It's 5:30 in the morning, on a Saturday, in a house in Jersey City, along the never-quiet Kennedy Boulevard. Carolyn wakes me. I'm bleary-eyed and out of it, having stayed up too late the night before; after all, it was a Friday, and despite the plans for the day, I stayed up because that's what one does on a Friday night.Send comment to Steve at this address.
She goes off to make some of that jet fuel she calls coffee. I go to pee, then smoke in the living room. At some point we shower and dress. I don't remember too much about that morning, or any morning really; mornings are not my high point. I'm sure I sucked down a lot of coffee, trying to jump-start my body.
We get into my car. The sun is just beginning to come up. There aren't many people awake in the houses -- most of the windows are still dark and the streetlights are still on -- but Kennedy Boulevard is busy, as always. Stop at the Dunkin' Donuts up the road to get breakfast and more coffee, this cup one I can stomach because it has the taste of coffee, something Carolyn's brew always lacks.
Then it's an endless highway drive into the vastness of upstate New York, passing towns I'd never set foot in except perhaps to stop for gas and/or food. We do stop somewhere, though I forget which podunk town it was, to grab a bite.
Eventually we reach what is for me, a former English major and a baseball fan, a mecca of sorts -- Cooperstown, old stomping grounds for James Fennimore C., resting place for the memories of baseball greats, and burial ground for the childhood dreams of boys who couldn't cut it in sandlot games.
We spend hours there, looking at the exhibits. At one point I read the placard about an unassisted triple-play and say, "Wow! I wonder how he did that." A potbellied middle-aged man standing next to me spouts out the details of the famous play without my having asked him. We watch the "Who's on First?" bit, and I laugh, as I always do, despite having seen the clip maybe hundreds of times in my life. Then all the statistics and history and photos and memorabilia blur into one huge mass of bleacher seats and hot sun and green green grass, and I can't take anymore. We leave the building and sit on a bench out front, both smoking.
An older man, about 68 I guess, wanders up slowly and stands staring at the building. He's got a certain look about him, like a kid who's finally gotten the new bike he wanted, or some equally corny simile. I chat him up, ask him if he's been here before.
"Nope. First time," he says. "The wife and me, we're taking a trip, and I noticed it was right by where we were, so she agreed to stop. She's off lookin' in them antique stores now. We only stopped for a little while."
He's holding a camera. I offer to take a picture of him standing in front of the Hall of Fame. He declines the offer, looking somewhat sad.
Carolyn and I go into some of the shops nearby. I buy a replica 1918 Chicago White Sox cap, the same type worn by Shoeless Joe Jackson before his great disgrace in the Black Sox scandal.
It's getting late, and we climb back into the car and drive, drive, drive, leaving behind the peacefulness of that time-capsule town for the noise of Jersey City and another night of sirens and horns and troubled sleep.
Valentine's Day weekend, leaving Jersey City once again, this time in Carolyn's beat-up Chevy, this time heading south instead of north. Destination: Baltimore. I crack a joke about our paying Leslie, old college friend from Johns Hopkins, a visit while we're there, knowing it will slightly annoy her, knowing she knows I'm not serious.
This drive takes less time than the Hall of Fame trip -- it's closer, and Carolyn drives like a bat out of hell.
We get to the bed and breakfast, and it's really a lot nicer than we had expected.
It's another weekend of literature and baseball indulgences. We get lost while looking for Mencken's house in a particularly seedy part of town. We see the room where Babe Ruth was born, in one of those shitty little rowhouses that litter the streets. We wander outside the recently completed Camden Yards, and I marvel at how beautiful the stadium is. Carolyn uses my camera to take a picture of me squatting in front of the "5" statue (Brooks Robinson's number, he the only man ever to hit a ball clear out of Memorial Stadium), cigarette in my mouth, silly haircut, ugly coat on. I take a picture of her standing in front of "Warehouse A" She's got her silly hat on, and her curly hair has been a bit flattened by it.
Last night I was standing in line for a movie, waiting for a friend to arrive, and I saw Carolyn walk by. Her once-long-and-curly hair was gone; she had a crewcut, and her natural color replaced by some highly unnatural reddish highlight thing. A huge silver hoop earring, in a hole that wasn't there a few years ago. The cigarette in her hand was still there, though. She must have just gotten out of work and been heading for the train. It was such an unexpected thing to see her that I just stood there dumbfounded and wondering if my eyes could have been playing tricks on me. By the time I realized that it must have been her, she had vanished into the crowd of pedestrians, and right after that my friend showed up, so I couldn't run off in pursuit.
And so this morning I was thinking of those things she gave me, those small sacrifices, those indulgences. But it wasn't enough. It could never be enough, not after all that had happened -- the betrayals, the broken promises, the erosion of trust, the past. After five and a half years things settle one way or another. With us, the muck had been building slowly, from a stumbling block into a wall. She was the first to admit that it was a wall we wouldn't be able to tear down, and so she left. We tried the "just friends" thing, tried it hard, tried for six months, perhaps longer. That wall couldn't be overcome, couldn't be torn down, and without the pretense of being lovers anymore, the wall grew thicker. The last time I spoke to her was in a bar one night. She was with her roommate. She was sucking down vodka as if it were Evian. I got a bit drunk and then very disgusted. I left, with a terse good-bye to them both.
There's no point to any of this, really. It just came to mind, is all. I saw her, and I remembered.