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Authors: Dirk Hayhurst

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BOOK: Out of My League
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Chapter Nine
The extra arguing—and stopping to get flowers—made me late for the start of Bonnie’s Share Day concert. I had to sneak in to the event, sitting just before the first act finished. Ironically, after all that effort to arrive on time, the music turned out to be terrible. The rhythm was rarely kept and the melody was almost nonexistent. The drummer banged off-tempo while some of the other performers couldn’t play their instruments at all. Vocalists frequently lost harmony; in fact, some of them forgot the lyrics to songs altogether. And yet, all things considered, it was easily the most moving, most beautiful musical performance I had ever seen.
The audience was composed of parents dressed as if their children were performing live at Carnegie Hall, not some local church stage. Some held cameras, some flowers, some the hands of other children to keep them from wandering off to create commotions of their own.
“Abigail,” called Bonnie, standing center stage, “it’s your turn to share.”
All the performers were spectators in the audience when they weren’t themselves performing. Abigail, a teenage firecracker with frizzy dark hair, did not spectate well. She talked through most of the performances, shouting out what she saw or felt. As rude as it was, it did not bother anyone in the audience; in fact, in its own way it was charming. Abigail was autistic, as were almost all of the performers in attendance.
Bonnie was a music therapist. I could try explaining it but I wouldn’t do it justice. Some say she’s a music teacher, some say she’s a special needs assistant, and some say she’s a miracle worker. As the show went along, parent after parent of these special children broke down in tears of awe as their sons and daughters went onstage to try singing, playing instruments, and dancing. When most of these kids came to Bonnie, they could barely speak or articulate feelings of any kind.
Abigail was escorted by her mother to the steps of the stage where Bonnie met them. Bonnie took Abigail’s hand and brought her onstage asking, “Are you excited?” though the answer was quite obvious. Abigail flapped and flailed her hands like she was pleasantly on fire with emotion; then she nodded over and over and stomped her feet.
“Tell everyone what you are going to be performing tonight, Abigail.”
Abigail strangled the mic, pressing it up to her face until you could hear her breathing through the assembly hall speakers.
“High School Musical,”
she said. The audience laughed at this. Abigail might be autistic, but she was still a teenage girl.
Bonnie played the score of Abigail’s song on the piano and accompanied on vocals, but Abigail, as was the case with the rest of the children, was the star of the show. Abigail wore a radiant dress, which swished like a streamer as she twirled in the excitement of being a star. Sometimes she twirled so hard she flashed the audience with the tights she wore underneath, an event that left Abigail’s mother with her hands on her head. When the music finished, Abigail clapped for herself then bowed so sharply the headband that corralled her wild mop of hair flew off, allowing the brown, frizzy mane to engulf her face. Within seconds Abigail was met with a standing ovation.
While Abigail and the rest of Bonnie’s clients bowed, Bonnie bowed out, never trying to steal a hint of fanfare for herself. I noticed this, if only because it seemed so counterintuitive to me. All my life I’d been chasing a job that would give me attention, fame, and glory. Yet here was Bonnie, spending her life to give the attention to others, people who couldn’t champion their own causes.
I loved her; I loved her world. There was no trash talking here. No competitive anteing. No crushing the other person so you could stand out as the best. This was a place where everyone had a chance to shine. Bonnie was selfless and caring and openhearted. Her tenderness drew me to her. She afforded me an opportunity to drop the guard that living in a world of testosterone stats, broken family relationships, and long-shot odds forced me to construct. Being around her reminded me of the Dirk I was before professional baseball caught me between its hammer and anvil, and before alcoholism and anger left its scars in my personal life. She made me feel creative and capable. She made me feel safe, and keeping that feeling was easily worth ten thousand dollars of lost wages. In fact, as I watched her onstage, I believed it was worth whatever price, even if I moved baseball permanently out of my number-one priority spot.
 
After dinner, we sat in Bonnie’s car, a beautiful new Audi, parked next to my car, a crappy, rusted-out Corolla, in the parking lot of the value-based Italian restaurant where I had taken her to dinner. Bonnie was curled up with my arm around her, both of us gazing at the winter sky through the unfrosted portions of the windshield. The radio was on some oldies station playing music you could still make out the lyrics to. This was our only alone time now. Privacy was at a premium for us; our dates consisted of fleeting hours meeting after work, staying at coffee shops or bookstores or restaurants until they closed, and then lingering in their parking lots.
Though I was in Bonnie’s neck of the woods tonight, she wasn’t comfortable with me hanging out at her house too late. Bonnie still lived at home with her parents, and Bonnie’s mom had a tendency to “sleepwalk” if she suspected a boy was in the house doing anything more than G-rated behavior with her daughter—though her daughter was twenty-eight. Unlike my family, Bonnie’s had good relationships, good jobs, and a nice house. Bonnie’s folks loved having their daughter around and even encouraged it, as they considered it good Christian parenting to keep an eye on her until a suitable gentleman came calling. This conservative, chaste imprinting was also one of the reasons Bonnie and I had only shared kisses and snuggles and not much else. That and we both drove compacts.
“You know, I’ve been thinking about ways you could brand your business when you go solo,” I said. “I was thinking you could have a mascot, like the minor leagues have, you know, to distinguish yourself.”
“A mascot?” repeated Bonnie, skeptically.
“Yeah, something special and unique, like the kids you work with.”
“And what would this mascot be?”
“Well, I was thinking it could be the combination of two animals to make one special one, that could be a symbol of specialness, you know?”
“And this special animal would be called ... ?”
“A Garfoose,” I said. “You know, half giraffe and half moose? It could have purple spots and big moosey antlers. He would love children and breathe fire when you tickle him, and—”
“You want me to brand my business based on a fire-breathing giraffe with antlers,” Bonnie rephrased.
“When you tickle him, yes,” I said.
“Hmmm, well, as good as that idea is”—she took a thoughtful pause—“I’m not sure it’s best that I brand myself with something so, uh, flammable.”
“Think about it for me, okay? Who knows, the Garfoose might grow on you.”
“Who knows,” she repeated, smiling as sincerely as she could muster before leaning her head back on me and settling back into the solace of the evening.
I took a deep breath. I needed to tell her what was really on my heart.
“I’m leaving in two months,” I said, breaking the mood, “but I want you to know that I don’t want to leave you.”
“I know. I don’t want you to go, either, but I understand why you have to.”
“I know you do.” I offered a melancholy smile and hooked her hair over her ears. “I quit my job at Circuit City today,” I said.
“Really, why?”
“It just wasn’t worth it. I was making next to nothing to be there and it was more of a distraction than an asset. I’ve got enough saved now to get through the rest of the off-season and I have baseball lessons that pay well. There are other things I want to focus on now.” I looked at Bonnie, who seemed to be following along as best she could.
“That makes sense, I guess,” said Bonnie.
“You know how much Adam said I could make in Winter Ball?”
“No, you didn’t tell me.”
“Ten thousand dollars.”
“Wow, really?” Then, like a chill took hold of her, she was suddenly aware of where this conversation was going. “So, you’re going to go after all?”
I looked away, trying to find some hidden strength to lift the words I had on my mind. “No. No, I’m not.”
“But if it’s such a good opportunity, why wouldn’t you?”
“I love playing baseball, but it’s not giving me the quality of life I thought it would. I’m not sure if the money would do that, either. I’m sure it would help, but ...” I wasn’t sure if my rationale was accurate or not since I’d never had money before, but I said it anyway. “Honestly, I don’t know if getting to the big leagues is going to justify all the crap I’ve gone through to get there. I’ve seen what life is like when all you have is baseball.
“Can I ask you something?” I continued.
“Sure.”
“Something big?”
“Of course.” She inched back to take me in.
“Something really big?”
“Yes.” She chuckled. “You can ask me anything.”
“I think I want to marry you.”
Bonnie started blinking as the words hit warp speed in her head. A smile bloomed on her quickly blushing face. “That’s not a question,” she objected.
“Bonnie, I love you. I love you for all the right reasons. When I’m with you I feel better about who I am and where I’m going. It’s like I know that even if everything else goes wrong, at least I got you right. As long as I’m in this line of work I know that I have to give up half of my year to my job, and for the first time in my entire career I’m more worried about what I’ll lose during that half year than what I might gain. I don’t want to lose you.”
“You’re not going to,” she promised.
“You say that now.”
“You’re not,” she insisted. Her face was like a dam ready to burst with emotion. Then she sat up on her knees and looked me in the face. “But you still haven’t asked me anything.”
“I know, and I’m kind of afraid to, even though I think I know what you’ll say.” Her face was practically sending out the invitations. “I’m afraid because I want to do this right. I don’t want circumstances to dictate how this will work. I don’t have any money for a ring and I don’t even know when we could do it, but I need to know. I need to know the reasons I’m acting on aren’t unfounded. Instead, let’s say if I were to ask you
that
question, what do you think you would say, considering a few—”
“I’d say yes,” she blurted.
“That’s, well, that’s wonderful! Believe me, I am
so
happy you said that, but I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t tell you everything I was thinking.” Bonnie sat back as I explained all the details concerning marrying a baseball player, the distance issues, the money issues, and the timing issues.
“I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. Baseball kills relationships. I don’t want this one to die. That’s why I want you to know that”—I took a breath—“if you want me to quit baseball in order to help you put all this together, I will.”
Bonnie started shaking her head at me, slowly at first, but then distinctly in disagreement. “No,” she said, “absolutely not. I don’t want you to do this with any regrets.”
“I wouldn’t be regretting anything,” I said. “I’ve gotten to play longer than most people ever do. I’ve played at every level besides the Bigs, and even if I get there”—these words were particularly hard to hear myself utter—“there is no guarantee it will make up for all I’ve given, and would give, to do it. I’m ready for a life beyond baseball, and you’re a wonderful reason to move on.”
“You don’t have to move on. We’ll make this work. Dirk, I love you. I love you for the man you are and the way you treat me. I love you because you make me feel free, even though you insist you’re not going anywhere. I want to be with you and I wouldn’t have said yes if I didn’t think we could do it. I think getting married after the season is a wonderful idea and it’s not going to get in the way. We’ll figure it all out and it will be incredible, because the people involved are incredible, right?”
I started to smile, but her positive attitude could not defeat the unresolved details and failure-to-launch experiences I had in my mind. Bonnie deduced this and said, “Don’t worry about all the details. I’ve only been waiting my
entire life
to plan them—I got it covered!”
“Okay then,” I consented.
“Okay? Okay! This is great! We’re going to get married!” Bonnie opened the car door and ran out into the snow.
I followed her out of the car. “So you’re not disappointed that I asked you instead of just proposing? I didn’t ruin some momentous, once-in-a-lifetime girl experience for you?”
“I’m glad you asked me if you could ask me.”
“That doesn’t sound very romantic, though.”
“No, but it’s smart, and I know you’ll come up with a real romantic official proposal. I trust you.”
“Oh, well, no pressure. You know, if I get sent back to Double A, it could be a while before I can gather up enough to get you a ring. Of course, if I get sent back to Double A after the year, I think that would be baseball’s way of telling me I should move on.”
BOOK: Out of My League
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