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"Bobby Orr," short story excerpt

Saturday 4/9/22

Each fall my father drove me halfway across the country to college so that I could have the books and records that I wanted to bring with me. I had a lot of interests and couldn’t stand being cut off from experiencing them. It was a twenty-hour drive, and my dad would handle almost all of it, as if it were some act of heroism to which he was inexorably suited, without us stopping overnight, while my mom worried that someone would fall sleep at the wheel and that’d be the end of us.


I’d only drive for a couple hours. My shift, as such, began about halfway through. I was never comfortable out in the rise-free, farm country wilds of Ohio where everyone else seemed to be moving at 100 mph past unchanging country under unchanging sky. I got tired, because we had left so early, and besides, I liked to talk to my dad, tell him about what stirred me the most, for as long as I could, before I ran out of words or worried that he was sick of the sound of my voice.


He picked up on it, I think. The first time we went to a hockey game together I was five or six. Two guys going out at night on their own to a Boston Bruins old-timers’ game. The boys, in a sense, buddies in another. I had a a young person’s book—that was the official label on the cover—about Bobby Orr, and my dad said that he was the best ever. No one was close. If my father was speaking in superlatives, whether in the terms of character or sport, there was bound to be an element of truth. That was the only chance you’d get a prodigious statement out of him. He had to mean it in the way that you only can with something that is independently final. It’s not contingent upon what you think, but rather what it is. Your job is to process the latter and go forward, a backliner—which is what Bobby Orr was—knowing the time has come to join the rush.


Bobby Orr wasn’t an old-timer in actuality, even by the spirit of old-timers’ games, in which any former player could reprise their life as a current player for the contest at hand. He was retired, due to insurmountable knee issues, career cut cruelly short, but only in his early thirties, same as my dad at the time. As we drove to the game, I asked him if he thought Bobby Orr would score a goal, because that was something I wanted to see—a real, in-person Bobby Orr goal—even if it was an old-timers’ match and wouldn’t count towards Bobby Orr’s official career stats. My father laughed.


“Oh, he’ll score,” he said.


The tone of his words gave me total faith, which I hadn’t known words could do until that occasion of our big night out. Then he told me about this goal Bobby Orr scored once, flying through the air after he had shot the puck and a player on the other team had tripped him. My dad seemed so happy, like it was happening all over again up on the dashboard, or the darkened road out ahead, but Bobby Orr probably wouldn’t score like that in the game tonight, my father added, though he’d certainly score, bum knees and all.


He did. A bunch. It was glorious, and I had the time of my life—my life up until then, and a lot of my life that would follow—but on the way home to our house, I wet myself in the car. I knew it would be close. A race to the finish line of our suburban driveway. Too much soda and I didn’t want to make my dad have to stop. I’m sure he knew, but he didn’t say anything. A person has a way of knowing things in cars, I think, even without a piss smell.


Near the end of my first marriage, I said to my wife when we were driving—because it was the relevant time, and we’d had a bad experience before, with a little girl who never was, who came to live in the deepest fissure of my heart—that she hadn’t taken her birth control pill. She reached into her purse, fumbled around, and I could see her bring up two empty fingers, her hand sort of curled, making like she had the tablet in it, which she pretended to take.


“Thanks,” she said, doing this fake, waterless swallow with too pronounced a gulp than was dramatically passable.


I didn’t say anything, because it didn’t matter, and we’d already said it all in the space of those few seconds. But I think even if I hadn’t looked, I would have known. Not all rushes you join will be rushes you want to join.