SOLACE THE THIRD and INTERLUDE
It was after 11 pm when I got back to the hotel. As I walked through the lobby I could hear a ruckus coming from the hotel bar. A large group of men sat huddled -- debating, arguing, shouting – they were an extremely angry bunch. The TV which was showing the highlights of the game from earlier that day; the score had been tied right at the end of the game when the ball was thrown to the opposing team’s “Mr. Hotshot”, aka Lucio Henriquez, the young player from Honduras who was a fan favorite. Hotshot reached up, the ball brushed his fingers . . . then bounced off and rolled away out of reach. Our team had scored just moments before the final buzzer, amid the deafening cheers from home crowd.
On second glance, I realized the angry group consisted of players from the opposing team. They were NOT happy about the game and its outcome, and I couldn’t help but notice Mr. Hotshot was nowhere in sight, and probably with good reason. His teammates were in a murderous mood.
However, I wasn’t a sports fan, and it had been a long day. I just wanted to have some quiet time to myself and then go to bed. I changed into my pajamas and was relaxing with a book when I got the urge for some ice water. The nearest ice machine was two floors below, so I threw on my robe, grabbed the ice bucket and waited for the elevator. After the weird day I’d had, I just didn’t have the energy to take the stairs.
The elevator arrived, empty. I entered, pushed the button and felt the elevator rise. No, wait, that wasn’t right . . . the ice machine was on a lower floor – why was the elevator going UP?
I’d pushed the button for the top floor. I must have been more tired than I thought. At least there would be an ice machine on that floor – right?
The elevator stopped, the doors opened, and I saw a sign directing me to an ice machine. I walked down the hall, but then walked past it – my feet wouldn’t stop.
This was getting annoying.
Down the hall I went. At the end of the hallway there was a door. My hand reached out, grasped the doorknob. I had no problem opening it – it didn’t seem to have been locked. Inside was a very nice suite, a living room type area with a bedroom beyond.
I was marched into the bedroom. There on the right-hand bed was Mr. Hotshot, skyping with his family. A very agitated man’s face filled the screen, and in the background, I could see a woman trying to calm him down. The man was barking questions in Spanish – I only knew a few phrases, but it was clear that the man was extremely upset. Meanwhile, “Hotshot” was frantic, uttering torrents of “Lo siento, Papi, lo siento!” The shouting was unceasing, with Hotshot’s mother tugging at Hotshot’s father’s arm murmuring “No, Papi!” After more shouts and one final screaming outburst, the screen went blank.
Hotshot sat trembling in stunned silence. All at once he rolled onto his side, wailing dramatically and sobbing up a storm – nearly keening. Wild torrents of words burst from his lips as his eyes and nose streamed like rivers.
I just stood and watched as his histrionics reached a fever pitch. Oddly, I wasn’t moved by this scene. If anything, I found I was annoyed and getting more so with every passing moment. After a few more minutes of overdone hysterics, I couldn’t help myself – I started talking to the kid.
“Look, I get it. You blew the big game, and now everyone hates you – your teammates, the fans – and your father is disappointed in you. You think you’ll never be able to survive the guilt. You think your life is ruined. But this is ridiculous! Dial it back, would you? Nobody died, the world isn’t ending, so there’s no need for all the dramatics! Just calm down, ok?”
I got the impression he wasn’t even aware I was there, but I knew he couldn’t sustain the overblown tantrum for long. I kept on talking.
“Kid, you know what? You’re still young yet – you’re only, what? 22 at the most? – so you’ve got a lot of time left to live. You have yet to meet your life partner, you have yet to work at a job, you have yet to have children. . . . “
I paused. “As I see it, you’ve got a couple of ways you can move on from this. You can let this be the defining moment of your lifetime and spend the rest of your life apologizing for something that was just plain bad luck – I mean, you didn’t deliberately set out to miss that catch, right? Or, you can take this, learn from it and go from here.”
He let loose another burst of weeping, this one a bit less violent. He seemed to be tiring.
I could hear the torrent of words pouring from me. I didn’t know what I was saying, and half the time didn’t even know how I knew what to say.
“I know, you thought up until now that you were the best there was; they didn’t call you “Mr. Hotshot” for nothing. You were so good you didn’t need to attend pre-season training, did you? You spent the time partying, at least that’s what the media said. You’re so good you didn’t need to practice. Practice was for suckers – or that’s what you used to think, right? Well, now you know you’re only human, not a godlike creature with super ball-playing powers. Oh, sure, practicing won’t guarantee you won’t miss a ball again, but it will tip the odds in your favor.”
The sobs had died to the occasional hiccup and sniffle. I heard myself go on.
“But that won’t be enough, you think. No matter how much you practice, no matter how much better you play from now on, everyone will remember you as the guy who dropped the ball. That’s probably true, but you can make them remember you in other ways as well – You can be the guy who taught the kids in your neighborhood how to play ball AND how to handle disappointment like a man, shake it off, and keep going. This was just one game out of your life. There’s next year to try again – and if you show your teammates and your coach you’re willing to do what it takes to improve your skills, I’m willing to bet they’ll be backing you up again in no time.”
Hotshot hadn’t appeared to hear a word I’d said. I’m not even sure he knew I was in the room, but at least the hysterics had stopped – I think he’d cried himself out. He was lying quietly, with an occasional tear still slipping from his eyes.
I was drained. There was nothing more that seemed to need to be said. I was heading back out the bedroom door when I heard his computer beep. He ignored it at first, but when the beeping showed no signs of stopping he picked it up off the floor, sat up and opened it. His parents were back on the screen, his mother smiling sympathetically, his father looking quite chastened.
“Luka,” said his mother, “Papi tiene algo que decirte.” Even though I didn’t speak Spanish, I somehow knew her words meant “Your father has something to say.”
“Luka,” his father said, “Lo siento. Lo siento mucho.” There was another burst of Spanish, the gist of which I somehow understood to be: “I shouldn’t have yelled at you. It wasn’t your fault you didn’t catch that ball. Mama made me look at the TV again and showed me the ball was going too fast to catch. You did your best. I’m not disappointed in you, Luka, I’m disappointed with myself. I didn’t give you a chance to say what you needed to say, and now that I’ve had a chance to think, I just want to let you know I am very, very sorry.”
Hotshot sniffled, but he was smiling as he and his father spoke together. I decided I didn’t need to stick around so I picked up my ice bucket and left. I (finally!) got my ice, headed to the elevator, and as it opened I nearly collided with one of Hotshot’s teammates. I don’t know how I knew, but I knew he was the guy who was rooming with Hotshot. Even though we nearly crashed into each otherI don’t think he sensed I was there – he certainly didn’t seem to see me or hear me as he started striding down the hall.
Another compulsion made me call after him. “Hey, you, could you go easy on the kid? He’s already broken up enough about missing that ball, he doesn’t need any more flak from you or the rest of the gang. He really did try and it was just bad luck he missed the catch, there’s no need to get hot under the collar about it. It happened, it’s over, and it’s time to move on. Oh, and if you could tell your teammates to lay off him, too, I’d really appreciate it.”
He didn’t acknowledge me, but he did hesitate a moment before striding off again. I wasn’t sure, but somehow I think he’d heard my message.
I went back to my room, curled back in bed with my glass of ice water and my book, but I couldn’t concentrate. My mind was whirling – what had happened to me today? Why was I suddenly an emotion magnet for men? Despite the thoughts racing through my head, my exhaustion soon kicked in and I was asleep within minutes.
It had been a week since that very strange weekend. I still couldn’t make sense of any of it, but after a day or so I pushed the thoughts to one side and went on with my life.
Now it was Sunday, and Sunday dinner was a sacred family tradition. Since I’d missed last week’s dinner, I knew I couldn’t blow off this one. I was in the kitchen making the salad while my naturally inquisitive mother was hounding me with questions – How was last weekend? Did I do any sightseeing? Did I enjoy the concert? Did anything exciting happen?
I took a deep breath and motioned Mom to silence. “Funny you should mention that. I had an . . . interesting weekend.” And I proceeded to tell her everything, from meeting Mr. Carlton at the bar, to getting lost backstage at Mr. Daffyes’ concert, to my encounter with Hotshot.
When I finished, Mom said nothing – miracle of miracles, I’d managed to silence her. But her forehead was wrinkled in thought. And then I heard a shout from the living room: “Good gravy, the girl’s an Enabler!!”
I should have known Gramma was eavesdropping. As she’d gotten older, she’d gotten frailer, but her hearing had actually improved – she had the ears of a bat.
“I’m a what?!?” I demanded, striding into the living room.
Gramma was grinning from ear to ear. “You’re an Enabler, girl! We haven’t had one of those in the family since my great aunt Ernestine!”
I was hopelessly confused. “Gramma, I know what an Enabler is, and frankly, I really DON’T want to be one. I don’t want to help other people destroy themselves with their bad habits.”
“No, girl, that isn’t what I meant.” Poor Gramma was flustered. “Back in the day we called people with your ability Enablers, but now that I think of it, that word has changed meaning a bit. Hmm, maybe we should call you a Facilitator? They pretty much are the same, when you think about it.”
“I don’t even have a clue as to what you’re talking about. What do you mean, my ability?”
“Well, I think it just took a while for it to kick in with you. It shows up differently with different people.”
“I still don’t get it.” I said. “What IS my ability?”
Gramma patted the cushion next to her. “Come sit by me, girl, and I’ll tell you all about it.” She gathered her thoughts and began to explain.
“Enablers – er, I mean, Facilitators – are quite rare. Their ability is pretty specific; they help other people to express certain feelings they won’t, or can’t, normally express. With Ernestine, her ability was to coax anger out of women. Ernestine was from the bad old days, when women were supposed to be mild and meek and let their husbands make all the decisions. Somehow Ernestine would get them to break out of that “little wifey” shell and let them start thinking – and feeling – for themselves. To most people, she was just another one of those suffragettes who were fighting for all those women’s causes, like getting the vote. And in a way, she was fighting that battle, but she believed that a woman wouldn’t be able to handle such rights until she was able to express herself and her feelings – ALL her feelings.”
“So she taught women how to be angry?”
Gramma nodded. “That’s a very good way to put it, girl. Now,” she said, settling back into the cushions, “Ernestine did say that, for her, it wasn’t something she consciously did, it was just something that happened. She once told me that, in her case, she’d be out somewhere – shopping, or with friends – and she’d get a feeling that she HAD to talk with someone, and invariably she’d end up talking to some poor mousy little lady with an inferiority complex. Ernestine told me she never came out and stated the lady had to, I believe the term you youngsters use today is “Grow a Pair”, but that by the end of the conversation, the lady would end up marching away with eyes blazing.”
Gramma shifted in her seat. “Now, girl, in your case it sounds like what you do is enable men to cry. I know, that stigma has been slowly going away for years, decades even. . . .”
“But it isn’t gone, is it Gramma? Even now, I remember hearing Cousin Jeremy teasing his friends after a Little League game. “So your team lost, huh? Whatta you gonna do, cry, you wuss? Is da widdow baby gonna cwy?” It made me so mad! I almost punched him in the nose at a game once just to see him cry, but unfortunately Dad saw me and stopped me.”
“You’ve always been like that,” Gramma told me. “Ready to protect others’ feelings. Somehow you always knew when other people were sad, even when they didn’t show it.” She leaned back. “Do you remember Mr. Magyar?”
“Of course I do! Living next door to him was like living next door to Santa. Most of the time he’d be busy making wood carvings, but he always had time to sit and tell me a story or to talk with me.”
Gramma nodded. “And do you remember one day, you went over to visit him and he was too distracted to tell you the story you wanted to hear? He stopped right in the middle, and when you prodded him to go on, he said “I don’t feel like telling stories today.” And then you said “OK. I’ll just sit here and we can be sad together.”
I hadn’t remembered that at all.
“I’d been watching you that day, and what you didn’t know was his daughter was in the hospital with meningitis. She was very sick; it was touch and go for a long time and she never recovered completely. Yet though he never said anything it to you, you somehow knew he was upset and sad and you didn’t try to cheer him up. You just sat with him and helped him be sad.” Gramma shook her head, exasperated. “The signs were there, but none of us saw them. I’m just surprised it took so long for your ability to manifest.”
I sighed. “So, this means I’ll have to go through life never knowing when I’ll end up walking somewhere, saying something, doing something I have no control over? Because I don’t think I can spend the rest of my life not being in control of myself for hours or days on end.”
“It won’t be like that. I think last weekend was more about getting to know your ability and how it works than anything. You won’t be running all over creation – from what I’ve been told, it only sparks your ability if you’re in the general vicinity. I suspect your talents are not about being there to MAKE those men cry, you’re there to help them to feel secure enough to cry.”
I sat there in silence. The more I thought about last weekend, the more I began to think Gramma was right. With Mr. Carlton, I had said the right thing at the right time to let him release the emotions he was holding back. Mr. Daffeys needed a witness, someone who could help him accept what he was feeling. And with Hotshot, I’d had been there to keep his emotions in check, to not let them overwhelm him and take over.
“Gramma?” I murmured, “Whatever became of your Great Aunt Ernestine?”
Gramma smiled. “Well, most of the time she just lived her life. She was a schoolteacher, she taught home economics – the usual things they thought girls should learn to become good wives – but she would always remind her students that the skills they were acquiring in class could be used for more than just homemaking, that cooking skills came in handy if you worked in a restaurant, being able to sew helped more than one woman own her own business, and that balancing a checkbook could lead to keeping the books for an office. Quite a lot of her students went on to have careers after they graduated, which was quite unusual in those days.”
“She sounds like she would have been fascinating to talk to – and what stories she could have told!”
Gramma smiled. “You’re right. I think you two would have liked each other a lot, you would have understood each other well."
Last edited by caircair (December 14, 2016 7:17 am)