“Take my car,” Paul’s dad, Stan, said when Paul broke the news of Joan’s murder. “You’ll need a lot of room to take the family to the funeral.” Cars didn’t come much bigger than his Caddie. Lovingly nicknamed the Pimpmobile by Paul and his brothers, the sleek convertible sported smacking red interior.
“We may need it for as much as a week, Dad,” Paul replied.
By the time we left San Leandro for Susanville the day after we learned of Joan’s death, our team had grown from the “now there are 6” of our immediate family to “now there are 12” including Paul; Sue’s current partner Dee; her ex partner and bona fide family member Anita; Glenn’s friend and sometimes partner Phoebe who had once walked around naked in the kitchen of the house she shared with Patrick and friends in Santa Cruz while Paul and I stared at the bowls of berries we’d just picked from the garden; Joan’s ex boyfriend Larry who was now Joseph and out of the closet; and Mom’s friend Frances, an incessant talker who had appointed herself our trip’s documentarian.
Mom and Dad drove in their white Grenada with Glenn, Sue, Dee and Anita; the rest of us swayed down the freeway in style on those luscious red seats. Aside from a funny comment here or a witty comeback there, we were a sad solemn group.
We arrived in Susanville that late afternoon to be greeted by Dan and his parents, who stood bleekly in front of the motel where they had arranged for us to stay. Our hugs, though heartfelt, were hollowed by the stark absence of Joan.
It was too early for dinner and our appointment with the mortuary wasn’t until the next morning. What to do? Some of Dan and Joan’s friends were gathering at a friend’s house. One of them asked if we’d like to join them. Devoid of the will to do anything but numbly follow, we all ended up in someone’s dirt backyard in lawn chairs watching a couple of guys hitting baseballs.
Patrick, who’d been sitting by himself smoking, turned to face me.
“You’re up, Peg.”
“What?” I asked, willfully pulling myself out of the scene I’d replayed dozens of times in the last 24 hours since Dan’s call: Joan and I were sitting in my living room sharing a bowl of chocolate chip cookie dough laughing as my cat, who was cleaning himself, leaned too far backwards and fell off the couch. If only we could laugh again.
“It’s your turn at bat.” Pat said.
Shocked by the suggestion, I laughed. “Me?” I was lousy at hitting.
What was he thinking?
“Yeah — show them how to hit the ball.”
Never one to say no to Patrick, I shook my head, stood up and walked over to the guys playing ball. “Can I hit one?” I asked, smiling meekly.
The guy with the bat shrugged and handed me the bat.
“Pitch it easy,” he called to his friend.
I missed the first pitch, and the second. By the third, everyone’s eyes were on me. I was gripping the bat and cursing under my breath. “Goddamn it, Patrick.”
The pitch seemed to come in slow motion as I swung. Finally connecting, the ball flew over the far fence and into the neighbor’s yard. Everyone in my family stood and cheered.
I jumped up and down, hands high.
The rest of the folks seemed genuinely baffled by all the hoopla over one hit.
But our team really needed a win.