Crash never did ask me to go with him when he left.
I told myself a woman should be strong enough that these things don’t affect her everyday life, that she should be independent so the actions of a man would not impress upon her such a sentiment of regret and downright reclusiveness but indignation in the face of her treatment at his hands, so to speak, but in the end I just missed the stupid ass. I hated that I missed him, till I hated missing him, till I came so close to believing that I actually hated him that in the evening by candlelight and thinking of him it could’ve so easily been true. There was no real heat in the notion, of course, ‘cause I still loved him and while love never by necessity precludes hate, I loved him so the hate fizzled out of me come morning.
He went to Salem for the next season and that made sense, I guess. They needed a coach and he needed a job, a job to keep him at the ballpark all day each damn day ‘cause of all the men I’ve ever know – and ‘tween you and me it’s more than a lady should admit to if she’s unaware quite how to navigate the moral ambiguities of our time – Crash Davis was meant for baseball. Millie’s told me more than once that she could just as easy see him working down on the used car lot, said he’d make a great salesman ‘cause people trusted him, but the idea of Crash in a cheap new polyester suit selling cheap old run-down Pontiacs made me laugh and made me cringe and made me just a little sad right around the edges.
Maybe she was right, though; when Jimmy bust up his knee right in the middle of the best season he’d ever played, he went right on into selling life insurance and he’d never seemed happier just ‘cause he still had her. They’ve got two kids now, girls, unidentical twins but both just as blonde and pretty as their ma and pa. Still, Millie and Jimmy never did struggle with the fundamental existential reasoning of life and being and human existence, even if I guess they seem happier for it.
They loved him out in Salem but that’s never seemed like something Crash wanted, needed or had trouble bringing on himself even if he’d hate to try. It was a hard season, so I heard, but while the Bulls were struggling to find some substitute for Nuke’s million dollar arm, Salem’s squad at least had a little depth and a little talent. They didn’t break any records but their hits looked solid and reading the box scores in snatches while the kids in English 101 read Robert Frost, things were looking pretty good for Crash. I had tears or maybe just the goddamn chalk dust in my eyes as I talked about stress and metaphor and meter and the essential truth of poetry. But I didn’t cry for him, or because of him.
When Crash got those boys playing as a team a season later, I’ll bet that was a sight to behold. Those first few games when they ceased their worry and played the game with joy, when their hometown fans started to believe the wins were more than dumb luck – though of course luck is just the universe coming into alignment right over home plate and not some hokey superstition, I would’ve liked to’ve seen their faces. I wondered if Crash celebrated, in public or in private, a glass of scotch in his boxers in front of the sports news or in a bar with the Salem boys. I wondered if he was drinking more, if he was drinking less, if he’d found a better place to live than his old Durham apartment with the stained carpets and the catch that never really caught. I wondered if he missed me, if he’d found a girl to share his bed, if he still switch hit in the cages to blow off steam.
And then he started sending postcards from the road. Postcards of the Carolinas aren’t postcards of a French chateau but there’s a good honest beauty to the little old towns and the trees and oddball local attractions that I started to find endearing after I’d torn up the first two and burned the third. At first he didn’t so much as sign his name and I got so angry I knocked the centrepiece right off the dining table and had to put it all back together before Jimmy and Millie and her folks arrived for dinner. I burned the damn peach cobbler, cursed the day I met Crash Davis and swore to myself that I was going to set right about getting over him. Right after dinner.
Another card dropped into my mailbox just two days later and my solemn resolution started to seem a little phoney. Crash’s always surprisingly lucid scrawl covered the back of his postcard from Greensboro, right in the middle of their four game series. I meant to tear it up and throw it in the trash with apple peel and coffee grounds and kitty litter but somehow it found its way clear through the house to my nightstand. I read it with a stiff drink in one hand and the card in the other, the soft pad of my thumb tracing the lines he wrote. A hotel room, he said. Hours on the bus, stiff knees in the rain from all those years behind the plate. He was tired and he loved his work.
He didn’t say that he was sorry, didn’t say he missed me or he loved me. I didn’t care; the fact of his writing was everything I needed to know. I was giddy until the gin was gone then a kind of calm swept me as I slipped the card into an over-full drawer and closed my eyes to sleep.
The cards didn’t cease arriving. I came home from the ballpark or the college or the store, I came home from the library or from babysitting the twins and there’d be a card there waiting. I kept them till later, saved them, told myself I didn’t look forward to them all day long ‘cause I swear I never did once I was sure they weren’t going to stop just as sudden as they started. I was never dependent on anybody but me for my own happiness. ‘Course that never meant it couldn’t be enhanced by another’s actions, just it’s ultimately for me to take responsibility for my wellbeing.
The cards came all season long, but when the season was through Crash didn’t come back. I guess in the end I half expected the son of a bitch to show up on my porch one rainy afternoon just like he had before, even if I knew he wouldn’t’ve quit the game this time. He’s a good coach and I can’t say I’d advocate his quitting and that’s not even ‘cause I know how downright irritating ex-ballplayers get when they’ve quit the game they love. My life went on apace, of course, though I’ll admit I checked the mailbox with a frequency a little more than usual. I sighed a little more and read a little more but I was reasonably sure the cards from Crash would pick right back up with the start of a new season.
They did, just like I’d thought they would. I was seeing a guy by then, a teacher from the high school I met at the ballpark. He was the kind of uncomplicated that I thought I might’ve needed but I guess my life needs just a few complications every now and then and I found out real soon that even if you meet a guy at the ballpark it’s not guaranteed that you won’t have to explain designated hitters when you accidentally find yourself talking about the major league pitcher you used to date. It lasted a couple of months, maybe three, probably ‘cause I was teaching him about the game like I used to teach the boys from the ball club. I was getting too old for that, not that a woman should be too old for her own happiness but I never saw myself screwing around with the Durham Bulls till I hit forty. Forty-five, fifty, sixty even. I guess I never saw myself at sixty at all if I really tell the truth of it.
Crash sent a card from Wilmington and as I read it that night, in bed, I knew what I had to do. It wasn’t even what he’d said that made me pack a bag and get into the fall-apart Volvo but something kinda snapped or maybe fell into place like the universe came into alignment at that one perfect moment. I drove out to Salem, got lost along the way but guys in bars can be so obliging to a woman when she knows her own mind and the effect the tilt of a hip and a hint of a smile will have on a guy who’s imbibed a little too much Bud after a hard day’s work. I’d had the address safely stowed away in my pocketbook for almost a year and as I drew up to the curb I guess I wondered for a moment if he’d moved or if I’d find him in bed with a girl but I marched right on up to the door anyways.
Crash answered the door. He paused, then he smiled and I found I was smiling right back despite myself.
When he left, he left a note. I was so pissed that he’d done it for a second time that I barely read the darn thing, tossed it in a kitchen drawer, changed my mind and tossed it in the trash. I don’t know why it was so unexpected ‘cause we’d talked about him leaving, talked about a house in Salem, talked about how he’d need a strong pitcher ‘cause Salem’s catcher was a fresh green rookie with an attitude. We’d talked about me going with him, finding a school where I could teach them poetry and all the possibilities of the English language. Maybe I’d write a little, listening to the game on the radio while they were out on the road. I’m pretty sure Crash was teasing when he said my crazy theories could make a book, but I kinda liked the idea.
Still, I was scared. In the end I was scared and he wasn’t and he didn’t ask me to go with him. I guess he didn’t think he needed to and as I stood there on his porch I realised he never had needed to. I’m responsible for my own happiness, for my own actions, for my ultimate destiny and for those intervening years I should’ve known I should’ve been there, with him, for me. Salem’s not so far away. It was never so big a change as I’d imagined. He’d bought a house big enough for two.
“What took you so long?” he said, stepping aside, letting me in.
I just laughed and went up on tiptoe, buried my head in the crook of his neck right there in the doorway and the neighbours in his quiet little suburb be damned. He smelled the same, the bastard, felt just as warm as he wrapped his arms around me. He was just the same.
He never asked me to go with him, but all the while his intentions were clear. In the end, I just needed to give myself permission to go. I had to allow myself the life I’d never known I’d wanted, to curl up on a couch with Crash and talk about the mysteries of life and love and the universal truths that come to you when you place them in position relative to the home plate, to the pitcher’s mound, to the ballpark where you spend your life.
I love Crash. For a while I was so bent out of shape trying to be an independent woman that I didn’t realise you can be independent and love a man but there it is; I love a man who loves the game, and the universe thinks that that’s just fine.