Benny and The Mets
My sixteen-year-old son Ben has been standing in front of the television for the last four weeks with a black wooden bat in his hands. His tongue makes a clicking sound as if a ball has made contact with the bat. He does this over and over again like a daily meditation. He wants the Mets to win so badly he can taste it; it’s all he talks about. "Hey, what about those Mets?" he says at the dinner table. "Did you see Benny Agbayani hit a home run?" He hasn’t done his homework and his sneakers are untied, but he could tell you every second of every game the Mets have played this season. In his mind he’s going to join the Mets after high school, though he’s never played on a baseball team in his life since T-ball. Or maybe he’ll get a job keeping vigilance of their scores with the sports page spread across our kitchen table. And then that clicking sound will return, and he’ll be enjoying the vista of the crowds, the run to first base, the pale salmon light as Robin Ventura slides safely into home plate.
I didn’t grow up with brothers, and I have no idea what’s in the mind of teenage boys. As a mother I can only make the daily leap from crib to crayons to some stranger taller than me and who waves a bat back and forth and substitutes clicking sounds for the real thing. Every morning when I wake him up for school, I touch his curly head and announce the early hour. As I rub his back, my hand remembers to this day the softness of an infant, his sleepy red face, and the smiles that used to come instantly when he saw mine. Now he grumbles, turns his head the other way, and reaches for the covers again. The distance between mother and child grows longer; it’s supposed to be that way they tell me. But this halfway place, somewhere between second and third base waiting for a possible out, where exactly is that?
The temptation is to push back, maybe even disappear emotionally from him, let him figure it out all by himself. I’m in the background folding his favorite tie-dyed shirt, making peanut butter sandwiches for his school lunch, picking him up from his friend Andrew’s house. When I pull up there’s a porch full of boys––some of them smoking cigarettes, some with girls on their laps, some leaning over the railing. Ben gives Andrew a high-five and runs down the front steps to jump into the car. Sometimes as we make our way home, he talks to me about the latest CD he wants to buy, or the Mets’ score; or sometimes we are in total silence and I don’t know what to say.
"Would you take the garbage out?" I ask as pull into the driveway. "The dog needs a walk. Have you done your homework?" Some days my conversation with him is limited to such mundane requests, and I’m embarrassed as the words come out of my mouth. I want it to be different somehow, but I honestly don’t know what to say to this boy who feels like a child in a near-man’s body.
He looks at me through his gray-framed glasses as if he doesn’t want to hurt my feelings, but that somehow I just don’t get it. He purses his lips, raises his eyebrows and then stares at me for a second before he looks away and walks out the front door. He’s left a trail behind him––wet towels on his bathroom floor, a pile of empty Popsicle boxes leaning against his bedroom wall, empty soda bottles near the TV, and incense ashes falling off the table next to his bed.
The Mets aren’t going to win, and I know that because I am writing this after the fact, from the present back to the past––some kind of motherly nostalgia built entirely out of a doomed status. He will watch the game up to the very end when it goes into extra innings and the Braves get a walk that brings the score to 10-9 in the eleventh inning. Ben will watch Mike Piazza’s face with the same tension that comes from the coach and players in the dugout. It will be well past midnight when this happens, and I’ll have a difficult time getting him up for school the next day. But it’s the Mets, Mom. How can I sleep when they’re playing? At breakfast he doesn’t want to speak about the game or the upcoming World Series. Instead, he puts his lunch into his red backpack and walks out the front door.
I take a sentimental trail backwards so often these days to find the son born in the middle of the night weighing in at over ten pounds. Five months later I heard his music box turn on in the middle of the night, and I knew for the first time that he had a life without me. At three-and-a-half he asked me if he should marry his brother or me. On his fourth birthday he called his brother an idiot and then announced he wanted to be a Mets fan when he grew up. At five he was obsessed with baseball cards and spent his time trading them with anyone who was interested. At six he drew a self-portrait with a baseball bat in his hand. At seven he told his teacher that in his first life he was Babe Ruth, in his second life he was Mickey Mantle, and in his third life, he was Ben.
"There’s always next season," Ben says when he reads the newspaper account of the playoffs the day after the Mets lose. "What about them Mets?" I smile and suddenly remember him at seven asking me if I was going to be home that day at 4:30. Why? I asked him. "Because Peter Pan is to be continued and he’s growing up and Never Never Land is fading." Moments later I went upstairs and wrote that down.