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The Strikeout - by Megan Estey

When I was twelve, I graduated sixth grade, I had my first boyfriend, and my grandfather got pancreatic cancer. It was strange chain of events. That summer, between elementary and junior high school, was the summer of many chagnes. I spent many hours jumping on my best friend's trampoline, and less hours by the side of my grandfather. As he slowly grew paler and thinner, I knew that death was crawling into him-- inch by inch, breath by breath. I found I hated being there. I hated being surrounded by the people, my grandfather emanating sickness and weariness. I hated being sad.

My strongest memory of that time in my life was going to his house one evening in June. I had spent the past few days memorizing the poem "Casey at the Bat". I hadn't memorized it for any particular reason; it was one of the dorky things that I did to keep myself occupied. We were there, and my mother suggested that I recite the poem. I didn't want to. My grandfather lay on the couch, weak and skinny, sucking on one of the cancer sticks that was killing him as I stood there. He exhaled and began coughing violently. I breathed shallowly and began.

"The outlook wasn't pleasant for the Mudville nine that day; the score stood four to two with but one inning left to play..."

I continued through the poem until I got to the stanza about the crowd's cheers echoing through the stadium, the mountains, the hillsides, the flat. I could not, for all my memorizing, remember what came next. I knew that at some point Casey would have to come out, but I couldn't remember the words. I stood there, my hands limp, my face pinkening, and shrugged. That was the worst part. I didn't apologize. I just left.

My grandfather gradually worsened until he couldn't move, not even to eat or go to the bathroom. It was embarrassing for me to see him, a helpless man who had played tackle football with my brother only months ago. Almost every night my parents would tell me to get into the car, that we were going to see my grandfather, and almost every night I would complain and whine.

One night Genevieve called me up, and asked me to come over. I eagerly accepted; I'd had no non-familial human contact for almost a week. My mother drove me down, and we dragged bikes out of their garage and biked down town. We went to the corner store for bags of penny candy, then went back to her house. We sat in the fairly new addition to her house, an apartment, and talked about how someday we would share a house until we got married (her plans have since changed, but the idea was lovely then). We jumped on the trampoline, then begged money from her mother to get pizza. We rollerbladed down to Cubber's. The trip took at least twenty minutes because I had never bladed before. By the time we got to Cubber's it was 7:45. Our pizza came at 8:00. We ate, then began the slow journey home.

I remember watching Nickolodeon on the TV in the apartment, "Doug" or some other cartoon. We went to bed late, and slept until around 9:30 the next morning. We ate waffles with "real" maple syrup. It was almost 10:00 when the phone rang. Strangely enough, it was for me. It was my mother. It wasn't the "I'll pick you up at noon" call I had expected.

My mother said, "Megan, your grandfather died at 8:00 last night. I didn't want to disturb your visit with Gen, so I waited to call until today."

I don't remember the rest of the conversation. She may have said something else, or that may have been it. All I remember is sitting on the cot in the Folino's apartment, holding the cordless phone as far from my ear as I could, and sobbing. Maybe Gen tried to comfort me. Maybe her mother did. But everything else faded away as the tears slipped from my eyes and my shoulders shook.

8:00. When we were rollerblading and eating pizza. I was eating pizza when my grandfather died. And my mother didn't call me.

The following week is a cloudy blur in my memory. I went through visiting hours in a haze. I remember leaving during one of the nights to get supper; I was more concerned about my hunger than my mourning family members. The funeral was horrible. My father asked me if I wanted to play the piano at the beginning, a piece I had learned for my recital called "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring". I refused.

The funeral was the first and only time I ever saw my father cry. He stood up to speak about his father, and broke down halfway through. Some of his sisters spoke, and so did some members of our church. Nearly all of them cried.

I didn't.

I have found that there are two type of tears: tears of anger, and tears of sadness. The first type I can cry in front of my family. The second type I cannot. I can't let myself go like that, not when I am around my parents or my brother. Maybe that's why I could cry when I was away from home, sitting in my best friend's house, but I couldn't at the church. I did cry when I got home, but it was alone, in my room, my face pressed into my pillow. Even then, they weren't tears of loss. They were angry, muffled wails. And they were mostly for me. The fact that my grandfather was gone hadn't registered yet. It was simply lodged in my throat, waiting for the sobs of mourning to push it out. I was angry with myself for not being able to deal with the loss of someone who was very close to me.

My grandfather's death still hasn't really hit me. I stil go to his house on Christmas and Easter, expecting to be swept up in a bear hug and slugged with a barrage of questions about my school work, sports career, and goals for the future. Nobody does that to me anymore, and, strangely enough, I miss it.

This story comes equipped with a sad kind of irony that I could never reproduce in a work of fiction. The poem "Casey at the Bat" ends with the line "But there is no joy in Mudville-- mighty Casey has struck out." When I left in the middle of the poem, I was the strikeout. I was striking out with my selfishness and my refusal to try to help my grandfather. It is the kind of thing we might discuss in English 10. It could even become an essay question on a test. But the fact is that I messed up, and I can never fix it.

I once read a book that said a writer's duty is to bare their soul. A writer has to just tell it like it is and not worry about who's going to read it, or what they will think of them. A writer needs to be willing to put themselves out there even if they might be laughed at or given dirty looks. A writer has to be willing to be judged.

I agree with this theory, but I have never been able to do it. I always camoflagued the truth just a little bit, coated it in sugar so no one would think I was a bad person. When it came time to write about this time in my life, I realized that no candy-coated verson would be appropriate. Here I have bared the raw inside of my soul. I have told of the terrible things I felt, and the even more terrible things I did. I can only hope that you, the reader, won't judge me too harshly. I know that I am the one who struck out.

May 1999