It seemed like I’d been waiting forever for the last out of the last inning of the last game of the last tournament of Henry’s year of 9U travel baseball. And when the end came, it wasn’t even an out that ended it after all.
The boys were playing a team they’d played before. Back in the fall, they’d beat the Cats and gone on to play for a trophy (and lost and settled for the runner-up statuette instead). The situation was identical, the Spark Plugs playing the Cats for a spot in the championship game. In the bottom of the fifth inning, our boys led, 6-5. To win, they needed to hold the Cats scoreless and make three outs. They didn’t. A kid reached on a dropped third strike. Another kid reached on an error by centerfield (and, wouldn’t you know it, that was my Henry with the ball in his glove and then, oddly, not in his glove). One run scored. Another run scored. The Spark Plugs never made an out.
And, without an umpire even raising a decisive clenched fist, the season was over. Not with a bang, but with a collective sigh from the parents, who rose from the bleachers, stretched, and looked around at nothing in particular. The Cats fell into a cheering, celebratory pile. I wanted to resent them a little for winning, but all day I’d been watching and thinking it was kind of cool that the skinny blond kid playing second, one of the ringers they’d brought on to help them win some games, was a girl—the only girl we’d seen in more than fifty games.
I was all set to peel out of that ballpark, leaving a cloud of hot red dust in my wake, but Coach needed to give the kids one last speech. He may have planned, even tried, to leave them with some sage baseball wisdom, but, as usual, much of the speech was about why they lost. Will and I hung back; we didn’t need to listen this last time.
Henry had tears in his eyes on the way home. He wasn’t, as I first suspected, brooding over the dropped fly ball. His was a more profound, bittersweet sadness that comes with seeing something through to its inevitable end: the knowledge—which is always a bit of a blow, no matter how many times we’re shown it—that endings barrel towards us like an unstoppable fastball (forgive this one baseball metaphor). Endings will arrive and we must simply let them happen, though they seem to unsteady us more than beginnings. Henry would never again play baseball with these boys, on this team, just as he would never again walk into his third grade classroom, never again stay after school for another rehearsal of Beauty and the Beast, never again have a pet parakeet named Jeff Tweedy. Adults often see endings coming; we’ve learned to anticipate and throw up a glove to keep them from leveling us. Kids never seem to get set and steel themselves for the blow. Endings topple them every time.
So, what did we do after the winning (losing) run landed with a thud on home plate? We unpacked the giant rolling bat bag, hosed off the dirty catcher’s gear, repacked the station wagon with different gear, drove 758 miles to Islamorada in the Florida Keys, and went fishing.
One night, in our room at a fancied-up, neon-lit 1950s ocean-side motel, the last Harry Pottermovie was playing on the free HBO. I’d seen it before, read the book, and listened to it on tape with the kids when they were younger. Somehow, though, I found myself sniffling through the scene where Harry has to walk into the forest to face his own ending. There he is, encircled for a moment by the shadows of the people who love him, and then he just walks on ahead all the same, alone and not alone. Geez, here’s another cauldron of my tears, Harry Potter. He doesn’t get to avoid his ending any more than the next person, and there’s something stirring about the quiet sort of bravery with which he meets it. The scene piles on the pathos because we see the fast-approaching end of our relationship with this character, with this story. I know there’s no book eight, no movie nine, no more Harry Potter, and it gets me a little bit every time.
The next day, fishing in the clear waters of the Everglades, Will caught a beautiful jack crevalle, Thomas caught a toothy, three-foot barracuda, and Henry caught a lemon shark that had been circling the boat. “What did you do with it,” I asked him when they returned, tired and sunburned and filled with stories. “I let it go,” Henry said with a shrug. And for the rest of the day, the happy last lines of Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “The Fish” (read it!) echoed in my head: “everything/ was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!/ And I let the fish go.”
And I let the fish go.