Wednesday, April 4, 2007

The Scuffed Baseball By Faisal K. age 12

The Scuffed Baseball
By Faisal Khurshid


* 1 *

Paul tossed and turned on the cold floor of the dusty apartment as he tried not to irritate the knots on his back. He was a hopeful child whose only source of refuge from his abusive father was baseball, the sport that he adored so much. But it hadn't always been this way. Back in Mexico, his boyhood had been as normal as could be.

Paul Cruz was born and raised in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico; across the border from El Paso, Texas. At the age of two weeks, his parents split up because they were young, had only two years of high school education and were too poor to afford abortion.

When Paul’s parents split up, his father moved across the border to neighboring El Paso, Texas. After that, both parents made drastic changes to their lives. Paul’s mother, Theresa, went back to high school for a year and then went to a preparatory college for two years; all the while working two jobs at night as well as three on weekends, to earn money for tuition, food, and Paul’s daycare.

Meanwhile, Paul’s father, Troy, was doing quite the opposite - he stayed with a friend and was always drunk, or at casino's, gambling. He was a tall, well-built man whose handsome features were slowly wearing away from smoking. He was the type of person who would never have made anything of his life. Troy barely got by on whatever earnings he had left over from his job as a valet serviceman and he would often resort to drugs as a haven to get away from his depressing, stressed out life. After he had left Theresa, he forgot about his child, and had never talked to her after Paul's birth.

* * *
Paul had a normal life in Mexico, as any other young Mexican boy would have had. His school was just like those in poor neighborhoods in Mexico, focusing on Spanish, while tutoring sub-par education in other subjects. As a youngster, he never really got to leave the town, again just like every other poor little boy. He and his friends would spend time together playing baseball or soccer, but never anything out of the ordinary. Paul and his friends were all tall and thin, and this too was nothing unusual in their neighborhood. They would always dream about a life in America, with big, clean houses and beautiful wives; but all the boys knew it would just be a dream, never to be lived, only to serve as entertainment in their young minds.
* * *
One day, a professional wrestler - named Eddie Guerrero - came back to Ciudad Juarez, his home town. He was a big, muscular guy whose polite manner didn’t match with his tough body.

“Hey guys!” said Eddie cheerfully, “My name is Eddie, I grew up in this town.”

“Hola,” replied the three boys in unison.

Eddie played baseball with Paul and his friends, and told them about life in America. He spoke of living in a house fit for twenty people and earning so much money that he could afford to have four cars at the same time. The boys marveled at Eddie’s stories about wrestling. They fantasized growing up to be famous and rich in America, just like Eddie.

The next day, Eddie had to leave – but before leaving, he gave Paul a dirty, scuffed-up baseball and a t-shirt that said “Latino Heat,” Eddie’s stage slogan. Even though the baseball’s leather covering was peeling off, it was the best baseball Paul had ever had.

From that day on, Paul aspired to become good at baseball. He dreamed that one day he could be so skilled in baseball, that he would be as famous as Eddie and have a big house. Paul practiced throwing the baseball whenever he could. The baseball was his prized possession; he would always keep it in his pocket, keep it by his head at night, and fall asleep examining each little scratch and blemish in the ball. He was determined to succeed at baseball.

* * *
On an extremely hot September day, Theresa got a little late from school, and was in a rush to get to Paul’s daycare by five, before the evening rush. As she got onto the highway, she was nervously looking for her cell-phone, to notify the daycare center she would be late. This was when, a car trying to make a pass, hit her car. As her car started to swerve out of control, Theresa tried to steer straight in a frantic attempt to gain control. This only made things worse, and her car rolled over the median, colliding with an oncoming truck. Her car got overturned and was hurled against the side wall. The moment her car hit the wall, it crumpled and burst into flames, killing Theresa.

* * *
At the daycare center, the manager, Diana, was worried sick by seven o’clock. She repeatedly called Theresa’s cell phone but kept getting answered by the machine. Finally, on the last call, the phone was answered by a deep-voiced man who sternly introduced himself as Officer Ramón. He promised to come to the daycare center right away. It was past six o’clock now and all her children had left, but Paul was still there, peacefully oblivious to the fact that something terribly bad had happened.

When the policeman arrived at the daycare, he mumbled an introduction to Diana and then turned to Paul,

“Is this your mother?” Officer Ramón said, as he held up Theresa’s license.

“Sí, Señore. Es mí madre,” (Yes, sir. It is my mother) replied Paul, shakily.

At that time, Officer Ramón took Diana into the office and explained the whole story to her and she almost started crying upon hearing the news.

Paul was only seven years old, and was very confused on being told that his mother had gone to ‘a better place.’ Whenever he would hear this he would immediately start bawling and yell back, “But here is a better place!”

* * *
Paul had to spend a week in the orphanage until the police were able to trace down his father. That week was hard on him, because none of the boys would talk to him leaving him feeling very lonely at times. On his seventh day in the orphanage, Officer Ramón came to the orphanage with a kindly-looking lady, who wore an almost fake looking smile, “Paul, I am Miss Gomez, I am a social worker who will be taking you to your father.”

Paul replied, “I have a father?”

“Yes, Paul, he lives in El Paso, right across the border.”

* * *
Paul had mixed feelings as he climbed into Miss Gomez’s black SUV for the ride to El Paso. He was eager to meet his father and get to his new home, out of curiosity; but at the same time he was afraid because he was only seven, and had never experienced any drastic change in his life. The drive took about fifteen minutes; El Paso was right across the border. When they reached the border, there was a long line of cars waiting to get checked by the border guard. Paul had never seen so many people gathered in one place before. The closest thing he had seen to this big of a crowd was the Cinco de Mayo festival, where the whole village gathered.

The border guards scared Paul because they were all dressed in identical uniforms, similar to that of Officer Ramón’s.

“Hello, passports please,” said the border guard.

“Here you, go sir,’ replied Miss Gomez, as she handed two booklets over and a paper saying “POLICE REPORT” at the top.

“The boy… he is an orph…” questioned the border guard as he was cut off.

“Yes, I am taking him to his father. His mother died in a terrible…” said Miss Gomez, as she continued on.

Miss Gomez and the border guard continued talking in a business-like manner. Paul didn’t really understand, but he heard his name mentioned a few times.

“Lets get you to your father,” said Miss Gomez enthusiastically to Paul, as she finished her talk with the border guard.

Paul's first impression of the United States was that it was very clean and well kept. He noticed that there was no pile of thrash by the highways, which was almost customary in Mexico. He also noticed that both sides of the highway were loaded with trees and all unused land was either paved into a sidewalk, or green with grass. These things were something that his village in Mexico lacked. He also noticed that cars were shiny clean, as if brand new, or newly cleaned. In his village everybody kept driving the same, old cars and if anybody needed a new one they would just buy one from a neighbor who was ready to get rid of his old one. Nobody cleaned their cars, if they got dirty, nobody would care. The most surprising thing that Paul noticed was the great, big car dealerships. In his village there was nothing like this. He was amazed at the hundreds and hundreds of brand new, shiny cars.

Within a few minutes, Miss Gomez pulled into Troy’s shabby apartment complex, where he lived in his friend’s apartment.

“Wait here,” she gestured to Paul, still in that over cheerful voice.

He watched as Miss Gomez entered the run-down apartment complex.

* * *

When Miss Gomez knocked on the door of the apartment Troy shared with a friend, she herself could barely hear her knocking against the loud sound of music coming from within the apartment. When the door finally opened, she was greeted by a tall, muscular man who looked as if he hadn’t shaved in a week.

“Huh? Who are you?” the man grunted rudely.

“Are you Troy?” Miss Gomez replied.

“Uhm… yeah. Are you here about the boy?”

“Yes, Paul will be in your custody from now on.” said Miss Gomez, pondering if she was doing the right thing.

“Where’s the boy?” Troy asked, reluctantly.

“He is out in the car. I need you to sign some papers first,” Miss Gomez said, as she took out some papers.

Miss Gomez explained the terms of custody to Troy, but his all he seemed to care about was the money he would be receiving weekly.

Eventually, Troy and Miss Gomez were done with the paper signing and legalities so Miss Gomez went to the car to get Paul. Meanwhile, Troy turned to his roommate, Mark, and said, “That kid is gonna be so much trouble. All kids are. But I need the extra cash…”

“Yeah dude, I don’t know why you’re doing this.” His roommate replied, “Why did you ever
marry that girl anyways?”

“I don’t know, it seemed like a good idea at the time, she seemed really into it, and those drinks I had at the bar that night didn’t help either. I regret ever getting together with Theresa.”

While this was going on, Miss Gomez arrived at the car, where Paul was anxiously waiting.

“Time to go meet your father, Paul!” Miss Gomez said, cheerily, even though her face showed
confused, mixed feelings.

Paul obediently stepped out of the car and followed Miss Gomez into the neglected apartment.
When the two of them reached Troy’s apartment, he and Miss Gomez talked, shook hands, and then she left.

Troy led Paul into his badly kept apartment without even a greeting of any sort. Paul was revolted by what he saw as he stepped into his father’s apartment. There were dirty clothes covering the floor, stale food and dirty dishes on every countertop, and worst of all was the repulsive smell of dirty socks, mold, and cheap cologne. He was beginning to get scared as he quietly took a seat at the edge of Troy’s couch, which was a filthy polka-dot color of alcohol stains and the original tan color.

“You sleep in the walk-in closet,” Troy said insensitively.

Paul quietly made his way to the closet, which was a room not much bigger than a bathroom, and was bare except for a sleeping bag and a couple of empty suitcases. He was okay with most living conditions, but this closet was smaller than his room in his old home in Mexico and yet smaller than the room he had at the orphanage. He didn’t even get any dinner from Troy, who hadn’t said a word to him since he showed him to the closet.

It was only then that the reality of his mother’s death finally hit him. His emotions came up in relentless sobs as he thought about how loving his mother had been to him, even when she couldn’t give him the food he needed to sooth his rumbling stomach. That night he cried himself to sleep on an empty stomach.
* * *
Troy was not fit to be a parent. Troy would often hit Paul when he would complain. He was also not home a lot. He spent most of his day at casinos and at nights he would be out partying with his friends. Troy’s friends were a rowdy group of men who would enjoy getting drunk and annoying girls. Paul was always bored and hungry when Troy wasn’t home. Troy never bothered to buy any food to keep at home, so Paul often went hungry for long periods of time.
Whenever Troy was home he would be drunk. Paul was scared of Troy when he was drunk because he would often throw his empty beer bottles at the wall, sending glass fragments flying everywhere.

The apartment was in appalling condition. Even if the place wasn’t, it would be a claustrophobic’s nightmare. The paint on the walls was an unsightly shade of off-white, the floor was filthy with beer stains and mud, and the apartment’s only furniture was an ancient couch.

Paul hated living in the place. He had nothing to do all day, so he kept himself from going insane by entertaining himself with stories about baseball.

There was never much interaction between the father and son, Paul was already a quiet boy, especially around the scary Troy, and Troy didn’t care much for Paul. The only time the two of them would talk was when Paul asked for food, and Troy reluctantly gave him some.

Over time, Paul had gotten used to Troy’s insensitivity. One thing he really hated was being unaccompanied most of the time. In Mexico, he would be happy all the time with all his friends, but living with Troy was very lonesome. Eventually, although he hated it, he learned to cope with being alone all day.

* * *
One day, which happened to be Paul’s eighth birthday, Troy came home dangerously drunk and, for no reason, took off his belt and started whipping Paul with it. This enraged him, although he wanted to hit Troy back, he knew he would be overpowered and that it would be a worthless effort.

“Ah, Ouch! Troy! That hurts!” Paul’s yelling and screaming only made Troy’s whipping harder. He was relentless in his excruciating torture.

Paul was furious with Troy whenever he was drunk, but this was worse than any of the other countless times his father had come home drunk; this time, he was exceedingly infuriated in a drunken frenzy.

Eventually, Paul couldn’t stand the beating, he had to do something.

“I hate you, Troy!” Paul yelled out in utter rebelliousness.

Of course, this only made the drunken father increasingly senseless.

Troy picked up the boy by his only t-shirt, his beloved t-shirt that the wrestler had given to him, and hurled him at the wall. Paul’s little, eight year-old body hit the wall and collapsed on the ground.

He looked atrocious; there was a repugnant gash on his neck which was leaking blood on top of blackened, sticky, dry blood; he had swollen red marks on his neck and face from being slapped; worst of all was the macabre marks on his back, visible even through his t-shirt.
At the sight of all this, Troy grabbed a vodka, popped the cork, downed half the bottle in one gulp, and headed to his room, where he fainted before reaching the bed.

Meanwhile, Paul’s vision was hazy and he slowly went to a peaceful, long-awaited sleep.
Paul would never forget that clash with Troy. Even though in Mexico they couldn’t afford good birthday parties, that birthday was the worst one he had ever experienced.

He was determined to run away, he was filled with so much abhorrencehatred for Troy that he knew he would never be able to live with him ever again.

* * *
Weeks went by, without a single word between the father and his son. Paul barely ate, and whenever he did, it was whatever scarce food he could find in the fridge. Those weeks were hard on him; his injuries blistered and itched all the time. His cuts and bruises were infected and leaking puss from not being washed; he hadn’t taken a shower since arriving at the apartment, and from his own observations, neither had Troy.

The next night when Paul thought Troy was sleeping he tried to sneak out, but Troy was awake, drinking a beer and watching ESPN. When he heard the sound of fast footsteps he was alarmed.
“Who’s there?!” he yelled, while he grabbed a bottle of whiskey and threw it to the source of the sound.
The bottle hit Paul on the back of his head. It shattered, broken glass shards gave him cuts on his neck, and the alcohol streamed down his back, flowing freely into his wounds, stinging the cuts and causing immense pain.

He ran out of the apartment, as fast as he could. He jumped the whole flight of stairs, tore past the door, and ran. He didn’t know where he was going or what to do; all he knew was that he was going to get away from Troy. He ran across the parking lot, towards the exit of the lot when suddenly he was smashed into a car backing out of its parking spot. Although the hit itself wasn’t enough to hurt Paul greatly, it was enough to hit him to the ground. As he fell, he didn’t even have enough time to break his fall; he landed right on his head, knocking him out cold.
* * *
When Paul regained consciousness, four hours later, his head hurt really badly and his body ached all over. He looked up and saw Troy, smoking what appeared to Paul as a home-rolled cigarette. He looked around; he was on the floor in the apartment.
“Don’t you ever try to pull anything like that ever again,” Troy yelled furiously, “You ever do that again and you're gonna get turned out to the streets. You got that? No more kidding around.”
With that, Troy finished his cigarette, kicked Paul, and left the apartment.
Paul was scared. He was in immense pain and very hungry. He limped over to the fridge, took out a slice of bread, and quietly ate it. He then feebly walked over to his room and collapsed on the floor exhausted.
The next thing Paul knew, Troy was shaking him awake.
“Come on, we’re out of here.”
Paul groggily got up, and followed Troy out of the apartment and towards Troy’s old, beat up Ford pick-up truck.
They sped away, running red lights, ignoring stop lights, and almost running over a drunkard roaming the streets.
* * *
Troy’s roommate, Mark, had been arrested with drugs; so if he wanted to stay in the apartment he would have to pay the full rent, instead of the half he split with Mark. But, above that, he didn’t want to get involved with the police. He had been involved with the police before several times for DUI, and it wasn’t an experience he wanted to relive.
There was a big problem though, Troy had nowhere to go with the boy; none of his friends would have taken him in, since he had the boy with him. He was at a loss for what to do.
There was nothing Troy could do; he had nowhere to go, nowhere to stay with. There was only one option left.
* * *
“When can we sleep in a real bed?” Paul asked, getting replied by a pitiless slap from Troy.
They had been sleeping on the cold, hard for three days. Whatever money Troy had, was spent on his alcohol. He made Paul steal food when he wanted to eat. This was hard on the boy because he would hit him each time he got caught, which happened a lot.

That third night was the worst one for Paul. He tossed and turned on the cold ground; each minuscule movement burning the raw, ghastly wounds on his back. His wounds were flowing blood as well as yellow slime, from not being properly attended to.

The next day, Troy had eventually arranged to get an apartment. He had been trying to get a place to stay, but because of his unwillingness to pay a fair amount of money, he hadn’t succeeded until then.

This apartment was similar to the previous one, but even smaller. There were no rooms, just a tiny area that could barely qualify as a closet, and a small kitchen area.

Both of them slept on the ground. They didn’t have any pillows or blankets, but even then, it was better than outside. After that, life returned back to normal. But unfortunately for Paul, normal wasn’t good. Troy would still frequently come home drunk and beat Paul.

Paul was starting to get quite depressed. Life was a living hell. He kept thinking of his mother and his home in Mexico. Every night he cried himself to sleep, thinking of his dear, loving mother and how she wasn’t there anymore.

Life dragged on bitterly for Paul and he knew he had to get away from Troy, the father he hated so much.
* * *
Time had passed, and it was late August and Troy knew he had to send Paul to school. Troy, trying to temporarily get rid of the boy, enlisted him into several boarding schools. Paul didn’t get accepted because he wasn’t smart enough. He had never had proper education. Troy had to find some way to occupy Paul’s time so he signed him up for a travel baseball team.
After a few months, Paul developed a love for baseball. He never missed a practice or a game. Everyday, he walked to practice and back; he was the first one there, last one to leave. He was also good at it. He was the star shortstop.
* * *
After the baseball season, the coach decided to reward the team for getting first place, by taking them to the local minor league baseball game. Even thought it wasn’t a Major League game Paul loved the experience. He loved how everybody would cheer for the players down on the field and how all the players were so talented. Ever since then Paul begged Troy to take him to a baseball game.
Troy would always say that he would never buy Paul tickets to a baseball game. Each time he asked, Troy beat him. He really wanted tickets so he entered numerous contests and drawings. One day, while listening to the radio he heard of a contest for baseball tickets that the ninth caller would win. Paul tried to time his call just right…when he got through…he was the ninth caller! Paul was ecstatic; when the DJ on the radio picked up he was speechless. But in the back of his head, he had one big worry: would Troy take him to the game?
The next day Paul told Troy he won two tickets to a baseball game in three weeks. Troy slapped Paul and told him,
“Why did you go off and do that? You idiot!” Then Paul nervously replied,
“Can we go?”
Troy kicked Paul and yelled back, “Get lost!”
* * *
The next three weeks leading up to the game were hard for Paul. He was nervous about going to the game. His mind was always on whether Troy would take him to the game or not. In school, when he was supposed to be studying, he day dreamed about going to the game. The day of the game, October 28, went by really slowly for Paul. It was a Friday, and he just couldn’t wait for school to end. That day he had a math test, he was sure he failed but he didn’t care because he was so anxious. But he was also irritated that Troy still hadn’t said he would go.
The game would start at five and by the time Paul walked the three miles home it was already four o’clock. He was devastated when he got home and Troy wasn’t even home yet. It was a forty-five-minute drive to the stadium and Paul already knew they would be really late.
Troy finally got home at quarter to five. Paul begged to Troy, “Can we go now?”
Troy just slapped him and said, “Whatever, We will leave in twenty minutes.”
“But the game starts in ten…” Paul begged back.
As soon as those words came out of his mouth Paul knew he made a mistake. Troy lifted up his briefcase and whacked Paul across the head.
Paul just wanted to go and hit Troy back, but he knew Troy was his only chance to go to the game. Although Troy wouldn’t ever admit it, he had a special love for baseball, so in the back of his head, he actually wanted to go so he yelled to Paul, “Okay, Let’s go.” Paul jumped up from where he was sulking and ran for the door.
* * *
By the time they reached the ballpark it was already the seventh inning. As they were making their way towards their first-row, behind dugout seats, Troy spotted some of his friends in the upper deck and said, “Come on, kid, we’re gonna sit up top.” Paul pleaded back, “But we have the best seats!” But Troy just ignored him.
When the game was over, Paul started towards the field. Troy yelled at him but Paul kept walking. He hung out with the crowd that was getting autographs, and then snuck into a door that said, “PLAYER’S LOCKER ROOM.” Paul found himself in a long hallway, which led to the locker room. He heard footsteps and dove into a nearby closet, which, to Paul’s benefit, was completely empty.
* * *
Ten minutes later, Paul heard many footsteps and he assumed the team was filing into the locker-room. An hour later, Paul dared to come out of his hiding spot. He started walking towards the locker room when he heard a player shout, “Hey! Are you the new laundry boy?”
Paul, not knowing what to do, shouted back, “Yeah.”
The team manager said, “You get the dirty uniforms yet?”
Paul, still confused, mumbled, “No, not yet.”
He walked around to each locker, picking up the dirty clothes and dropping them into the bin he had found.
While he got the laundry he developed a plan in his head - he was going to run away from home. He didn’t know when or how, but he knew if he wanted to have a happy life he would have to get away from Troy. As he rounded the corner, he ran into a Mexican-looking player.
He said, “Me llamo Felipe” (My name is Felipe). “¿Tu hablas español?” (Do you understand Spanish?).
Paul had learned Spanish in Mexico, but he mostly spoke English, even in Mexico, so he had a little bit of trouble understanding Felipe’s words.
When he remembered the words, he replied, “Sí, mi llamo Paul,” (Yes, my name is Paul).
They had a short until Felipe said, in shaky English, “Okay boy, I have go now.”
That night, Paul slept in the closet he stayed in earlier. For breakfast, he found a carton of donuts in the garbage can, which to Paul’s astonishment was half full. Paul thought to himself, “How do these people waste so much food?!” For the next week, Paul lived in his closet, posing as the laundry boy, and eating whatever edible food he could find in the garbage can.
Paul became good friends with Felipe and then one day as Paul was doing the laundry, Felipe walked in.
“Wear same shirt every day?” Felipe questioned, as he tossed Paul one of his jerseys.
As Paul was putting on the jersey, Felipe saw his back and exclaimed, “Paul, who do this to you?!” Suddenly, Paul started sobbing, and told Felipe everything.
* * *
The next day, two people, a man and a woman, each with warm, kindly faces, came to the stadium and talked to Felipe. They were talking in Spanish, and Paul couldn’t follow it well, but he heard his name being mentioned quite a few times. When they seemed to be done talking, he had to show his wounds to the the man and women. Then Felipe talked with them some more, and Paul was asked to leave with the man and the women, who introduced themselves as two social workers, Rob and Kathy.
Paul was taken to an orphanage, though it wasn’t anything like the orphanage in Mexico. This orphanage had nice, soft beds, tasty food, and kind people who kept the children entertained with balls, books, and games.
* * *
A couple days later, the same two social workers, Rob and Kathy, were back. They took Paul to a court house. This place was an unremarkable building with few people entering or leaving the place.
Rob and Kathy led Paul inside into a room. Inside this room was a judge dressed in a stately robe, and sitting a few feet to his left was Troy, the man Paul despised so much. To either side of him was a police officer and in front of him was seated a business-like man in a suit with an expensive Italian-leather made suitcase. Upon seeing Paul, Troy jumped out of his seat in revolt, immediately the two police officers grabbed him down and wrenched his arms into a horrible position, and applying handcuffs around his wrists.
Paul was instructed to sit down in a chair in front of the judge. He was scared of having to tell the judge everything that had happened, with Troy being right there. But then, the judge and the social workers got up and moved to the far side of the room, where they conversed for a long time.
Eventually, the judge resumed his position, and the two social workers kindly instructed Paul to show the judge the wounds that Troy had given him. Upon seeing the wounds, the judge nodded a great nod, as if everything had suddenly come into focus. He then asked Paul,
“Would living with Felipe Fox be okay with you?”
At this, Paul nearly yelled out an energetic, “Yes!”
He was then asked to leave the room with Rob. Ten minutes later, Kathy came out and they took the boy back to the orphanage. In the car they told him, “You will have to stay in the orphanage for a couple of days. In a few days, Felipe Fox will come pick you up. You will be living with him from now on.”
Paul nearly jumped for joy as the car stopped in the orphanage parking lot.

٭ ٭ ٭

“Yeah, Paul! Good hit!” Felipe cheered, as Paul got a double and three runs for his team. Paul was on the local travel baseball team, The San Antonio Angels. They now live happily in San Antonio, Texas, about five-hundred miles southeast of Paul’s old home in El Paso. Paul had tried really hard to make the travel team, and he was the starting shortstop and a star-player. Paul was really pleased with not having to live with Troy. His father was in prison now, and wouldn’t get out for quite a few years. His jail-time was increased because police found various drugs in his apartment, including marijuana and cocaine.
Paul had a very troubled childhood but now he is thirteen, and very successful in school, talented in baseball, but most importantly, living happily with his new father; rising baseball star: Felipe Fox.
* * * * *