I’d seen this movie before. This time the doctor was a woman, the office had a painting of a running horse, and the room smelled a little like menthol. Switch up those three things and you’d have any other appointment I’d had in the last year.
“There is another specialist I can send you to,” the sports doctor—Evers, her name was Evers—said as she clicked her laptop. She was about thirty, Asian, and like all of the others, she was entirely competent. “I can forward the scans. He specializes in these kinds of deep tissue problems. You can get an appointment in about eight weeks.”
She blinked in surprise and looked up from her laptop. “No?”
“No,” I said again. I didn’t even have the energy to sound mad. “It won’t work, and eight weeks is too long. So thank you, but no.”
She looked concerned. “Mr. Riggs—”
“Ryan. I know that this can seem hopeless, even devastating. I know that this is affecting your career. But I think you need to keep trying to find an answer.”
An answer to why my right shoulder was messed up, frozen and sliced with pain. An answer to why I couldn’t play baseball, which was the only thing that made me money and the only thing I knew how to do. “I’ve been trying to find an answer for a year,” I explained patiently. “It isn’t happening.”
“It doesn’t mean it can’t happen.” God, these doctors—especially the high-paid sports ones—were so fucking smooth. Just the right words, just the right tone. Maybe it was experience with dealing with egotistical assholes like me. “The only way to guarantee you won’t play again is to give up.”
“Never mind. Do I win something if I give up? Where do I sign?”
She sighed, as if she heard this kind of pathetic shit every day. Like I say, athletes are egotistical assholes. Except in order to have a big ego, you have to have made it big in the first place. I never did—I only ever hit the minor leagues. Now I was twenty-seven, the MLB didn’t know I was alive, and my shoulder was toast, though Dr. Evers wouldn’t admit it. Hence the pathetic shit.
“This isn’t over,” she said. “Be persistent. Do the exercises every day. Keep up the stretches and the good diet. Add in as much strength training as you can handle. Sometimes these things just take time. We’ll book more scans, and I’ll put in for an appointment. He might have an earlier cancellation—you never know.”
I have this thing I do in the middle of a game, when I’m on the mound and the pressure gets high: I clock out. I go somewhere else and I watch it like it’s a movie, like it’s not really me. I did that now, though Dr. Evers didn’t notice. I nodded and said thank you and took the slip for the appointment for another scan. I signed the papers for the insurance company and I even flirted with the halfway pretty receptionist, watching her smile. I smiled back and said something witty, and I walked out of the office to my SUV, looking at the vivid blue June sky of Detroit.
When you were an athlete in need of a doctor, it was good to be in the city of the Tigers, the Redwings, and the Pistons. I’d never make it to the Tigers, but at least I could see their doctors if I was willing to pay and to wait for eight weeks.
It felt better, being outside. I always hated being cooped up; it was one of the reasons I’d signed up for baseball when I was thirteen. Back then I was almost flunking school and I had to steal the money for a glove, but when I stood on the field under the sunshine for the first time I didn’t want to leave. I sure as hell didn’t want to go home, where my mother was long gone, my dad didn’t give a shit, and my brothers and I ran wild. When I stood in the baseball field in the sunshine I was just me, and everyone left me the hell alone. Then I threw my first pitch, and everything that happened from that moment led in a straight line to this one.
So even in a concrete parking lot in Detroit I just stood there for a second, soaking it up. There was a jagged throb of pain from my right shoulder down to the middle of my back, brought on by the therapy session, but I was used to that. I pulled a small tube of pills from the pocket of my jeans and popped two, swallowing them dry. They were unlabeled and I was damn sure I wasn’t supposed to have them. But an athlete who wants to get his hands on something unlabeled that will make the pain float away always can.
I justified it by telling myself I didn’t take them all the time. Just now and then, when the pain was bad.
Except if I was honest, I was taking them all the time.
The only way to guarantee you won’t play again is to give up.
I had not, in fact, played baseball in thirteen months. I’d come off a six-game suspension for punching another player in the face—maybe not my finest moment—and played a single game, blistering pitch after pitch off the mound until they benched me in the sixth inning to rest. By then we’d pretty much already won, and I could barely lift my arm. I had slices of pain moving from the center of my shoulder down my back, down my arm, shooting up my neck. I felt like I was made of pain, but we won. I hadn’t played since.
There had been workouts, therapy, training. Little white pills. Except for the shoulder I was actually in some of the best shape of my life. I ran five miles a day, I could do situps until I puked and pushups until my shoulder screamed. The only thing I couldn’t do was pitch a damn ball.
There were therapy sessions of the mental kind, too—the team had put me in an anger management program, a request from the league that they’d agreed to in order to buy me time. Get your shit back in shape was the message I’d gotten, loud and clear. Now or never, Riggs.
And now, another doctor. Another eight weeks.
My phone rang in my back pocket. I pulled it out. Amanda, the wife of one of my fellow players. I answered it. “What’s up?”
“Ryan, it’s two o’clock,” she said.
I squinted into the distance. I knew that voice from Amanda—it meant I was forgetting something. “Yeah?”
“Fuck,” I said.
“You promised.” Her voice went dark with threat. Amanda was the nicest woman alive—on the surface. But she was one of those women: cross her at your own peril. It came from having a baseball player for a husband. Athletes’ wives, the ones who actually make it work, are fierce. My friend Wes, who was married to Amanda, had learned early to do anything she said, no questions asked.
“I did promise,” I said. “I’ll do it. I’ll be there. I have to go pick up Dylan from school, and we’re going straight home.”
“You forgot, didn’t you?”
I wasn’t going to answer that. I had forgotten, sort of. Mostly I’d just blocked from my mind that Amanda thought I needed a nanny for my son, and that she believed she’d found just the right person. I’d hoped against hope that she would forget about it—she had two kids of her own and was insanely busy—but I should have known better.
“This is going to work out, I promise,” she was saying to me now.
“You really vouch for her? This is my kid we’re talking about.”
“Ryan, she’s my cousin. I’ve known her since birth. Yes, I vouch for her.”
“But she hasn’t worked as a nanny before.” This part, I remembered.
“She’s very qualified. I’d even say eminently qualified.”
“What does that even mean?”
“It means just meet her. Ryan, you need someone. You need help.”
I closed my eyes briefly, because that stung. The truth always did. She was right, I was a fucking mess. I was trying to be a father to a seven-year-old, and even I could see I was failing. “What’s her name again?”
“Jesus, Ryan. You’d forget your dick if it wasn’t attached to you.”
“No. No, I would not.” Really.
“Her name is Kate,” Amanda said. “Kate. Kate. K-A-T-E.”
“Okay, okay.” Kate. That twigged something in my memory. “Have I met her?”
That was a strike in her favor. The pills were starting to kick in now, the world receding. “Fine. I’ll talk to her.”
“Talk to her, then hire her.”
Amanda was nice and all, but she continually reminded me why I didn’t get married. “Yes, ma’am.” Though I have no idea with what money.