willard park is supposed to be the bad part of town. it’s supposed to be the bad part of town because a couple of black families live around the park. in my town with a drive-through liquor store and a 24-hour gun store, willard park is supposed to be the bad part of town.
my little league baseball games are at willard park, my brother’s too. the morning of our saturday games, we apply our baseball kit: polyester baseball pants down just past the knee, t-shirts with local business sponsors, soccer socks pulled up to the knee, and soccer cleats.
some of the other kids have baseball stirrups and baseball cleats. my dad says we don’t need another pair of cleats to wear for a couple of weeks in the summer.
we get in my dad’s hatchback to go to the park. my brother sits in the front seat and picks the music. he chooses between the three cassette tapes my dad keeps in the car: ramones/brain drain, traveling wilburys/vol. 3, and bodeans/home.
sometimes i am allowed to sit in the front seat. sometimes on the way home, i sit in the front seat and my brother sits in the trunk. a couple of stop signs before the hill to our house, my dad opens the trunk and my brother is free to the world, hanging onto the back of the seat, smiling in the rearview mirror. the car is cracked open like a bottle of champagne as my dad accelerates up the hill.
when i’m in the front seat, i always choose the ramones. i turn the volume louder when the trunk is open.
we arrive at willard park. the grass is dry like papier-mâché. we hopscotch across the patches of dead grass toward the baseball field, kicking up dust with our soccer cleats. one of my shoes comes untied.
i bend down onto my left knee to tie my shoe. as i rise to brush clean my baseball pants, i notice an inkling of red saturating the fibers. sometimes you see the pain before you feel it, a telegraph clicking out a message letter by letter onto your body.
my knee stings as i raise my baseball pants for a closer look. my dad notices something is wrong. he circles back for a closer look too. “that’s a little puncture,” he says, “it happens.” he hands me a band-aid smoothed so thin from years in his trifold wallet that i can barely separate the paper from the bandage.
on the ground where my knee was, we notice a gnarled piece of shattered glass sat up in the dirt like a broken tooth in a found animal jaw. my brother is getting antsy because his team is finishing warm ups on the baseball field. he runs ahead and my dad finishes tending to my knee.
my brother’s team takes the field. my dad and i take our seats on the hill behind the backstop. my game doesn’t start for another hour or so.
my brother’s game goes on. i untie and retie the square knots on my baseball mitt. i watch my brother bat every couple of innings: a popup to leftfield, a walk, a single down the middle past the pitcher. i stare off at the housing development beyond rightfield.
in between me and the housing development sits a pork tenderloin of a boy twined in a hand-me-down t-shirt and stone-washed jeans. he thinks i’m staring at him.
“do you have a staring problem?” he grunts. my gaze descends from the housing development to his eyes, two dull yolks in his hardboiled face.
“do you have a staring problem?” he splurts louder.
my heart putters faster and more blood moves through my arteries. i break gaze and look up at my dad. he whispers down to me, “if he says that again, you take your bat and you smash it down on his collarbone. that’s what gladiators used to do. so the other guy couldn’t hit back.”
my eyes drift down to the ground between my legs.
i see my knee. my knee with a sweep of blood scrawling out a new signature across my baseball pants.