For months I’d been haunted by the sense that I was losing access to what I cherished most about being alive, a private part of my being, the cramped, half-lit space under a trapdoor where I had spent so much of my adult life and perhaps my childhood too. It wasn’t until a night in late July, though, after I’d been walking around the city for five or six hours, when this feeling took over my body. I’d ended up in High Park at 3 or 4 am, like I had so many times, looking to cross paths with a stranger in the darkness. Sitting on the bleachers of the same little league diamond where I played as a kid for the High Park Braves, I began to feel this sense of loss expanding within my body. It was like a giant eraser, blanking out my feet and legs and groin, then traveling up through my spine and into my skull. I couldn’t move. For what could have been a millisecond or a decade, I was falling into a bottomless absence. Forever and ever, in all directions, falling into nothingness. Then, like I had just awoken from a dream, I was hovering between two worlds, wedges of light floating around me, until I was once again out in the thick summer night, sitting on the second row of the wooden bleachers, surrounded by the complex maze of manicured forests, fields, roads and trails of High Park.
Trying to gather myself back together, I lit a Belmont from the pack in my breast-pocket and stared out at the baseball diamond; it looked unchanged by time. Layers of night hovered over the rusty infield dirt; the outfield was a thick reptilian green in the darkness. I could see my lithe eleven-year-old body crouched between second and third base, a hand slapped into my black Wilson glove as I anticipated the next play. Just as quickly as the memory appeared, though, it was gone, and I felt its absence inside of me. I ashed my cigarette between a gap in the bleachers, watching the flakes dissipate and float towards the ground, wondering how many times I had conjured this ideal of boyhood, of my beautifully uniformed body frozen in a state of desire. Was it even a memory, I thought, a restored moment in time, or simply an expression of longing. The idea of longing, or perhaps the word itself, so close to ongoing, with its two tunnely os, brought to mind an image of a long and winding pipe through which memories flow. I tried again to see the boy playing short-stop, but I could not find him; there was only this pipe, curling and twisting throughout my insides, without a beginning or an end. The memories we have of ourselves, of our own bodies, are never our own, I thought. We can only see ourselves being seen. I have never actually seen my body. In the beginning, somebody else saw me, and from then on, I have only seen myself through their eyes. As my sight wandered beyond the baseball diamond, towards the giant trees that surround High Park, I could sense somebody standing behind the bleachers, scrutinizing my back in the darkness. Rather than twist around to see for myself, I stayed still, alert now with the jittery sensation of being watched. I needed to keep the eyes on my back, as if I were being held together by their anonymous glare.
I took another drag off my cigarette, staring at the inside of my wrist: the sheer animalness of it as it gave way to my palm and fingers, making me aware of the bigness, the hairiness of my adult body, its complex network of mechanics hunched forward on the bleachers. I felt, at that moment, as though I had stumbled into somebody else’s body by a mistake. I longed to return to my pure form. Hanging my head, I closed my eyes and saw the blurred outline of my father, ten or eleven years old, standing next to third base on a dusty old-fashioned diamond. He looked crewcut tough but underneath his posture I could sense the terror and weakness; the wicked voice telling him that he doesn’t belong, that his being here is a mistake, and it’s only a matter of time until everybody finds out what he’s really made of, a phrase that shoots a bullet of fear up his spine, what are you really made of, for the secret he holds closest to his chest is that he has no maker, he has never accepted his father to be his father, never believed that out of a single gasping excretion from that grim pipe-smoking Jew his body had been formed, it could not be, there is a glaring falsehood at the core of his creation, a fraud, a lie, and fear of being found out follows him everywhere he goes, fear of what made him, fear of what he’s made of.
I opened my eyes, the nighttime ballfield stretching out in front of me. Shut off floodlights loomed over each side of the diamond, as if pouring darkness down into the park. Behind the bleachers, I could feel the stillness of somebody else’s breath. I remembered a story my father had told my brother and I, so many times, almost to the point of myth, about how he’d got lucky during try-outs for his little league team in Lexington, Massachusetts: he’d squeezed his eyes shut, blindly swung his bat, and knocked a fastball out of the park, tricking the coach into thinking he had talents to offer the team. Once the season began, though, it soon became clear that he couldn’t reproduce that kind of swing and landed a permanent spot in the dugout. So far from my experience of little league, I thought, staring down at the cigarette burning between my index and middle finger. Not only had I made the team as starting short-stop, but the league had pushed me up into an older age group to play amongst boys much bigger than I was; boys who back then seemed to me in deformed states of growth, with limbs too long for their torsos and croaking, gangstery voices, like Alfie, our lanky first basemen whose beltline reached the same height as my chin. Alfie, I could see his name clearly, especially the proud A at the beginning, and noticed that I was now staring down at the bunchy, zippered triangle of denim between my spread thighs. I had the impulse to unzip my jeans, which immediately filled me with embarrassment, like I was covered in gaping holes. I crossed my legs, one thigh tightly squeezed over the other, trying to fold myself into a tidy, airless shape. I took a long deep drag from my cigarette; the smoke coursed through my chest and arms, up and down my legs, unifying my body into a single object. As long as I’m filled with smoke, I thought, I can hold onto this singularity; the smoke will keep me from splattering into thousands of pieces.
Instead of looking at the man’s face as he sat down beside me on the bleachers, I thought about the giant A between Alfie’s thighs, the outline of his jock pushing up against tight white baseball pants, and the voiceless pact between us, the way he distracted the other kids in the dugout, pointing their attention to some play out on the field, so I could sit there next to him and stare for a little while longer, lingering in my desire to touch what was underneath, if I could just hold it in my hand then I would know something about where I came from and where I was going. I stared down at the bulge underneath the man’s black track pants and wondered if this is what my eyes had done to Alfie so many years ago; if he had felt a pressure driving upwards against the plastic shell of his jock as I peeked over at him in the dugout. We were both so silent. I took one last drag from my cigarette, leaving only a delicate cylinder of ash balancing off the filter, which I desperately wanted to keep intact. Perhaps it was a slight gust of wind, though, that toppled the ash from the filter, sprinkling it onto my pants. This filled me with a sense of loss; I had the urge to cry. I didn’t brush the ash from my pants. I thought about lighting another cigarette, but it seemed too soon to move on from the one I had just smoked.
We were both so silent. He was short and bowling ball bald and I could see a few of his crooked teeth glowing in the darkness. Just like some kid, saying nothing. He had arrived where nobody could find him; there was no need to ask him anything, what he was hiding from, how he’d found me at this hour on the bleachers. Still holding the cigarette butt between my fingers – I could not bear to flick it away – I slipped my free hand under his track-pants; I felt eyes, ancient eyes, leaving my body, unsticking me from their vision. I wanted to see more of him, take stock of our aloneness. I pulled his trackpants and underwear down to his knees so that his thighs and hardon were out in the night air. For a moment I felt as if I were looking down at a vision of the future, the darkened hairy organ that I was still waiting to grow into; I thought about the way my father, in a single gasping excretion, had formed my body out of his desire, how in that moment thirty-six years ago I was a memory of his future, coursing through his body.
Even though it was no longer lit, I stuck the cigarette butt between my lips, still unable to depart with all it had given me. I wasn’t looking above the man’s waist, but I could feel the hunger with which he was staring at me, the night that he carries throughout the day flooding out of him, flooding out into High Park, out of every pore in his body, flooding over me, this man’s pent up nightness, flooding out of his eyes, out of his thighs, towards my body. The loss I began to feel, traveling up my legs and into my spine, as I took his cock in my hand, was now tangible. I was losing my father, an image of my father, smoking on these very bleachers, watching me play ball for the High Park Braves. I was losing his vision reaching towards my young body, smearing his childhood atop of mine, coating me in memories and feelings that long precede my birth; his loving eyes that from the very beginning never quite made it to my body. Or is it the child that pushes the father away, I thought, as the man wordlessly started undoing my zipper, his fingers thick with desire. Is it the child that refuses the love of the father, the child that keeps the night inside, building a fortress of privacy that no parent can reach; the child that does not believe in the very act of his creation, that bodies make other bodies, and so becomes his own creator, inking himself into the layers of the unknowable night.
I took my cigarette butt from my lips, held it between my fingers for a few moments, then flicked it away, towards the chainmail fence behind home-plate. I felt so full of loss, I was losing everything. I closed my eyes. The man’s fingers were now against the back of my neck, his antsy strength pushing me closer to the centre of his body. I put a hand down on the bleachers to keep balance and felt the coarse wooden surface warm against my skin.
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