I’m wearing a baseball cap today. I have to adjust the brim while I’m driving, because I feel like my vision’s obstructed, even though it probably isn’t. It’s just a habit.
Wearing a baseball cap reminds me of my oldest brother (I have three.) He’s probably on my mind anyway because I spent time with someone the other night who reminded me of him. My oldest brother was the baseball player (second-oldest ran track, third played basketball), and for a time, the oldest’s whole world was baseball. He constantly wore baseball caps, carried a baseball wherever he went, flipping it around between his digits to improve dexterity. He had a particular set of mannerisms I associate with baseball players, a way of holding his hands as if he was preparing to throw a curveball, certain postures, particular gestures. Like adjusting his cap.
He taught me to throw, fulfilling my childish need to be included with The Boys, but more specifically, a desire to be around him. He was the oldest, I was the youngest, younger by 8 years, and I believed he was the smartest, most amazing person in the world. Three other siblings? Who cares. He was the one who mattered.
Spending time with him was a drug. I fell in love with baseball too, after hours of playing catch in the twilight, baseball barely visible. I have a sense memory of the pavement, the smell of fresh-cut grass, leather glove and grimy baseball covering my hands. The sweaty baseball cap.
My arms reflexively stretch now at the recollection, finding their full extension for the throwing drill. “Imagine that there’s a string between your hands. Pull it taut. Now keep it that way and throw.”
As happens in my fractured family, I have lost touch with that oldest brother. I don’t know exactly what happened, but we have a lot of unprocessed feelings in the family, so it had to be something. But his presence I miss like a lighthouse, or–better–a third-base coach giving me the secret signs on what to do next. I looked to him for guidance, however stupid that may have been.
He became a lawyer, which was his childhood wish, and what we all knew he’d do. But he carried with him that teenage boy, obsessed with baseball and the fine-tuned mechanics of throwing, and those arcane rules of balks and secret signals. He still wore a baseball cap on weekends, shoved back to reveal his high forehead. He’d use his throwing hand to adjust it, two fingers on the brim like he’s acknowledging signals from the dugout, the palm across the back of the hat so it sits right. His habits of baseball never faded. Some things stick with you.
He could be a dick, as also happens in my family, and he did things that hurt people I love, and my other siblings. Not me, though.
But I miss him anyway, and those soft evenings learning to throw “like a boy”, and the smell of my leather glove, and that sweaty baseball cap.