“We have six minutes,” I say, my head under my son’s bed, looking for his red baseball shirt. It’s 7:50 on Saturday morning, and Johnny, age 8, the youngest of my five kids, sits mournful on his bed. “I already checked the closets,” he says, shirtless, his lips pressed together in one line.
Today’s the big game where Johnny will pitch for the first time, his debut on the mound, and I can’t find the red shirt. “Wilton Phillies, 11″ it reads. “11 is the best. Number 1, then number 1 again,” I said when the coach handed out uniforms and Johnny didn’t get his favorite number, 3.
I forage and feel tears push up through me. I know the shirt is at Johnny’s father’s house. It never made it into the backpack after the game last Saturday, when Larry had him for the weekend, and I never double-checked.
My son, my sensitive son, will be the only one on the field today wearing the wrong shirt, looking different from the other kids, disadvantaged from the start because I don’t live with his father.
My children have gone to more games and activities unprepared than I can count because I can’t keep track of what is at which house. There is no way to plan for what I don’t know I won’t have at any given moment. But still I try, stuffing soccer socks and football jerseys in backpacks, not wanting my children to be short-changed, singled out.
I’m angry, no doubt about it. The logistics of divorce are exhausting, and often I feel like I’m stuck handling more than my share of them. I’m always the one to drive Johnny to and from my ex-husband’s house. Though I am only sometimes the forgetter, I am always the fixer, or at least try to be.
Last Saturday afternoon I drove to Larry’s house to drop off Johnny’s clarinet and pick up his football cleats. Larry did not answer the bell, and he had not left the cleats out. I propped the clarinet case against the doorframe. These trips take everything out of me. Even after 8 years, it doesn’t feel normal to leave my children’s things on a back porch. Later that day I watched my son play football in the rain, the only one in sneaks, not cleats, a poorly prepared Wilton Warrior, and I couldn’t help feeling responsible.
Back in Johnny’s bedroom, I open and close the left-hand dresser drawer where the shirt should be, expecting a different outcome every time. It’s sheer lunacy. “I’m sorry, Champ,” I say, slamming the drawer harder than I mean to.
My daughter, Sophia, excavates clothes from the hampers, checks under pillows. “Call Dad,” I say. “Ask him to bring the shirt.” But I know Larry won’t answer his phone at this early hour, and he likely won’t come to the game.
“Look for any shirt that’s red,” I say. Sophia looks. She is 13 and rarely follows my instructions, but she must sense my anxiety. As must Johnny, who sits on his bed quietly, pulling at the laces on his mitt. This is my one child who is still enamored with me, a special mix of a boy, exceptionally athletic and especially sensitive, and I am letting him down.
We are five minutes late for the baseball game. Johnny runs to the dugout wearing a red Gap T-shirt. “We can’t find his uniform,” I say to the coach, holding my breath and Johnny’s hand. “Can he still pitch?” He can.
Larry arrives in the bottom of the 7th inning, aloof; he carries a Stop ‘n’ Shop bag containing Johnny’s shirt, still dirty from last week’s game. I race to the dugout from my spot behind first base and hand Johnny the shirt. “It’s okay, Mom,” he says. “Its too late.”
Johnny strikes three out in the last inning. My little boy is resilient, a winner. Still, I wonder how he feels out there on the mound, not a 3 or an 11, the only numberless boy among the numbered.