The Little Girl in the Brown Coat

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[by Susan Ashline]

I first noticed her flare-leg pants. They were out of style. And they were “high waters.” Was she poor? She was just a kid, maybe 11. And she had on a brown, winter coat, and her hands were in her coat pockets, and she never lifted her head as she walked the bases from home, to third, to second, and around. And around.

And her head was down.

The song on my mp3 player was a fast rhythm, much faster than the girl’s pace, the steps of someone thinking deeply.

As I rounded the outside of the baseball fields in the town park, cooling down from my run, I couldn’t stop watching her.

Was she sad? Lonely? Did she have friends? Was her sister playing softball the next field over? I was sure people were looking at me and wondering why I was looking at her. But if they were, I didn’t notice.

What was she thinking about?

I saw her. I mean – I saw me. A lifetime ago.

A woodpecker started over the music in my mp3 player, but neither song nor tree-tapping drowned out my memory flood. I was riding my skateboard to my friend, Tammy’s house. I was crossing the stinking leather mill pond while someone grabbed my arm from the other side of the water fall so I wouldn’t get swept into the reservoir of floating shopping carts. I was skipping the two blocks to my grandmother’s house, met at the screen door by the comforting smell of chain smoking, a hug from shaking arms and a sloppy kiss. I had my whole life ahead of me. I would never be her. It was a lifetime away.

I had on a shiny, pink pleather jacket with collar. And probably flare leg pants. They might’ve been too short. I’m sure I was out of style. I wasn’t poor.

I thought I was beautiful. I was so awkward. I had a huge honker and hair up to my ears, and people constantly mistook me for a boy.

I was walking the bases of an empty baseball diamond with my head down, but really I was on the starship Enterprise with Captain Kirk, and he’d risk his life to save mine. And it’s a good thing, because there was one disaster after another. He saved me, of course, because he cared so much about me. The crew always teleported me back to earth in time for dinner.

I long passed the girl in the brown coat, but kept turning back to look at her.

Because she was me.

Well, her legs were skinny and mine weren’t. I had these rock-sized calves, the stuff of football players. Yes, even as a little kid. But I, too, had deep conversations with myself at 11. About crushes; mainly Shaun Cassidy. About my parents and fights with my brother and sister. And I had dreams that I was going to be famous.

Did she see me, too? Was she wondering – deeply – if she would be like me when she was older? She was thinking that day would never come. It was a lifetime away.

As I got to my car, she’d changed her rotation – first base to second, to third, to home, her little kid sneakers in a drumbeat kicking up mud from the soaked fields onto socks exposed by her too-short pants.

She would never be me. It was a whole lifetime away.

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