From the Iowa Prison Writing Project
The Dream of Fields
Dreams are so much more encouraging than reality. Like this reoccurring dream I have about baseball. I’m 13 and in my last year of Little League: the dream recounts my first homerun. The darkness of pre-dream manifests the murmurs of crowd and their murmurings mingle with a waft of popcorn and hotdogs. Beyond the outfield, enormous fluorescent lights attached to sky-high steel poles flash to awaken the dreamscape. The game takes place at night so the massive fluorescent lights illuminate the grass on the field, the faces in the crowd, the dugouts, and especially home plate. The field itself hums like a whirl of a fan, and this hum could come from the crowd, but most likely it is the sound of dreams in motion.
So I step to home plate. This is no different than any other time I’ve been up to bat. My uniform is dark purple. My helmet has a plastic guard on the front for protection against hits to the face. My hair is black and sweaty but no one sees my hair. The faces in the crowd are motionless but expectant, like they expect too much from me. Sometimes I can’t deliver. But the crowd’s faces are beautiful all the same.
I focus on the night sky which should be tainted by the lights, but in fact, is way more beautiful than anything I can remember. The moon seems holy. The stars are unbelievably bright, they shimmer as if in a Hollywood movie. The world slows down like to a crawl as the pitcher winds up to throw. I am not looking at the faces in the crowd, but in the dream, I sense each expression burning red in expectation. There is no scenario where I win.
So the pitcher winds up and the world almost stops. He releases the pitch and I see every stitch, the red thread against the white skin of the ball reminds me of blood. The ball swirls and twirls, a painstaking trajectory through space and time. The bat feels light and secure in my grip. My stance is perfect, exactly how Coach taught me: “Feet shoulder width apart, Tony. Hands up to the sky. You don’t swing at the ball, Tony, you wing through the ball.” So I swing through the ball and I connect hard. The sound of aluminum bat against ball is loud and echoes across the field and throughout the crowd: perhaps someone listening to me sleep could also hear the sharp ping of the well-connected hit. I run to first-base and the world speeds up again. I hit first at full sped. My glasses bounce up and down on my nose, up and down so the field goes in-and-out of focus. Past center field I see a ball bounce on pavement so I think, “Where’d that ball com from?” The crowd erupts in cheers as lights and dream fade slowly to black.
The ball that bounced was the first homerun I ever hit.
When I get home that night, Mother is waiting for me. The thing about nightmares is that the darkness shadows everything. In this nightmare, I can’t see Mother’s face but I feel it critique my every move. My hair is black and sweaty and exposed. Mother demands, “Why are there still dishes in the sink?” I try to tell Mother that I do not know, that I haven’t been home from school yet. I try to tell Mother that I am hungry and want to eat supper and go to bed. I try to tell Mother a lot of things.
Then, like a pitcher, he winds up to throw a punch. The world slows to a stop and I see her knuckles strain white under the grip of her fist. I notice that she throws her punch way to wide. If this were a pitch, the ball would drag to the outside of the plate. I would not swing at this pitch. But I am not swinging and she connects with my mouth. She doesn’t punch at me; she punches through me. She punches with her hips. I taste blood and I think of baseball stitches. Then my home itself hums like a whirl of a fan, and this hum could come from the punch, but most likely it is the sound of dreams dying. I fall to the ground but I know not to get back up. In a dream I would get back up, but this is a nightmare. In nightmare you stay down. So I stay down and the carpet is filthy and smells like cigarettes and spilled beer. There is dirt in the carpet, but not the like the dirt on a baseball field. The dirt in the field is beautiful. There is light from the television, but not like the lights in center field. The lights in the center field were beautiful.
Later she cries and apologizes and I forgive, but how many dreams are murdered before we are dead inside?