Authors: Terry Trueman
This one is for Patti
Third base, defense: Fielding your position at third is trickyâthat's why third base is called “the hot corner.” You have to be aware that anything can happen at any time. The hot corner is a world of deadly line drives and crazy “bad hops,” sacrifice bunts and long, difficult throws; it's a place where a lot of action happens that can make or break your teamâand it's all just part of the game!
I love baseball. I mean, I
Sorry, let me be more clear:
is the most important thing in my life. I'm totally addicted; it's the one thing I've always been able to count on. Hey, I'm not exactly alone: If you Google the word “baseball,” you get 135,000,000 hits in .07 of a secondâthat's one hundred thirty-five
. Some people get strung out on meth or heroin, some on porno or Krispy Kremes, some on music, jogging, lifting weights, or on one of the “lesser” sports like hoops or footballâbut that ain't me. Nope, for me it's baseball above all, baseball or nothing. I'm Scott Latimer, eighteen years old, starting third baseman on Thompson High School's varsity baseball team.
So why is it that when things go wrong, in baseball
in life, they sometimes go so hugely wrong? Why can't bad stuff come one thing at a time, so that you can handle that thing, get over it, and just get strong and ready to play a little ball? Why do bad things always seem to happen right when some good thing is out there ready for you to grab? Some great thing that you've worked for and dreamed about, right there, but when you reach for it, all your dreams just die.
It may not be fair to say, but it's my best friend Travis Adams's fault that right now I'm at the Spokane County Public Health building, sitting in an ugly orange vinyl chair. On a small white ticket in my hand is the number 23. What are the odds that when I pulled out a number from the stupid waiting-turn machine, I'd get my uniform number, 23, my “lucky” number? Maybe that's a good sign â¦ but I doubt it.
The last number they called was 16, so it looks like I'm going to be here for a while. I've decided to get an AIDS test. I'm not gay; I'm not an IV drug user, either. I'm a third baseman. I shouldn't have to be worried about this stuff, and I know that it's borderline idiotic, or maybe over the borderline, that I'm even here. The chances that I have AIDS are probably low; but still, I need to find out.
This week, of all weeks, I should just be playing baseball. It's almost the end of my senior yearâgraduation is only a month awayâand therefore it's also the end of my high school baseball career. The Spokane All-City High School Tournament starts later today. If we play well enough, and get a little lucky, we'll be in the championship game on Saturday. We've won a record-setting fourteen games in a row, unheard-of at the high school levelâso really, this should be a great, amazing time. If I'm ever going to get noticed by a pro scout and get a chance to be drafted by a pro baseball team, it'll happen this week; I've gotta focus on baseball and nothing elseâbut instead I'm sitting in this uncomfortable chair, waiting to find out whether or not I'm a dead man.
I don't mean to sound melodramatic, but that
the situation. I have to be sure that I don't have AIDS so that I can put it out of my mind and just concentrate on playing ball. I can't talk about this with my parents and I won't discuss it with Travisâwho doesn't want to talk to me right now either. This is just something I have to do, and something I'd rather do by myself.
I walked in here half an hour ago. It's a stupid-looking building, a nasty brown brick place. When I first came in, I glanced around and found a directory of different programs on the wall. I saw listings for
Unwed Mothers, Aid to Dependent Children
. Great list, huh? Obviously you come here only if you have problemsâbig ones! And then I spotted it:
HIV TestingâRoom 105.
As I went in the direction of room 105, walking like a condemned man on his way to the electric chair, my mouth felt dry. I could feel my heart pounding inside of me. I hate needles, and all in all this is not a good place to beâI don't want people thinking I'm gay and who the hell wants to find out that you might be sick and never get to play baseball again? As I walked, I also started to feel dizzy. Finally I leaned against the wall for support. My stomach flip-flopped around, sweat broke out on my forehead, and I couldn't seem to catch my breath.
“Are you all right?” I heard a woman's voice behind me.
I looked up to see a middle-aged lady. “Dorothy” said a name tag on her white nurse's uniform. Her expression was kind.
I pulled myself together as well as I could. “I'm fine. I'm just here to have that burger-flipping thing done.”
What had I just said?
“Excuse me?” She smiled.
I muttered, “You know, the thing you do to work in restaurants, the health card and the shot thing for handling food.” In Spokane, if you want to work in food service, you have to get a shot. I'd planned out the “burger-flipping” excuse to cover my tracks for being in this building in case I ran into anyone I knew.
“Hepatitis B,” Dorothy said. “Follow me.”
She began to walk toward room 105.
“Isn't that the AIDS room?” I asked, wondering if she knew what she was doing.
She smiled at me again, glancing back over her shoulder. “Blood testing for HIV and hepatitis are done in the same clinic.” She slowed her pace so that she could walk next to me.
Hearing that all the blood test stuff is done in the same area made me feel a little more relaxed. If I saw any kids I knew, I'd use my burger excuse, like I'd planned.
So Dorothy led me down here and I've been waiting ever since. In this waiting room, just outside the door marked 105, there are half a dozen other peopleâthankfully, I don't know any of them. I got the slip of paper marked number 23, and then I also filled out and turned in a little card, putting my number in the upper right-hand corner. When I was sure nobody was watching, I checked the box “Reason for this visitâHIV screening.”
That was twenty minutes ago. In that twenty minutes only number 16, and just a minute ago number 17, have been called. When that happens, you walk through the door into room 105 and disappearâno one since I've been here has come back out. Either there's some other exit or they test you, find out you've got AIDS, and just shoot you in the head right there. Just kidding â¦ I think.
I look at the other people here, not staring, but noticing them: There's a Hispanic-looking guy, an overweight lady in a floral print big-lady's dress, a skinny guy in his twenties wearing Levi's and a tight black T-shirtâhe's the only person who looks sort of gay to me. But the two I keep noticing most are sitting closest to me, a girl about twenty years old and her little kid, about two or three. The girl is kind of cuteâbut real tired-looking. She looks scared. Her kid is all energy and giggles and climbing all over her, jumping around like a monkeyâhis mood is the exact opposite of hers. I'm trying not to stare at them, but it's hard. I keep wondering if she's here for an AIDS test. For herself? For her little kid? These thoughts really creep me out.
In a million years I never would have known or even thought that people sitting waiting for AIDS tests could be so â¦ so normal, I guess. I was afraid this place would look like an audition room for
or some other gay movie, but that's not true at all. Shows you what I know.
Suddenly the mom grabs the little kid and scolds him, telling him to stop bothering people. The little kid looks really mad and his face gets really red, like he's holding his breath. I remember doing that when I was little, holding my breath like that when I got upset. As I look at the other people sitting around, glancing at all their nervous faces, catching glimpses of their scared eyes, I do this thing I've always done ever since I saw a movie once where the grown-ups, still talking like grown-ups, were suddenly little kids, just like they were before they grew up. Looking at the little three-year-old, all red-faced and mad, I imagine these people here in the waiting room with me as they might have been when they were little: Like I can sort of see the Hispanic-looking guy as a little kid; the overweight lady in the floral dress as a skinny little girl, not fat at all; the gay guy in the tight T-shirt, if he even is gay, as a regular-looking little kid with parents and maybe a brother or sister, just doing the kinds of stuff all normal little kids do.
All these people, including myself, were little kids once too, like in that movie I saw, with nothing in the world to worry about. And now, on this particular day, we have all landed in this incredibly scary placeâa place you go to sit and wait to get news that will change your life forever, one way or the other. Pretty heavy.
But I still think this test is a good idea for me, a necessary thing to do.
After all, it's been more than six months since Travis Adams's blood was all over my hands, more than six months that the disease could have been brewing in me.
Finally the lady behind the counter calls, “Number twenty-three.”
I walk through the door marked 105. After the door closes, latching behind me, another nurse greets me. She walks me down a hallway full of closed doors. About halfway down the hall we stop, and she opens one of them for me to go in.
Sitting there is the same nurse I fed the BS to about “burger flipping” when I first came in. I turn about ten thousand shades of red.
“Oops,” I say. It just pops out.
The nurse who led me here asks, “Is there a problem?”
“Not at all, Margaret,” the other nurse says, rising from her chair and gently touching my arm. “We spoke in the foyer earlier, but no confidentiality breach occurred.” She turns to me. “I'd be happy to be your nurse for whatever kind of procedure you require, if you'd like me to.”
“Sure, that'd be great,” I say, still embarrassed. I look at her name tag again. “Thanks, Dorothy.”
The nurse named Margaret leaves.
“I'm really embarrassed,” I say. “I'm sorry I lied.”
“There's nothing to be embarrassed about,” Dorothy says, smiling and looking into my eyes. She motions for me to sit down, and she sits across from me. “You have your own reasons for wanting an HIV screening, and that is nobody's business but yours. Nonetheless, without telling me your name or anyone else's, would you be willing to explain why it is you believe you need this procedure?”
I tell her everything, everything that happened to Travis and me last winter at Spencer's Batting Cages. I tell her all about that day; I've thought about it so much for the last few days that it's like it just happened.
From the street you'd never guess that there could be batting cages in Spencer's. It looks too small; but when you go in, the hallway winds back around, and in the back are three screened-off boxes with pitching machines. Even though there are only a few other batting cages in all of Spokane, there's never a wait for a cage at Spencer's. This is probably because when you're there, you feel like you're in a dungeon. The metal mesh of the cages is old and kind of corroded-looking, like it was once used to trap crabs in Alaska. The lighting sucksâjust bare bulbs. The place is dirty and sweaty and gross. It stinks of machine oil and ten-thousand-year-old Deep Heat ointment. The actual pitching machines look like third world torture devices.