Fans of The Man in the Box and serious readers of emotionally thematic dramas will be pleased to know that my second book, I Am the Lion, will be made available by December on Amazon Kindle Direct. For your pleasure I’m sharing the first chapter below. Enjoy!
You can find a full description of this book and my next three releases by clicking here.
I Am the Lion
Lydia was thrilled when her dad asked if she wanted to go to the first game of the season. She had spent most of that winter wondering if they would ever go to the stadium again especially since there was no World Series the year before because of the strikes—with baseball closed from August ’94 to April the following year, it was natural for most kids to assume it would never come back. So this particular game was doubly special because it was a sort of welcome back celebration for America’s pastime. But it was also notable because when baseball died, Lydia’s mom died shortly after. And now one was back from the dead.
Lydia’s closet was cluttered with forgotten toys and outgrown clothes. She tossed aside a Rubik’s Cube that had never been solved, a tie-dye Beanie Baby dog named Shelby that had a Kool-Aid stain on its face and right front paw, and a torn Lite-Brite box with only a few pegs remaining. Lying directly underneath a blue My Little Pony tank top was one of her two photo albums her hand brushed over, which caused her to look away as though turning from a bright flash of light. She wasn’t ready to confront those old pictures just yet. Maybe when her dad was ready she’d manage to find the courage to go through them, but until just moments ago, it was looking like he’d never be ready, so she might have a chance to rediscover those old pictures sooner than she thought.
Tucked away in the far corner was her baseball glove and blue Dodger’s cap. She reached for them and pulled them out of the confines of the stuffed closet, brushing the dust off the glove and bending the bill of the cap to her specification causing it to crack and crinkle into its former self. It wasn’t lost on Lydia that her mom was with them the last time she had worn them, so she had to work harder than usual to push her mom from her mind. It was a hard task, constantly ignoring images of her mom her mind worked effortlessly to recall. At first she felt guilty ignoring those images, like she was erasing her mom even further from existence, but if she dwelled on her, the tears would start coming, and Lydia learned early on that crying didn’t bring her mom back.
Prohibiting her mom from her thoughts on an hourly basis was the hardest thing Lydia had ever had to learn to do in her young life. But no one coached her, no one taught her how to do it; she just forced herself to figure out how to suppress those memories, to drown out her mom’s laugh and switch off pictures of her smile, her sighs, her smirks, her voice.
Crying didn’t bring her mom back, nor did it bring her dad back.
But with her dad taking the initiative to do something even remotely connected with their past life, Lydia couldn’t help but assume that he was coming back around. They’d go to the game and laugh and root and eat chilidogs until they were sick. Just like last season and all the ones before.
By the time Lydia met him downstairs with the glove in her hand and cap on her head, her expectations were sky high. It was the first time she had let her dad see her smile since the day of her mom’s funeral. Her dad had insisted that she not go with him to attend the service since he didn’t think such an occasion was appropriate for someone her age, so he left her at home with a babysitter.
When he had returned home that night Lydia heard her mom’s laughter coming from the living room. She shot out of her room and down the stairs as if Melissa Joan Hart herself were waiting to meet her. But when she got to the living room, she found only her dad on the couch with the blue light of the television dancing on him. He was watching the home video montage the funeral home apparently had given him. She stood behind him and watched her mother take a bite of wedding cake her dad was offering to her on a fork.
Enamored by her mother’s usual beauty, Lydia sat down next to her dad and watched the grainy screen. The story of the montage went from her parents’ marriage, then a few clips from a vacation they’d gone on, to her mom’s pregnancy, and bringing Lydia home from the hospital. The next clip showed Lydia as a three year old where her mom gave her a stuffed lion. There was nothing particular about the lion; it had come from a gift shop, it wasn’t a brand-name character, it wasn’t clothed in any funny outfits or sports jerseys, it didn’t make any sounds, or move or dance. It was just a regular prairie lion with a mane and a bushy tail. But to Lydia, at the age of three, it was anything but ordinary. It had come from her mother—a random gift from the heart, and something she rarely left alone in the years to come.
The montage had proceeded forward, the stuffed lion now a permanent member of the cast.
One of the more recent clips was a shot of her mom singing “Don’t Worry Baby” one night in her bedroom after she had tucked Lydia into bed, who was nuzzling her lion’s soft mane.
“Don’t worry baby,” she sung in a cooing voice. “Everything will turn out all right. Don’t worry baby…”
Her mom was synonymous with the Beach Boys. Sure, she’d listen to some Rod Stewart, and a little bit of Michael Jackson, but the Beach Boys were her anchor in the world of music. Her dad joined in from behind the camera in a high-pitched falsetto: “Oh what she does to me… when she makes love to—”
“Shh! You can’t sing that part,” her mom scolded. The camera jerked and tilted as she swung at the cameraman, who managed to avoid the playful punch to the stomach.
“You sing it, then,” he said, not irritably. Lydia could be heard giggling from her bed.
Elizabeth sang to the same tune, “I just want one more hug… from my Lydi-bug. Isn’t that better?”
That was the last time Lydia heard her term of endearment used. She smiled every time at that, and that night in the living room next to her dad was no exception.
Looking back on that night years later, she would have liked to believe that her dad put his arm around her and held her close as they sat there on the couch together, but she came to learn that you can’t pretend memories into existence.
When she saw that the Chevy Nova had been called out of retirement Lydia knew things were about to return to normal. The Chevy was only used for special occasions, and this day was definitely going to be one of them.
Henry navigated through the cross streets of Los Angels to avoid the traffic on I-5. He never attempted small talk with Lydia—or any sort of talk for that matter. But this car ride was a little stranger than just silence; it was an intentional, pregnant silence—an avoidable silence. Normally, Lydia’s father just couldn’t pull out the words to speak, but this time felt very forced, as though he had something to say, but was intentionally holding back. She felt it, and her lion felt it. She squeezed his paw and waited patiently for the car ride to end.
When they arrived forty-five minutes later, the sights and sounds returned to Lydia immediately. The large crowds of anxious fans, the smell of popcorn and hotdogs, the freshly-mowed grass of the patiently awaiting field, the crowded bathrooms. It was glorious. Sitting six rows above the dugout, Lydia allowed herself to imagine her mom seated just on the other side of her dad holding a magazine only intending to read it but never actually opening it. She had spent so much time trying to figure out what her daughter and husband found so fascinating about the men on the field scrambling after a small white ball.
“We’re losing,” said Henry leaning toward Lydia amongst the boos and jeers from the disgruntled fans. “Bad start for the season.”
Lydia snapped her head toward him in wonder that he was actually speaking to her.
“Tell you what,” he said, looking around at the angry people and clawing at his knees. “I’m gonna fix that.”
Lydia looked up at him, curiously, clutching her glove and lion together.
“In a minute I’m gonna have you close your eyes. You’ll close your eyes and I’m gonna change the score. What would you like the score to be? I’ll make it 7-3, how’s that? Dodgers 7, Marlins 3.” He was giddy as a child on the last day of school, stringing his sentences together into one word by this point. “Okay. Now close your eyes and open them only when I tell you, then the score’ll be changed and we’ll win the game. How’s that sound? Sound good?”
Semi-filled with the hope of a naïve nine year old, still wanting to believe her dad could do anything, Lydia humored him and closed her eyes. The angry yells from the surrounding spectators continued and she felt her dad get up from his chair as its hinges squeaked from relief. She peeked out of the corner of her eye and watched him scurry down the row of people toward the aisle and jog up the steps. What was he doing? She giggled, like old times, at his silly antic. Surely he had some surprise in store for her.
The announcer welcomed Marlin’s third baseman Terry Pendleton to the plate. Not wanting to miss the game, Lydia watched as the ball thudded in the catcher’s glove. It would be a few more years before that catcher swept the nation with his stunning .362 batting average—the highest ever by a catcher in the history of the National League. But for now he was just the catcher for the L.A. Dodgers, who had at least achieved the most home runs by any rookie catcher just the year before. They almost went to that game, but Henry couldn’t quite bring himself to it because he still couldn’t do anything that remotely reminded him of his wife.
Lydia only started to grow nervous when several minutes passed and he didn’t return. What was so crucial that he felt the need to leave his little girl unattended at a crowded baseball stadium for so long?
“It’s a double,” came the announcer’s voice somewhere outside of Lydia’s fading world. “DeShields stops it with an easy catch. He tosses it back to Martinez as Colbrunn takes the plate. The windup. The pitch…”
But Lydia didn’t see the result. Even though she was staring at the field through her fingers, she didn’t see if it was a strikeout or a hit. The game wasn’t at all important anymore—it hardly even existed. She clutched her glove and her lion like they were lifelines, keeping her from sinking into an abyss of total confusion.
She just wanted to see her dad—a feeling she hadn’t had in a very long time. She closed her eyes for real and made a lonely nine year old’s wish, that he would come back to her. Not just there at the stadium, on row six, but back from his own death, back from his own self-inflicted comatose.
With her eyes closed, the people around her grew intensely loud, which was strange because as far as Lydia was concerned, there was no game to root for. The world around her had shrunk down to just those hundreds of nameless Dodger fans whooping and hollering wordless sounds at the top of their lungs making her ears ring. Even when she opened her eyes the field was nothing but a plateau of grass and the players were scattering around it like ants. All she could focus on was the empty seat to her left and the never-ending row of people she watched her dad shovel past seemingly hours ago.
A mild panic began to set in. Kidnappings weren’t as common in those days, but still they happened, and the evening news didn’t censor those stories, so all Lydia could think of was how she should respond if someone were to grab her arm and pull her away from her seat to who knows where. Her mother had notoriously given her instructions on how to respond if someone were to try and take her. Odd, how now she couldn’t recall her mother’s words when she actually needed to.
She found a screw on the back of the metal chair in front of her and locked her gaze on it as though it were an anchor keeping her from floating away and becoming hopelessly lost in the chaos swirling around her. She focused on the rusted scratch marks left by the screwdriver that spun it into place.
A patch of softness rested on the back of her hand.
How do you know?
Because you’re still here.
Lydia could not refute this and the statement itself didn’t really help much.
Plus, there’s still time for your dad to show up…
Despite the attempts of encouragement, it became increasingly hard to breathe. Lydia fought back tears as her mind raced in a hundred different directions at once. She continued to clutch her lion tighter and its paw fell from her hand. The screw grew bigger, filling up her entire line of vision. It wasn’t yet necessary to make a scene, or even acknowledge to anyone that something was wrong. Besides, whom would she go to for help if her dad didn’t return? She jumped when the surrounding strangers all hopped to their feet in another wild uproar. Their excitement grossly contrasted her fears like she was a drop of oil in a lake, setting her completely apart. Their naivety angered her.
The crowd settled back down as Lydia made plans to slip away the next time they were called to their feet. She hoped no one would notice and that she would be able to find a police officer or anyone in uniform. He’d understand her predicament and sit with her until her dad returned. Or he’d walk with her and help her find him. Either way, when they found him, the officer would just explain that she was afraid and everything would be all right.
Just as she worked up the nerve to get up from her seat, Henry turned down their row and resumed his seat next to Lydia as if simply returning from the bathroom. But to her, he almost looked like an angel of light ascending toward her, so thrilled was she to see him.
“We’re still losing,” Henry said, shaking his head and taking his seat. Having completely forgotten about the game, Lydia wasn’t sure at first what he was even talking about. “Do you know why we’re still losing?” he persisted.
Lydia shook her head.
“You opened your eyes,” he said accusingly. “I told you not to open them until I said you could. I can’t change the score unless you cooperate. Why did you open your eyes, Lydia?”
She couldn’t tell him. She couldn’t answer his senseless question and she couldn’t recount the horrifying experience he had just put her through, not that he would have cared.
They watched the rest of the game in silence, neither cheering nor booing. Lydia acted as though her dad didn’t exist, and he acted as if he didn’t want her to.
Not until two decades later, when he recounted to her his side of events, did Lydia learn where he went and why he was gone for so long. Never, in all that time, could she have guessed that it had everything to do with seeing her mom again.