I’m not sure when they started; more accurately, I’m not sure if there is any separation from when I started to when the voice began. One of my earliest memories is that of an infant, perhaps a toddler at the most, walking around the first home I’d known, a duplex where my family and I occupied the top floor of a five room debacle of a home. There was a living room slash dining room, a kitchen, two bedrooms and a bathroom in a cozy six hundred and fifteen square foot area. I’d walked around a corner, and felt the urge give way to an activity; I shit my pants with gusto, and being just a year old, I had license to do so, so long as the diaper stayed on. I remember the sweet feeling of relief give way to a feeling of dread. My father was home, and my father did not like to change my shitty diapers. I wanted to cry, feeling that mom wouldn’t be home soon, crouching down as babies do.
“Shh,” a voice echoed from somewhere in the ether, somewhere I couldn’t understand. I stood both petrified and curious, the voice coming from behind me. I turned on my heel, and fell down, flat on my ass, my filth spreading. Normally, I would cry out as any baby would. This time, I looked behind me intently, looking for a voice that sounded so familiar, so familial and so close.
Impossibly, my mother walked through the door seconds later. I stared out the window, not returning her smile, just staring at the place I’d thought the voice had come from. “What’s he doing?” my dad asked, right behind her.
“I think he’s looking at the angels,” she said, smiling into my face. “Do you see the angels, baby? Do you?”
“Yeah. Angels,” the voice said. I tried to pull my face out of my mother’s to look again, but, it was futile.
I’d discovered baseball at the age of four, and was immediately hooked. I was born a baseball fan, and to this day, it’s my favorite thing to do. I fancied myself a baseball player in my backyard, and my statistics were impressive. From the first day I picked up a bat and gave it an awkward swing, I was a home run machine, hitting thousands over the fence in my backyard, each one a moonshot, each one winning a game in the bottom of the ninth after a three-two count of the greatest pitchers in the game throughout history. Cy Young, Bob Gibson, Bob Feller, Herb Score; none a match for my four year old bat. I rounded the bases on each, never too celebratory. I may give a fist pump, or a point to the fans, but, never showy, never in a way to show up the phantasm pitcher.
One such game came when I was visiting Yankee Stadium. As the home team, I faced my house; as the visiting team, I faced the police station driveway that was opposite my backyard. Ron Guidry was pitching, going for a perfect game. Len Barker was opposite him as a pitcher, his own perfect game going into the ninth inning. I was the second batter of the inning, and the first pitch I saw was lined to centerfield. I raced to second base as the ball skidded past the second baseman, and bounced behind home plate. I stood and ran off to third, just beating the tag that bounced away from the pitcher covering third and into left field. I raced home just ahead of a throw to Rick Cerone at home, and the crowd went wild. I was loved by every fan of every team, the greatest player to play the game.
And then, I heard it again.
From right field, there was a distinct clapping and cat calling, not in my head. From somewhere else, seemingly not of this world, not of this time or space or convention. A cheering sound that I’d never heard before from a fan I’d never known from the millions inside of my head. The hundreds of thousands packed into the Yankee Stadium of my mind went silent immediately, each of them finding out that maybe, just maybe we weren’t alone here in this world.
I picked up my bat and put it in the garage, the clapping never dissipating. I watched my way up the stairs and into the house, the clapping quieting as I closed the back door.
“How many homers did you hit today?” my mother asked. I barely replied, if at all, looking over my left shoulder, wondering where that clapping was coming from. “Honey?”
“I think there was someone out there watching me, Mom,” I said. “Someone was clapping for me, but, I couldn’t see him.”
She rushed to the phone and dialed the police station behind us. Over the months of living there after my sisters were born, we’d made fast friends with the officers and city employees, the officers often times stopping to talk to us kids on days we played in our respective backyards. Despite the proximity to the station, it hadn’t stopped a girl named Jenny, a tall thing of fifteen that we’d called Big Bird when I was six, from getting groped by a man three times her age, right in her back yard. The police swore that they’d watch closer, and often they would complimenting our neighbors on their melon patch, and knowing when each of us was home.
Cruisers looked around for traces of evidence of some perp watching the boys and girls of The Avenue, yet none were found. News articles popped up in our local paper, looking for the Pervert in Lakewood Ohio that seemingly got off staring at little boys carry out their fantasies of being sports heroes.
For weeks, I didn’t go outside to play, and the Indians slumped without me. The Indians of my mind turned into the Indians of real life as the 1982 Cleveland Indians finished just a game behind those accursed Yankees. I listened to every game intently, and tried to picture myself helping in anyway possible. I listened with radio at the back of my bed, just loud enough so that I could hear that wonderful voice of Herb Score call a home run, but, not too loud as to wake up people in the house.
It was July, and the Tribe had been cold, losing to those damn Yankees before a West Coast swing. The games on the west coast were all at 10:05, and if I’d been good that day, I got to listen to them, quietly as always. I rarely made it out of the pre-game, thanks to my genetics. The lights would turn off, akin to putting a blanket over a birdcage and within moments, I was asleep until the sun came up. This night, a game against California (Back before the days of Anaheim, before the days of the Angels of Los Angelse via Costa Mesa by way of Orange County and Anaheim) was up, and I was itching to listen.
Top of the second, no one on, first pitch of the inning, and I heard it from the radio. “Peeee-Ter!”
Nevermind that neither my mother or father spoke my name that way. From them it was always short, much more curt as though Peter had one syllable, rather than the two intended by phonetics.
“Peeee-Teeer!” the sound came again from the radio. I stood up like a flash and opened my door, exiting my room and heading downstairs.
“Mom, did you call me?” I asked, somewhat sleepily. I startled her.
“What? Go to bed!”
I walked up the stairs with my brow furrowed in deep thought. The voice was obviously adult, and could not have come from my little sisters. My father was out of town, and it clearly could not have been his. I looked out the open window, and watched the street while the game happened behind me. Across the street, I saw the telltale sign of a cigarette being dragged, a man hiding in the bushes.
“Peeee-Teeer!” I heard again, and took off out of my room. He was back. The man who was cheering for me, the man who watched my imaginary home run fly five hundred feet was there, looking in my window late at night. And he knew my name.
“Mooooooom!” I shrieked in terror, breaking my way down the stairs taking two at a time, hitting the landing and then taking three at a time. Tears exploded from my eyes as I clutched her for dear life. “He’s out there! He’s watching me! He’s there! He’s there!” I screamed into her neck, crying as only a five year old boy can. Within seconds, police cars were swarming the street, and the man puffing the cigarette was thrown into the back of a police cruiser in moments.
Without me, the Indians rallied to win, eight to six. I like to think they did it for me.