When I was a boy, I desperately wanted to be. A boy.
I wasn’t sure I counted as one. Boys were tall, I was short. Boys were wiry, I was chubby. Boys played sports, I sang songs. Now, I loved the singing, and that was part of the problem. Choir, recital, the children’s chorus at the opera—that was my zone. But it didn’t seem very macho.
I played some sports. Just not very well. Always a defenceman in soccer (since there was no hope of my scoring), my signature move was making the opposing forwards knock me over. In street hockey, I imitated the cool way the other boys—boys—dragged their sticks along the asphalt; and pretended I knew what they meant by things like “slapshot” and “Kenny save.” Playing football, I was delighted to discover I could actually tackle. Maybe I wasn’t quite as wimpy as I thought? But I caught few passes, and threw none.
The athletic height of my boyish ambition, though, was baseball. This was popular in the Vancouver of the 1970s (in some ways, a more Americanized place than it has since become). More importantly, my idyllic West Side neighbourhood had a Little League tradition, organized by parents and sponsored by local businesses. The players wore real uniforms, just like on the baseball cards we traded. They chewed gum, blew bubbles, and popped them on their faces. The crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd, the dust of the slide—boy stuff! I craved to be a part of it with every inch of my little being.
When I was still T-ball age, I won a coveted position as “bat boy” on my older brother’s team. (He was a better boy than I.) As tensely as a Doberman, I waited for our hitter to drop his bat so I could rush out and retrieve it. Once, I got so excited that I sprang into action to grab a bat from the other team. I will relive that embarrasment in my last moments.
And then: I was old enough. Spring came. I went out for Little League. Got placed on a team. Received a uniform. Bought bubble gum. Became a boy.
Except that I was terrible at it. My hitting was ok. No home runs ever came off my bat, but I got some respectable line drives, and regularly got on base. My problem was fielding. The coach, bless him, usually put me in left field, but even there I sometimes had to catch a fly ball which needless to say I did not. The whirling white rock in the air, so high, so fast—all I could really do was hold up my glove and hope. Frankly, I was glad as long as it missed me. My teammates, boy boys to a man, were not.
So the dream became a bit of a nightmare. I decided I wouldn’t go out for Little League again. Would just have to focus on tackle football for my boy hood. Until one beautiful inning when a ball came flying out at me, and I tracked it and judged it and ran for it, and by some miracle, caught it.
The sock of the leather! Roar of the crowd! Respect of the team! Praise of the coach!
I don’t remember if we won that game, but I do remember that I didn’t care. I had redeemed myself. Done something I didn’t think I could. Opened up the possibility that maybe, maybe, I could actually become what I was. I rode my bike home—and it was, I remember, a brilliant, flowery day—with my heart full of sunshine.
But as I locked up my bike, and ran inside to tell my mother how well I had done, she turned to me from polishing the furniture, and instantly I could see her frantic desperation, and that during my game, although she had been fine when I left, she had worked herself into one of her apocalyptic emotional meltdowns, the characteristics of which were hysterical distress, incoherent lament, and intense, spitting, abusive rage, and then I was crying in the basement feeling like not a boy.