I arrived at softball practice yesterday covered in blood.
My coach jumped out of his car: "Oh my god! Did you get hit by a car!?"
The truth was that I’d just ridden 20 miles to the field and had absolutely no idea that I was gushing blood from my left nostril. I simply thought that the farmer blow I’d just executed had failed to eradicate all the snot from my nose.
I lifted a Castelli-glove clad left hand to my face and wiped. It came away red. "Shit. These are Sal’s gloves. He’s going to kill me."
The nosebleed itself was unremarkable except that I’d not had one since my junior year of high school when I got them quite regularly during cross country workouts.
"Open your mouth!" my coach demanded. I was tired from the final climb of the commute and not nearly as excitable as he was in that moment. I followed orders.
"There’s blood all over your teeth!!" he said. I think he was fairly convinced that I was having some sort of internal brain bleeding and would drop dead in a matter of seconds.
"I think that I was just swallowing the blood. Don’t worry!"
He handed me a hanky, instructed me to ride to our "Plan B" field, and got back in his car.
At the little practice field I changed out of my cycling clothes and into softball gear that has been lying in wait for months and months.
"Jesus christ," I muttered as I trotted out to left-center, "Now I have to remember how to catch softballs?" Tracey laughed.
My knees wobbled a little under the first fly that went up and Tracey laughed again.
The truth is that whether or not I’ve been out of service for six months, I am always going to be more comfortable on a softball field than I will be on a bike. It’s my body’s native language. Wobbly-kneed or not, my legs know just how to chase down flies. They pick a good line and move my feet over the long, green grass until we are standing where we should be.
The hand hugs the glove and together they make a catch.
The "thwack" is a confirmation of my place in this world, followed closely by the whirrrrr-snap of my throw back into PeeWee, our shortstop.
At the plate I hit better than I usually do on my first outing of the season. Opposite field stuff is popping up a little, but I’ll reign it back in.
It feels strange to play a ball game again after the intensity of training on the bike.
The pressure of softball is organized and arranged in entirely different kinds of compartments. Tiny dramas unfold during each at-bat. Anticipation presses like a vice before critical pitches go up into the air. Moments explode into infamy. Invisible, magical bonds lash spirits together in a phenomenon that simply cannot be understood by cyclists or runners, no matter how close the team or teammates.
The individual efforts of endurance training are easier to control, measure, and direct, but my heart will always drift back to the beauty of a well-played team sport. Being out on the road feeds parts of me that need to hurt and push and fight, but the softball field has the magical way of reminding me how I can accept interpersonal vulnerability, open myself to a group, and walk away from the experience with a hear that is somehow bigger.
The practice marked my return to the living and I was happy to be welcomed by a group of women that I’ve missed all winter.
Showing up on the bike, bloodied and tired, was a statement to myself. A statement of comeback and perseverance. I left a car sitting in front of my house to ride with a backpack to Oregon City.
The ride is a trifle when I’m well, but turning it into a commute on barely-recovered lungs was a stamping of my internal foot.
It might have been appropriate that I arrived bloodied because the past week went down like a battle. I slept 10 hours on both Saturday and Sunday and then napped both days for 3-4 hours. My body is sounding alarms and shutting things down.
Patience is a virtue so I’m sitting on my hands while the rest of me comes back around. If this is all just saving up then the payout should be sweet.