I lob the baseball to my dad. We both windmill our right arms, trying to loosen tight muscles. As we warm up, we back away from each other a little farther, and we throw the ball a little harder. Back and forth - the repetition is broken only occasionally by a badly thrown ball. They force us to reach, or go into the neighbor’s yard, or run down the street.
Dad is close to six-feet and around 200 pounds: Goliath proportions to a child. He is handsome, and his hair is now silver with age. A mustache, a ready grin or grimace, eyes that twinkle or dart and knife - my dad. His arms are strong and corded from a lifetime of pipefitting. Freckles tattoo his arms, and on one arm the freckles are divided by a pale snake of a scar. A small gap greets you between his front teeth.
Spring and fall, joy and sadness, laughter and anger, summer and winter - words that frame the man. The seasons of his mood turn, catching up us mortal children in their hungry and full embrace. He makes me laugh. He makes me cry. He moves across the landscape of my life, a god who crouches to enjoy me, accidentally crushing me. He kills my spirit and raises it.
He roused in the morning pre-volcanic; his rumblings hinted danger. I remember him wrapped in his robe and shuffling into the kitchen in the thin, threadbare thing. It was tied tightly below his full belly and hung loosely around his bird legs. He made the coffee and lots of noise. As if daring someone to hear him, he clanged around the kitchen, making fried eggs and bacon for breakfast, or a fried-egg sandwich for lunch. Many mornings I would wake up, my bedroom being closest to the kitchen, and hear my mom’s whispering and my dad’s rumbling. Reflected fluorescent light from over the sink cast dim shadows through my opened bedroom door and onto my far wall. After breakfast, he would sit in his chair hunched over his big, brown-leather King James Bible. Sometimes he nodded. His hair was crazed like Einstein’s or Kramer’s or John the Baptist’s.
It was with some caution that I interacted with him. I enjoyed his presence, his voice, his laugh, and his animation. But I always guarded myself; one word could set him off. I remember the eruptions. I remember the thundering voice and the phone ripped from the jack and still hurtling across that room. I remember my mom shoved against a wall, crying, while my dad screamed into her face as into a well, Do you think you can tell me what to do? I remember the vulnerable, weak, and frightened children. There were so many eruptions. His fiery anger blistered everyone in its path. My heart is scarred. If you come close enough, you can still smell the fire.
When I became older, I found myself purposely throwing badly: I threw the ball over his head so that he would have to run down the road to retrieve it. I threw the ball toward the ground so that it would hop angrily.
Time, age, and education enabled me. Empowered, I became the tyrant and he became the child. I grew angry at his anger, I grew impatient with his impatience, and I grew haughty in my knowing. A despot, my gracelessness raged. An unmerciful judge, I stood stone-faced, watching him, secretly waiting for the moment to displace Cronus.
In my soul, deep in my soul, I yearn for another fire to burn away the tinder and stubble of my heart. I yearn for a fire that brings new life to this old forest. I want to die in it. I want to be reborn in it. Tennis matches; roller coaster rides with hands high and eyes wide; long talks; an all-nighter of Star Wars, sodas, and salty snacks; prayer; playing Catch - I want us to be proven in that fire.
“Do you want to play Catch, Dad?” I will throw true and straight throws that land solidly in the glove.