Holding on too tight.

Joe Cronin, Boston Red Sox, on dugout steps

My dad taught me that if I gripped my baseball bat too tight, hitting the ball would hurt. My hands had to have some give, or the whole force of the contact would ricochet through my bones and, stinging, my follow-through would fade. The ball always careened at some odd angle to nowhere.

Hold on, but not too hard.

That was important.

I remember that shaking hurt, how it always found its way to my elbows and shoulders. All the joints in my arms rattling. “Ooooooh!” my dad would say, as if he could feel it too. “Loosen up on the bat! Try again.”

I think about that, sometimes, when I feel frustrated. When I stare in the mirror and wonder how long it will take before I get right in the head. Or whatever. I’m never sure how to put it, that goal. Some existence beyond what is. As simple as not flinching at certain sounds: I’d love that. I really would.

It takes – it has taken – a ton of goddamn work to get to being able to talk about even a scrap of it. So much work. Every hour of every day. Still I’ll wake up mornings and feel the dead weight of the air: Ah. Hello, old friend. Helpless helplessness. We meet again. That dread that has reasons and no reasons at all.

As simple as waking up without wanting to cry: I’d love that.

And, dear God. To try so hard. So hard. For such small things.

When I think too much about how tiny the victories are, how much effort has been spent in each one, and how many more diminutive intensities there will be: it reminds me of that bat vibrating in my hands. All that effort to somehow prove too much. Careening nowhere.

A little gentleness, you know. It goes a long way. Some mercy toward myself rather than cutting rage. It stretches the moment into something that can be tried again rather than lost. Gives the hurtling minute some room to breathe.

It isn’t really about whether I deserve mercy. God, is that a question I don’t know how to answer at all. Whether I deserve anything, anything at all. I don’t know. And mercy? Please. Don’t make everything harder. Mercy doesn’t come kindly with scars.

It’s simply whether I need a gentle moment. And I really do. I really need a gentle touch. I’ve had far too many harsh ones. Very harsh ones.

Loosen up. Try again.


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