend and at the game the night before last. He was helping Coach Bell do his job. I don't think Coach Bell needs any help."
"Dude's freaky. Just looks at you like he's reading the inside of your head or something," Harold said.
"He deals in player's brains, you might say. How about putting the mower away before you head back to school. I flood it every time I try to start it. I want to go up and see about Andy. He was so good this weekend, I hoped it would be easier on him this time."
"He isn't all right now," Harold said. "I didn't bother him because it annoys him when I see him getting sick."
"You understand I'd sit and talk, but I want to go up and see what I can do. Oh, how's the gas?"
"I always need gas when I drive here."
"You know where the key is. Fill it up and make sure you lock the pump and put the key back. Andy'll have a fit if he has to look for that key again."
"Maybe just give me some cash. I'll buy it on the way back," Harold said. "That way I can't lose the key."
"No, you go pump it out of our tank. Andy gets a good price on gas because he did a commercial for the guy who runs the gas company. That's how we got our own pump."
"You still don't trust me with money, do you? Why not?"
"I was nineteen. Believe it or not, it wasn't all that long ago. If you need gas, take all you want. You get plenty of money out of A. G…, Andy. I'm not giving you any. I'm going upstairs to see what I can do."
"Don't see there is much anyone can do. He's sick. He'll do better when this series of treatment ends," Harold said. "I hate seeing A. G. like that. I know it isn't because he's weak. It's because he's sick. I don't have to be in premed to know the difference. Maybe this will be the last of it," Harold said, thinking out loud.
"He wants to be a good roll model. Tossing his cookies isn't his idea of being manly. He just started back with the chemo. It's going to run until the end of October This time."
"You guys didn't make the playoffs?" Harold asked.
"No, we didn't make it. We need one more starter and maybe some relief help. A good hitter wouldn't hurt, as long as he isn't a shortstop," I said, forgetting Harold wasn't sure what he was talking about. "I'm going to be upstairs for a while. You be okay?"
"J. D., I see you once or twice a month. I think I can get through the afternoon, but thanks," Harold said, issuing one of his few smiles.
"Wise ass," I said, heading for the stairs. "Please put the mower away. Andy will fret if he thinks that damn thing is out all night. I'd hate to see him have to make a choice between that mower and me."
It was early afternoon and all my business in Louisville was done. My next obligation to the team would be in March. If I did my own conditioning, I'd meet the team in spring training after the first two weeks of intense physical conditioning for the young guys.
Coach Bell told me to take all the time I needed and if I needed to be with Andy, he'd expect me on opening day, in playing condition and in a baseball frame of mind. The treatments were to end after one more round in early December. We planned on Andy being in spring training with Pittsburgh, or possibly back to Indianapolis, until the arm was back to full strength.
We were all men of baseball and we knew what was expected and how far we could push the boundaries. Coach Bell would work with me if something came up. He hadn't approached management with the idea of a limited role for me next season. He wanted to avoid it if we could.
Andy was better for the last month. He spent most of his time in Louisville with me. I was here for him now and Andy didn't need to do anything he didn't want to do. Eating would no longer be a choice between fixing something for himself to eat or not fixing it if he was too sick.
I'd cook things he'd had some success with keeping down and his only decision would be if he wanted to eat it or not, but it would be there if he felt up to it. Even when he was feeling good while he was with me in Louisville, he didn't regain any of the weight he'd lost. His one hundred and eight five pound playing weight was down in the one hundred and sixty pound range. It didn't look good on Andy.
I would drive him to and from his treatments unless Andy wanted to drive. It was all planned out in my head. It's all I thought about the last few days.
I'd had a pretty good season. My batting average surged to nearly .260, which was monumental for me. I'd won two games by bunting and I'd walked sixteen more times this season than last season, while having thirty fewer turns at the plate. My on base average was substantially improved and now I was home to stay.
I slipped my shoes off at the door to the bedroom. Andy laid with his back to me, facing the windows, the spot where he always slept. I eased over to the bed and let myself down easy so I didn't disturb his sleep. I wrapped my arms around him to pull him up against me.
"We'll need to make it quick. My husband will be home soon," Andy said unconvincingly.
"Your husband is home," I said.
"Shit! I been busted," Andy said.
"How you doing, babe?"
"I think I'm fine until I try to get up and then I want to puke. I took two sips of coffee with Harold and I threw up twice after that. Then I was just plain sick. I hate being like this."
"Oh, babe, I'm sorry," I said, kissing the back of his neck. "It's only a little while longer."
"Hell, you didn't have anything to do with it. My beef's with god. He's the guy that gets his jollies tormenting us. I'd like to take a poke at the guy."
"I'll hold you until you feel better," I promised.
"We'll starve," Andy said.
"Maybe Harold will bring us up some food every week or so. He's very worried about you."
"Did he tell you he was in the operating room?"
"He's quite a kid, Andy."
"Kid, he's a man. He's nearly as big as me."
"He's nineteen. I was nineteen. He's a kid."
"I tried to tell him I was fine, but he wasn't buying it. I was selling it until I turned green. You can't lie to someone about feeling fine, while you turn green. I wonder why that is? I must look pretty gross to him."
"He cares about you and he worries. He still can't talk about his feelings but he does express concern for you."
"Do, I do love you so. I want to show you, but I can't. I can't do much more than keep breathing and that hurts sometimes."
"That's all you need to do. I'll do the rest. I'll do everything that needs doing and you do whatever it takes to get better, my love. My life isn't worth a damn without you in it, Andy. You get better and leave the rest to me. I'll carry the weight now. You rest and soon it will all be behind you."
I held Andy close to me and let my warmth warm him. He didn't move a muscle. His breathing told me when he was asleep. I never cried if he was awake. I wouldn't let him see me cry but I cried when he slept. My body finally gave in to the truth about our lives. I hurt because he hurt. I was sick over him being sick. I prayed it would be over soon.
We'd each lived inside of baseball and baseball was our lives. We met playing ball and grew into men playing it. I'd watched Andy become the cornerstone of his team. Each season was better than the season that came before. Andy was in the bigs and he'd gotten his first seven figure contract. He was rising to the top of the game. People began to recognize his name in the parks he visited around the major league.
First he was Rookie of the Year. He led his team in homers and runs batted in that year. A year later he led the league in home runs, was second in runs batted in, and he was the Most Valuable Player for Pittsburgh. He ran third in league voting for Most Valuable Player. Andy was in the big time doing big things.
I wasn't sure what would happen. An athlete who went down as his career was peaking might never play as well again. Andy didn't think he was good, he was good. He climbed the ladder a rung at a time to get to where the big time power hitters roam.
It was all gone in one fateful swing of the bat his season was over. What he could reclaim of his career depended on keeping the arm. Then he had to get strong enough to play, but first he had to keep his food down.
I knew the broken bone went straight from Andy's arm to his heart. That's where the break was doing the most damage. Andy came to every game I played, after his first series of treatments was over.
Being an athlete gave Andy a toughness that wouldn't allow him to quit. There was no way he'd give in to the disease. He'd fight it every step of the way. Even when the treatments took everything out of him, he stayed determined.
I was satisfied by holding Andy, but I longed to recover the rich sexual life we shared. Spending weeks and sometimes a month or more a part during the baseball season, meant when we met and had the time, and a place, to bed down, we had sex until it was time to part again. It was those days that made it all worthwhile.
I slept for a few minutes. I remembered Andy liked tomato soup and crackers. If he was outside, working in the cold, he loved piping hot soup when he came in from doing chores. He was always cold while he was having chemo.
It was simple, easy, and satisfying. I wanted to heat some soup and keep it warm until Andy was awake. Ever so slowly, I untangled myself from him, slipping out of the bedroom, and I went down stairs. The idea of doing something for Andy made me feel better.
Harold had gone. He'd come home after I called him at school to tell him I had business in Louisville before I could leave for home. I suspected Andy would be having a rough day, after his latest treatment the day before. I didn't need to ask Harold to drive down. He said he would before I got that far.
Harold was closer to Andy than he was to me. They shared a sparse childhood. Andy hardly ever spoke of his childhood, except for stories about ball. Harold likewise passed over that subject. He'd adopted us the first year we were in the house. When he found out he was always welcome with us, he began staying for longer periods, until we took custody of him.
The arrangement wasn't discussed. We were just three people looking out for each other and when Andy and I were gone, Harold was able to take care of himself. He was already motivated in school and began to excel once becoming a doctor was discussed with him by Andy, who was beginning to bank big bucks, and so he set up a fund for Harold's college.
When he was told the money was available for his college, Harold said it was the first time he felt like he had a family and belonged somewhere. He wasn't good with verbalizing his feelings but you picked up his feelings by listening to the things that concerned him.
Anything to do with love or gratitude came in the form of him wanting to be helpful any time he could. He didn't know he was saying he had love for us, but we knew it's what he was saying.
We never did that much. Harold had almost raised himself. His problem was he had become quite independent and at fourteen and fifteen, the powers that be don't want to hear how independent some kid is. Harold was and he took care of the house like it was his own, because it was. He spent more time here than we did. By fifteen Harold was almost a man, working to graduate high school a year early. Each time I saw him he looked more mature.
As I stirred the tomato soup, I remembered the time Andy wanted to play catch with Harold, his nearly grown new son. Harold didn't get the point of playing ball, but it was ball that would pay his way through medical school. What he knew about baseball was that Andy and I played. The day Andy went to play catch with him, he threw the ball to Harold, who let it bounce on the ground before picking it up.
He threw the ball back in Andy's vicinity. He was gone by the time Andy went to retrieve the ball. I laughed as I saw it play over in my mind. Harold didn't get it.
I heard the kitchen door open as I stirred the soup.
"What's that smell," Andy asked.
"I was hoping it wouldn't make you sick," I said.
"It's tomato soup, isn't it?"
"That's what it is," I said.
"Smells nice. I think I want a spoon or two if you made enough for both of us."
"Babe, there's plenty more where this came from."
He sounded okay. I put a bowl of steaming soup down in front of him, but he wasn't going to start until I sat down with a bowl. We were soon facing each other across the table. It was a good place to be.
"I'm home until spring training," I said.
"Me too," he said confidently.
I put my hand on top of his hand. He looked at me and he looked at my hand. When he lifted my hand off his, he kissed it, sending a chill through me. Just looking at him thrilled me. I was the luckiest man in the world and I only wished I could be sick for him and take away the misery his life had become.
Not only was the most important thing in his life taken away from him, but he was made sick by the treatment that they hoped would save his arm. It hardly seemed fair.
"I would have given up ball, after that year I spent away from you. I would have quit if they told me it was always going to be that way. You know that, don't you?" he said, looking at my eyes.
"You would never have had to spend another year away from me. I'd have gone to wherever you were, Andy. You always had a career in ball. I had Coach Bell trying to find a way to keep me in ball."
"I know, but I needed you more than I need ball. I still do, Do."
"That's the sweetest thing you've ever said to me, babe."
"I want you to know that. I want you to remember it. I know you think ball is the most important thing in my life, but ball isn't forever. Ball is my occupation and I do love… playing," he said, after thinking about the word he wanted to use. "As long as I have you, Do, I'll be okay. I want to keep the arm. I want to be in ball. I want to go back and pick up where I left off, but when considering all of it, being with you has always come first, since that year when we couldn't hold each other at night."
"Andy, no matter what happens, my love for you is why I'm alive. Nothing else holds a candle to you. I'll do anything I can to see to it you do play ball again. It's what you do, Andy. It's what you were born to do and baseball won't be baseball to me, until you're back in it."
Andy took some soup, holding it in his mouth before daring to swallow it. I watched him to see if his face turned gray and he looked sour, but he looked fine. Between teaspoons of soup, he let the spoon rest in the bowl. Each bite was a separate meal. Each spoonful was a journey into the unknown. This was going to be how it was, until the chemo therapy ended.
For now neither of us wanted anything more than for him to get this bit of soup down without it coming back up. Our goals had been reduced to him keeping enough nourishment down not to starve. I encouraged him by eating my soup, a spoonful at a time, never hurrying.
I sat my spoon down in the bowl, after I took some, acting as his guide, showing him how easy it was for me to eat the soup. He reached for the spoon, took another bite, and let it rest in the bowl once he swallowed.
His color looked fine. His expression was tentative. He seemed to be analyzing the flavor of the soup.
"Compliments to the chef," he said. "It taste nice."
"I owe all my culinary skills to Mr. Campbell and Mrs. Smith," I joked.
Andy smiled, reaching for his spoon. He'd try just one more spoonful and I would be there every step of the way.
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