I learned early on I was a magnet for small, hard, fast balls. My first encounter with a hard, fast ball was when I was 6 years old. I was playing, hanging out with other kids in a rec center where parents dumped their kids while they went to the Piggly Wiggly or who knows what. This was the ‘50s; I’m sure the stay-home moms needed some time alone.
I was standing a little too close to a pool table watching some “older boys” (9-10 year olds) shooting 8-ball. Suddenly one of the pool balls jumped the table, flew straight at me, and hit me in the mouth. My lip split, my tooth broke and I was forced to drink from a water fountain while blood flowed from my mouth. I don’t remember the pain as much as I remember the discomfort at being the center of attention. My front tooth was chipped and my lip was swollen but otherwise I was fine. I had that chipped front tooth from elementary through my teens; it became part of who I was. (I later had it capped.)
The next time I was hit with a small, hard, fast ball was a couple of years later, when I was 8. I was standing in the backyard of a friend’s house watching her father hit golf balls. (I was still unaware of my magnetism issue.) It was a hot, Texas, summer day and we had nothing better to do. Her dad took a swing and suddenly the golf ball flew towards me like a speeding bullet and hit me square in the eye. Yep. It hurt like a-fucking hell, although we didn’t say fuck in the ‘50s. I didn’t lose my eye but I had a big shiner and was developing a fear of hard, fast balls.
Around the same age, although this has nothing to do with balls of any size, but does indeed involve gravity, in that same friend’s front yard, I was hiding in a tree from the older kids being let out from the school bus. I wasn’t intentionally hiding; I happened to be climbing the tree when the school bus stopped and I was so shy I didn’t want anyone to see me. Suddenly, I lost my balance, fell out of the tree, landed on my back and was knocked out for a couple of minutes. No one noticed me lying in the grass under the tree. Spread-eagle, staring up at the sky, through branches and clouds, I watched the older kids step over me on their way home. Apparently compassion was in short supply in the ‘50s. Before helicopter parenting, it was dog-eat-dog. I finally got up, dusted myself off and walked home. I didn’t tell my parents, or anyone. Well, I may’ve mentioned it to my Mom, but again, these things happen. No need to get excited if there was no blood or bones sticking out at odd angles. The idea of a concussion or brain damage wasn’t entertained. Thinking back, I may’ve suffered a slight concussion but it’s 60 years later and I’m writing about it so no worries. I decided to steer clear of this friend and her front and back yard for a while.
The last time I was hit with a hard, fast ball happened when I was 12. I was under some misguided illusion I should learn to play a team sport, softball. It was my turn at bat and sure enough, I’m standing there, bat in hand, watching as a softball comes hurling towards me and hits me in the head. I fell down and while lying there, I realized I wasn’t cut out for playing team sports. Especially any sport involving, well, you know, a ball.
So, there you have it. I learned early on that I am cursed with a magnetic energy field that attracts small, hard, fast balls. I’m like a planet with a gravitational pull. I don’t understand the metaphysical or mathematical reasons; I only know that I’ve got it.
And I learned to duck. Finally.