Installment #2 / But I Didn’t Die / a fictional memoir by Tom Evans

—–o—–

On the hottest day yet that summer the man and woman packed us into the aging family station wagon, parents up front, brother and sister in the back, and Rory and I sitting on the wheel humps in the way back, which, although uncomfortable, we preferred. We were told we were going to a baseball game, and although at that point in my life I don’t think I even knew what baseball was, it was fine with me- anything to get away from our humdrum days.

We pulled into the local hamburger stand and the man ordered food for everyone over the crackling intercom under the carport. This was all new to us and was very exciting. The waitress who brought our order out on white roller skates was pretty, with auburn hair piled on top of her head and a touch of makeup, snapping her gum ferociously. Bending down to peer in the back of the station wagon at us, she smiled and waved, then skated off.

All around us were cars filled with young couples sitting close together as they ate, their radios playing doo-wop songs, with music, forbidden pleasure, and the odor of fried food in the air.

In no time we were finished and driving through the center of town, which didn’t take long as there wasn’t much of it. When we were approaching the outskirts the man noticed several signs tacked onto telephone poles they passed that read:

TOWN DAYS BASEBALL GAME

TONITE  6:30

MAYFIELD PARK

He looked at the woman, who nodded slightly, then drove a little further until he came to a gravel road so barely discernible from the main road that the man must have been here before to even know it was there.

I knew nothing about the game but loved it immediately, thrilling at the whiteness of the ball and uniforms (though neither stayed that way for long), the clean sound of bat on ball, how everyone was in motion on every play, the chatter I heard on the field and on the benches where the players sat, the stern man in blue behind home plate, and was watching so intently understood a little more as each inning went by. I looked over at Rory and could tell he felt the same way.

The game was tied and it was the home team’s last ups. As a batter strode purposefully to the plate I noticed it was the centerfielder, who I’d had my eye on the whole game as he’d made several outstanding catches, exhibited his powerful throwing arm, and had hits in each at bat if I remembered correctly.

He’s a ringer, someone was telling the father, a stranger in town nobody’s ever seen before. He’s had a good game so far but now’s the true test. Hey, I’ll take a win any way I can get it. It’s a long winter you know what I mean and he’ll be a real hero around here if he comes through no matter who he is, that’s for sure.

The father merely nodded. The crowd was hushed as he took his stance in the batter’s box, erect, feet far apart, his long, gleaming white bat held straight up, quivering slightly, flexing his fingers on the handle of the bat.

The pitcher kicked high and delivered. The white ball came in hard and low, hung in the air for a moment- then CRACK! – it took off on a rising line and hit the grass between the right and center fielders, scudding to the fence. His bat bouncing on the ground as he flung it away, he took off around the bases. First base, rounding second as the ball was being retrieved and relayed to the second baseman in shallow centerfield, who planted, spun, and threw home. He cut the bag at third and ran through the third base coach’s stop sign, heading for home, the silver water tower with blue letters reading TOWN OF MAYFIELD over his right shoulder. There was a tremendous collision, his spikes flashed, sending up a cloud of dust, from which the ball flew one way, his cap the other. Long blonde hair cascaded over the shoulders of the prone center fielder, a girl.

The crowd was stunned at first, then suddenly stood up as one, exploding into cheers and applause, Rory and I among them. I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed. Had everyone else seen what I had? Was she really a girl? The foster family didn’t seem affected by it and when we left immediately afterward, no one said anything more about it as they made their way back to the car. I didn’t say anything or ask any questions, and Rory couldn’t confirm it either, but to this day I believe it was a girl. I’ve never seen anything like it since, it changed my whole view of the world. Anything was possible..

—–o—–

The summer wore on, evolving into boredom, as most summer-ends did I would come to find out. This combined with the constant uncertainty about our future made for anxious days of watching and waiting. The brother and sister teased us about leaving, little knowing we were half looking forward to it, but for the most part we were an afterthought. They were already anticipating the start of school, which was not far off, and I figured that would be the time I’d find out where we were going next.

—-o—-

We were all playing in the back yard as on any other day. I’m not even sure where I was because I never actually saw what happened, but the first thing I saw was Rory holding his hands on his head, blood streaming through his fingers. The brother was pointing at a red and green metal dump truck with a bed whose sides had very sharp edges lying on its side next to him, then at Rory and saying, He tried to take it away from me.

Bleeding profusely, his face ashen, Rory was taken to the hospital and would have a permanent scar on his head, but otherwise he was okay. We knew we weren’t going to be there much longer when we saw/heard the parents talking in low voices one particular day, and constantly looking our way. Sure enough, that very evening we were told to take a bath and put on our Sunday best the next morning. I knew it had to be true then though I knew no details and didn’t want to.

The next morning a County car came and immediately took us to the County Home. We’d heard about it off and on, mostly through threats that we’d end up there whenever we misbehaved, and though I only have vague memories of it, the stigma of having been sent there lingered long after.

—–o—–

As it turned out, this was a good thing. We were being ‘quarantined’ for adoption. It seemed our window of opportunity was narrowing as the older we got the less likely we were to be adopted, especially being twins, so they were ramping up their efforts to place us.

Sure enough, there we were the next morning sitting in our caseworker Mrs. Davenport’s office in the brown brick building in downtown Buffalo that housed the Child Welfare Bureau.

While we waited for our prospective parents Mrs. Davenport took the opportunity to coach us, that we should try to smile, not seem too eager, stand up to shake hands when we were introduced and try to answer any questions we were asked as honestly as we could. You’ll be fine, she reassured us, after all, this is what you want isn’t it? Yes ma’am, I said so quietly I doubt she heard, Rory merely nodding his head, definitely not reassured.

I will never forget when the couple suddenly appeared, the man, built like a boxer, with broad shoulders and nose, a flushed face, wearing a well-fitting suit and holding a dove-colored fedora with a trimmed pheasant feather in the band, bowing through the door, ushering in the woman, who was petite, with short, wavy, frosted hair, green eyes, and bright red lipstick. Mrs. Davenport immediately motioned us to stand up as the couple walked toward us. Wesley, Rory, she said, I want you to meet Mr. and Mrs. Barnes.

Hello, I murmured, and stuck my hand out to shake the man’s hand, the woman’s, trying my best to look them in the eye though everything was a blur, not even aware of how Rory was reacting.

All I remember was they seemed to be excited we were twins, which was something I’d never experienced before. The woman asked a lot of questions and the man winked at us several times. It turned out that Mr. Barnes’ middle name was Wesley, which is one of the main reasons they wanted to meet us. That and us being twins.

It seemed so strange to hear my given name, as I had heard it so seldom in the past I might just as easily have been called Joe or Dick or Jimmy and I wouldn’t have cared. And Rory, she said, that’s a lovely name, highly unusual, though the way she said it sounded a little uncertain, as though she might like to change it. Rory had no response.

I wasn’t exactly holding up my end of the conversation either. When Mr. Barnes asked me what I liked to do I shrugged my shoulders and said nothing, but remembering what Mrs. Davenport said and trying desperately to come up with something- anything- I finally said, baseball. I felt relieved and foolish at the same time, relieved that I had at least said something, foolish because I had never even played it, had only seen that one game at the last foster home. Mr. Barnes seemed pleased, though, grinning and saying, What boy doesn’t, so I guess it was the right answer.

After that it was mostly grown up stuff and before I knew it the interview was over. Feeling like I had to say something as they stood up to leave, I blurted out, Can we go home with you? Mrs. Barnes looked flustered; not knowing what to say she looked over at Mrs. Davenport, who said, Let’s just see how things go.

Even though I’d been through all this several times before, this time it felt better somehow, at least until I’d said what I’d said. I probably felt hopeful because I had to, what other choice did I have? I honestly couldn’t picture us not being adopted, spending the rest of the years in here until our majority. I didn’t even want to think about that possibility, which was real. This was the end of the line, no more foster homes for us, so what it came down to now was there or the Barnes.’ I tried to be positive but I knew what people must think: sure twins and kids in general are cute when they’re young, but the novelty wears off pretty quickly.

Then I began to agonize over what I had blurted out at the end, wondering if it had been the right thing to do and finally decided if it worked, it was worth it. I would say/do anything to get adopted. Here I’d been worrying what Rory might do or say to blow it, and I went and said that. I just wanted somewhere nice to live, it didn’t matter where or with whom, just so we finally had a home. That wasn’t asking too much, was it? Ultimately I knew it didn’t matter at all what I wanted, it was out of my hands.

We heard nothing all week, which couldn’t be a good sign, but I do remember worrying that we might be chosen and the others at the home would know, and we would have to endure their jealousy and ridicule because we were leaving. I suppose it would have all been worth it just to be adopted, but I was spared this anyway, because we weren’t told until late Friday afternoon to pack our things the next day because we were leaving. They didn’t tell me why we were leaving or where we were going, but I figured it must be because we were finally going to be adopted. What else could it be?

I stayed awake most of that night and the next, tossing and turning, thinking about everything that could possibly go wrong, dreaming I would die an old man in the County Home, wouldn’t that be something, and be buried in the cemetery in back with all the plain little white crosses marking the graves, never having had a real home.

One more day to go, it seemed to never end, with me on high alert, watching for any shenanigans as a send-off, but nothing happened. That night I woke up every few hours, checking to see that my neatly packed suitcase was still sitting underneath the window ledge, Rory’s beside it, in the bright moonlight, not willing to believe the morning would come.

—–o—–

But it did. When Mrs. Davenport came to pick us up the next morning I couldn’t wait any longer to know if we were going to be adopted, so I asked her straight out. She looked at me, smiled, and said, I can’t say officially, Wesley, but it sure looks promising.

I was greatly relieved when we finally arrived at the Child Welfare Bureau. Hopefully this is no trial run, as so many times before, only to be returned, that this time it’s for keeps, I said to myself as I was getting out of the car.

Mr. and Mrs. Barnes were already sitting in Mrs. Davenport’s inner office when we arrived. She told us to have a seat and said, We’ll be out in just a few minutes, we just have to sign some papers to make it official. Now I knew for certain we were going to be adopted. Soon after, the door opened and I stood up, motioning for Rory to do the same. Mrs. Barnes held out her arms and I, after looking at Mrs. Davenport for the go ahead, went to receive her hug; Mr. Barnes, who stood behind her, stepped forward, extended his hand to Rory, who shook it, and vice versa. As we were about to leave Mrs. Davenport put her hand on our shoulders and said, Goodbye, Wesley and Rory, enjoy your new home.

Just like that it was over, but after all we’d been through, it still seemed so sudden it was difficult to believe it was really happening.

We went down the stairs and out of the building onto the sunlit street. It was Sunday, and the city was deserted, which made it seem ours alone. As the bells in the huge church across the street began to toll, flocks of pigeons streamed from the belfries and soared in and out among the tall shaded buildings flanking the street. We walked hand in hand through the city, Rory and I in the middle, down to the waterfront at the foot of Main Street. We gazed at the huge ships in the harbor, empty now, waiting to be reloaded the next day and set off for distant ports. Seagulls flew crying overhead, motorboats scudded through the water, sailors on the docks waved to us. Now and then we saw a sailboat far out on the water drift by.

Glancing back one last time, we turned around and headed back up Main Street, pausing to look in the storefront windows we passed: a jewelers, tobacconist, music shop, and a bookstore. I saw billboards advertising coming attractions at the movies, then we passed by an Italian restaurant with a dark, grotto-like entrance overhung by a wine-colored canopy; there were red roses in the windows, and candles stuck into empty Chianti bottles, their straw casings layered with melted wax. Mr. and Mrs. Barnes told us this was their favorite place to eat, promising to take us there soon.

We reached their car, parked in front of the Child Welfare Bureau, just as the afternoon sun was glancing softly off the tall buildings, turning them golden as sugar wafers. It was like being in a cavalcade, riding down Main Street, which wound like a worn typewriter ribbon through the city and beyond, to the suburbs  where they lived. As we sat on the back seat taking everything in, Mr. Barnes lit a pipe, Mrs. Barnes donned white sunglasses, and we all sat back to enjoy the ride.

—–o—–

Almost too soon Mr. Barnes turned down a tree-lined street, and said, Well, this is it. As he drove slowly down it, I tried to guess which house it was ahead of time. I looked at Rory and mouthed are you ready? Guess so he mouthed back.    Finally a large cream-stucco house with Indian red shutters came into view. When Mr. Barnes pulled in the driveway I caught a glimpse of what seemed to be a huge back yard filled with trees. My heart leapt as the car slowed to a halt and it was time to get out.

            I stood there for a moment, enjoying the view, monarch of all I surveyed. The street itself, a dead end, lined with elm trees, was on a gentle rise that sloped gradually down until it ended in a field. Each trim house boasted freshly poured sidewalks, a variety of trees, and well-tended lawns. As I looked up at the house- our house- I realized it was much nicer than any place I’d ever seen.

Just as Mr. Barnes was about to open the door Rory took off running down the street. I thought about going after him when I saw the surprised look on the Barnes’s faces, but, cringing inside, instead explained that Rory sometimes got like that, and he’d be back soon. We waited a minute or two and sure enough Rory dashed around the side of the house a few minutes later huffing and puffing, and finally stopped.

Ready now? Mr. Barnes asked. As he opened the door a thickset Irish setter came charging down the back hallway stairs and leapt up at Rory and me. Down Wingsy, Mr. Barnes commanded. Don’t worry he won’t hurt you, he’s just excited to see us. Rory retreated outside as fast as he could, yelling out, He stinks!

I gradually offered my hand for him to smell; he was soon wagging his tail and eagerly sniffing me. When Rory returned Mrs. Barnes, taken aback by his remark, said, with an edge I hadn’t noticed before, All he needs is to get to know you. Holding the door open for him, Mrs. Barnes continued, and he doesn’t stink, he smells like a dog. Now let’s get you inside.

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