Monday, February 16, 2009

"I Brake For Miracles"

Posted in Trolley Dodger Fan magazine, April 1998:

My dad always made us leave early. Every Dodgers game, every Rams game, every Lakers game. But the one I'll never forgive him for is the World Series game we went to ten years ago. I was 11, and my dad's co-worker got us tickets to Game One. I was ecstatic. I was too young to remember the '81 championship season, so this was huge for me. My team in the World Series!

"We have to stay to the end, dad. We have to." He just moaned and groaned about freeway traffic. I just hoped the Dodgers went up by ten runs, so if I did get dragged away, I'd know I wasn't missing anything.

It got to the ninth, and dad and me were still in the park! But the Dodgers were losing, and the great closer Dennis Eckersley was coming in for the favored Athletics. Dad was ready to hit the road. This game was over, and the A's were gonna sweep. Those were his thoughts, not mine. He had me pack up my jacket and my souvenirs, as Eck was warming up. First batter pops out, and we're two outs away from losing. That's when dad started pushing me toward the exit. I was furious, stalling in any way I could. As we headed for the gate, we stopped on the lower level, and saw the second out. "That's it," he told me, and whooshed me away.

Then we were in the parking lot out beyond right field. At this point, I was the one hurrying, as I figured maybe we could at least hear the end of the game in the car. I remember praying to God that the Dodgers just stay alive till we got to the car.

Dad let me in, and I had the radio on instantly. We couldn't believe it. The announcer was saying there was a man on first. Someone reached base off Eck! And even more incredibly, my favorite player, Kirk Gibson, was coming up to pinch hit as the potential winning run! My dad had told me there would be no way Gibson would play, as he'd been injured, almost unable to walk.

We had pulled out of our spot. I thought about jumping out and making a run for it, back into the stadium. But I figured dad wasn't stopping, and I'd only risk missing something if I left the radio at the moment.

And then it happened. A high fly ball to right field! Back by the wall...and dad slammed on the brakes in excitement, as we heard the words "home run." The Dodgers had won! We were so happy, the last thing on my mind was "...and we missed it." I was just glad it happened, and at least I heard it...and was close to the site of the miracle.

But here's the best part: About seven years later, my college roommate lent me a VHS copy of the game. I brought it home at Christmas, and my whole family sat around and watched the game. Now, I'd seen that highlight a thousand times by then, but for some reason, I never noticed it before: My dad and I appear in the climactic moment. It must've been because everyone was making fun of my dad as we watched: "hey, Don, this must be when you left," my uncle teased while we watched the third inning. We were all talking about his "policy" the whole game. My mom added to the kidding as Gibson hit the homer. "Look closely and you'll see Don and Ronnie driving away." We were all rolling on the floor. But her line made me actually look beyond the fence--after all, that was where our car was, beyond right field. It was dark, though...

But then I saw us. Right above the fence, red lights appear. I know I'd noticed them before, but I always thought it was just some random red light. This time, I noticed they were brake lights. Our brake lights! I was young, but I was very aware of my surroundings at that special moment. I remember the row of cars we drove down. There were no other cars moving. Anyone else who left early was long gone. People who made the choice to stay were firmly in their seats for the bottom of the ninth. We were driving away from the stadium, and like I said, my dad hit the breaks as the ball was flying out of the park. And if you look closely, you can see the middle break light above the two regular ones. Dad's car had that feature then, before it was common. I've even checked daytime photos to confirm our position. I know that parking lot quite well, and that was us.

So after all those years, dad was off the hook. He actually got us on TV during the most famous moment in Dodgers history. (The Dodgers, of course, went on to win that World Series.) Ask him about it now and he'll tell you, "We had to get out to the lot so I could get my boy on TV." Yeah right, dad.

--Ronnie Hart, San Clemente, CA, 1998

From the Washington Tribune, 10/27/2008

I was a 9-11 widow. My husband Mark worked on the 81st floor of the first of the Twin Towers to be hit by airplanes. Like so many others, his body was never found. Hundreds of friends and family members were there as we put an empty casket in the ground. It's been unimaginably hard for myself and our two children, who were both under two when their father was taken from us. But I have a secret to tell, these many years later.

In 2001, my husband was having an affair. I don't know when it started, but on that fateful evening of September 10th, he didn't come home. He was with her. I hated the fact that I had to call a private investigator, with so much else going on in what should've been a happy time in our lives. Trust is the key to any relationship, and when I felt I could no longer trust Mark, I took action. I had proven it to myself, as if I needed to. I know he was with her that night. That next morning, I was seething with anger, picturing the two of them going up the elevators together, as they both worked on the same floor.

Of course, those feelings were forgotten, pushed far, far aside by the overwhelming sadness of the tragedy. For the first few years after, I only imagined the positive side of what could have been: Mark rediscovers his love for me, all is forgiven, and we raise a beautiful family. Around 2005, the reality side of our would-be future set in: We would've been miserable, our children growing up in the middle of a horrible, inevitable divorce.

The next year, my friend TJ called me. We'd been watching TV together years earlier when we heard of the two people who jumped to their deaths from the towers while holding hands. TJ knew what I was thinking, and I knew she knew. But we didn't say anything. When she called that day, July 5th, 2006, I almost knew what she was going to say. I was right. "I watched the video," she said. In that moment, I knew I had to accept the truth, that Mark and that woman were linked forever, filmed in a horrific lovers leap, while I, his wife, was home with our children, forced to prepare for a life of misery. Yes, it would've been miserable anyway, but not like this. But the next thing she said shocked me: "It wasn't Mark."

I'd hoped it was him. You see, at some point it hit me that with no proof that my husband even went to work that day, I needed to know he really was dead. Because if he wasn't, well, in my mind, he could be alive, living a new life with that...person. No! I told myself. He's dead. They're both dead.

This past winter, at the urging of my family, I took my nanny and my two boys on a vacation. I chose the South Pacific, as I've always been intrigued by its beauty. I found that it was indeed the magic place it had been in my dreams. But on our last day in the tropical paradise, I took a long walk on a beach that changed my life. My nanny was watching the kids, so I took an hour to be by myself before heading back to snowy, cold Long Island. On a secluded strip of beach, I noticed two people on a blanket, kissing each other, loving each other. I was on the other side of the palm trees, so they never saw me. I thought of the days when Mark was courting me, how we'd kiss for hours on the beach at Far Rockaway. For a few moments as I walked closer to them, I was as close to happy as I'd been in a decade. Then I saw the man's face.

It was Mark. "My" Mark. I wanted to be sure, though. I knew there was a chance this was my mind playing tricks on me. So I stood there behind that palm tree, my nails digging into the bark. I watched my dead husband kiss that girl for five of the longest minutes of my life. I don't even know if it was the same woman I knew to be cheating with him years before. That didn't matter. What did matter was that as soon as I became fully confident that this was Mark, that he was alive, that was the moment I was finally able to move on with my life. Going up that beach, I'd been a lonely, miserable person. Coming back down it, I was a free woman. I started jogging, even. As I reached our beach blanket, I was in a cleansing sprint, the warm wind whipping through my hair. I wasn't running from my past, I was running to my future. There were my kids laughing it up in the water, and there I joined them, gave them big hugs, and frolicked with them like I was their age again. They were finally seeing their mother happy.

We came back home, and life, after a long delay, started again. As for Mark, I don't know if he lives on that island, if he was just taking a vacation of his own, or what. But I don't care. I'd never wish for anyone to have to go through what those people went through on 9-11. But honestly? I stopped feeling sorry for Mark a long time ago, and now I don't have to feel bad about that anymore. Especially since I know he's fooling everyone, not just me. He took the easy way out. Walked out on life. And now he's worse than dead, and he knows it.

Now you know why I say I "was" a 9-11 widow.

The names in this fictional story have been changed.