“It’s been good, it’s been so-so and lately it hasn’t been great, that’s for sure.”
–Bobby Cox (Manager of 14-consecutive division championships in Atlanta and the all-time leader in manager ejections)
In 1993, I turn 13 a few months before Major League Baseball has its last, perfect, pre-expansion pennant race, its last full season before the Strike, which will end on my 15th birthday and curdle my love of the game for good. In 1993, my family moves from Oklahoma, for seven years a safe cocoon of familiar, to Texas, and I begin a private kind of suffocation that will continue into the next century. In 1993, to survive the eighth grade, I watch the Atlanta Braves on TBS obsessively, disappearing into my team’s exquisite pitching and the creak of Bobby Cox’s knees. In 1993, I keep a diary.
Today the Braves beat the Giants to pull within six and a half games of first place in the National League West. My English teacher awards five points for each entry in my diary, whether I talk about boys or how I sometimes daydream of hitting my younger sister with a hammer or friendships betrayed or boys or baseball or how my parents were pissed they missed the season finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation to attend my basketball game. Everything handwritten in it is valued equally.
I dream of someone kidnapping my brother; I understand conversations about moving my parents think they are having in code. I am always grounded, almost always because I have not yet found a way to suppress everything erratic and volatile in me. I don’t have the patience to transition between my mother’s job and good looking guys and an upcoming three-game series against the Giants. I am already splintering apart. On this night, David Justice, whose poster hangs in my room, hits a homerun. He is probably already hitting his wife, Halle Berry. Because I don’t know this yet, I often think about what it might be like to sit on his lap.
Years after reading Flowers in the Attic, I continue to be distrustful of powdered sugar: how it can mask the taste of arsenic, how in the novel it was used to murder Cory Dollanganger. A few months after I write this, Georgia’s Oconee County Library will remove the book from circulation due to “the filthiness of the material.” The Braves win today, but so do the Giants. Terry Pendleton hits a homerun. Soft Terry, and the uncomplicated, tender feelings I still have for him. He had the same build but not the secret ugliness of Kirby Puckett.
This is one of the few penciled moments I manage the art of understatement: I am only “mostly sad.” If you knew how it really felt, there are no baseball metaphors for that. At 13, feelings are not abstract. They are wrecking balls. They are the death of cities.
In 25 days, the Braves have moved from six and a half games behind the Giants to four games ahead. J.W.’s mother was my dental hygienist and on the night we snuck into the theater to see Wesley Snipes and David Justice’s wife in Passenger 57, he gave me my first kiss.
I cannot read, “I want somebody to look at me” without feeling ill. So many invisible years: the two lived in Texas, the two lived in New York after that. So much invisible I’m sick with it still. The Braves win 18-5 this night. I have hitched myself to a team that is everything I am not.
I was a terrible softball player. I threw my bat once after a strikeout, one of the times I was deservedly grounded. Nothing about the game comes naturally to me, unlike basketball—the romance of absorbent composites against my palm, shooting free throws, making echoes in an empty gym, kissing the corners of the backboard, the theater of taking a charge. I don’t write this in my diary because it doesn’t need to be written: I love basketball more than I love Robert, more than I love anything else, including the Atlanta Braves. Though you might not know it, from the way I pant after David Justice and sometimes Tom Glavine’s ginger and the way Greg Maddux looks like he’s missing a chromosome when he winds up and John Smoltz. And his mustache. The only language my father and I speak to each other in, for so many years, is the language of hardwoods. Notice he’s never mentioned in what’s handwritten. The NBA season hasn’t started yet: we don’t have anything to say.
In several pages, we’ll move to Texas. The Giants are only half a game behind. Poor Atlanta Braves, you don’t know it, but you’re stuck with me as we hurtle together towards disappointment.
October 2: There’s no time to write. As of today, both the Braves and the Giants have won 103 games. There is no wildcard crap in 1993. Only one of these teams will make it to the National League Championship Series.
October 3: Today is the day of the last game of the regular season. The events that will become the movie Black Hawk Down happen in real life this night. The Battle of Mogadishu. American soldiers dragged through Somalia’s streets. Earlier in the day, the Braves beat the Colorado Rockies. At Fulton County Stadium, several thousand fans stay for hours afterwards to watch the Giants play the Dodgers on the scoreboard. If San Francisco wins, they’ll have to play the Braves the next day to see who gets the right to try for the World Series. But they don’t. The Giants win more games than every other team in baseball. Except for the Atlanta Braves.
Notice how I don’t mention the Braves lost their first NLCS game against the Phillies on October 6th, 4-3, in extra innings. At 13, I am already an avid reader of romance novels; I have learned to skip to the good parts. It was Terry Pendleton who hit that homerun I couldn’t remember. I still have that David Justice card somewhere even though I know what he did. At least I have started dreaming of Jonathan Brandis instead of him—SeaQuest-DSV and the Atlanta Braves and me.
The Phillies lead the series 3-2. Notice again, no mention that the Braves have lost two games in a row. There are some things we keep to ourselves. Not Bell Biv Devoe things, of course.
In the time of the blank page between entries on October 12th and October 20th, the Braves lose once more. Their season is over. For me, it is over forever. But I continue to write in that diary, long past the time when I was given credit for each entry. The last is dated March 20, 1996. We are living in New York then. The final page is filled with my younger sister practicing her signature, which means she read it, which means I had to abandon everything I ever felt in it to show to her that I didn’t care that she read it, to prove to myself that nothing I wrote in it ever mattered.