Reading Time: 2.5 minutes
"Vamos" originally appeared in Issue 18 of Tahoma Literary Review.
James is able to convey this slice-of-life scene in evocative detail. I felt like I knew these characters -- these little girls, their daddy, his teammates. I could hear the ballgame, smell the field, feel the sun, sense the dynamic in this family. Who knew Cheese Doodles could incite such drama and wind up in such a sweet tableau?
Daddy plays baseball on Sundays, my two little girls tell their friends, their Nana, the super, the man behind the counter at the corner store. We drive down the hill to the field, seat belts loose, hands out the window paddling the June air, scooters toppled into the trunk, Cheese Doodles and apple juice shoved into bags. When we turn the engine off in the parking lot, we can hear the barks and cheers from the field. The girls hop out one by one, sprint off towards the diamond, the line of broad-backed men in black and yellow jerseys along the baseline. First, they find Daddy’s number, a big loopy three. Then they climb onto the metal benches, careful to pull down dress bottoms to protect their tiny thighs from burn. The little one may scream his name and wave. He’ll turn his head. Grin.
They eat and stare at Daddy and his men, rainbows of skin dark from too much sun or mother countries or both, knuckles along bats that practice swings, balls flying into fences to make the black metal shudder and still, shudder and still. I see boys; the girls see men: José who makes the duck-quack sound that sends them into fits of glee; Small-dick Benny lazy on third; Jairo with his fully made up girlfriend-of-the-week in a folding chair behind home plate; Joel who just quit his temp job on Monday. Fuck, Daddy yells when Angel drops the easy fly. The girls don’t look at me when he curses, they just sit and sip and chew, scooters leaning against bleacher bottoms, quiet in their daddy’s loud, big-shouldered world.
But when the smallest girl reaches into her Cheese Doodles and the plastic bag cracks into a cut then a sliver and then rips in two, the powdered curls falling out into a sad orange pile, she looks at me, lip turning inward, about to give way. I reach for her, but in this moment, she needs him—the man who gave her those lean legs and left dimple and kinky curls and skin the color of autumn leaves. She runs down below, and he lifts her over the dugout fence and sits her on his mud-stained knees. It’s okay li’l mama, he says. Joel leans over, his back V’d in sweat, Eso no eh nah, mama, but Daddy holds her closer, tells her, you’re ok, and grabs her small brown hand that will one day hold the heaviness of an unkind world, the “check which box” and her pause to follow, where instead of marking all the categories that correspond to continents from which her body came, she’ll leave it blank and question why she’s being split by words on a clipboard, and who wants to pull apart what makes her whole.
Daddy will get you more, he says, their two salt-covered cheeks pressed together, sadness, sweat, love, and the ball POPs and his neck jerks and the bat flies down the third base line and Randy’s running, Vamos, Vamos! Daddy screams, vein throbbing in his throat, her wet eyes turned towards the dust kicking up from their cleats as they round the bases. Let’s Go! he screams again, banging his one hand on the tin of the dugout bench, the other hand kept still around her tiny shoulder, knowing how to make a fast world slow, a hard world soft, to take her along, vamos vamos vamos so that her tears never make it past the small of her chin.
Reprinted with permission of the author
James had this to say about her essay:
Bringing my daughters to my husband’s baseball games, I was always struck by the way my husband merged his two passions: a bunch of men playing ball, and little girls who wanted to run and be on his lap. This merging mirrored so much about our relationship and family, the way we crossed paths from two different walks of life and formed a Venn diagram with our love. “Vamos” is a tribute to the way my husband finds those small spaces and quiet moments of love for our daughters during the chaos of his games, the beautiful collision of worlds.
Emily James (she/her) is a teacher and writer in NYC. You can find her online at www.emilysarahjames.com and tweet her @Missg3rd.