First Birthday — Chapter 17

 

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

            I woke up the next morning to the sensation of Cait gently running her fingers through my hair.  She had returned to her normal routine of waking before me, and sat in bed with my computer on her lap, clicking through the online version of the Chicago Tribune.  I closed my eyes, and enjoyed the moment while it lasted.  Cait finished what she was reading and closed the computer.  Her fingers untangled themselves from my hair as she set the laptop aside, and slid out of bed. 

            “Stay in bed,” I pleaded when she got one step from the door. 

            “I thought you were up,” Cait turned to look at me.  “You’re a shitty fake sleeper you know.” 

            “That’s because I can’t see myself when I’m sleeping.  I don’t know what I am supposed to look like,” I smiled, and propped myself up on my elbow. 

            “It’s not much to see, believe me,” Cait teased. 

            “You look beautiful when you are asleep,” I said, but Cait just rolled her eyes at me.  “Come back and lay down for five minutes.  No one likes a morning person.”

            “We’re kind of stretching the definition of morning aren’t we?  I’m going to change, take Selma for a run, she needs some exercise,” Cait had walked back to the edge of the bed, and I felt her weakening. 

            “A run?  That sounds exhausting.  Better lay down for five more minutes,” I patted the mattress next to me. 

            “I’ll give you three minutes,” Cait got back into bed.  She kissed me on the forehead before tucking herself in next to me. 

            “You sure about this run?” 

            “I’m sure.  I can’t be cute and sexy, and stay in bed 24/7.  That’s the problem with me staying here.  You have to see me all sweaty and gross when I get back from a run.  Things like that.” 

            “Maybe I’ll help you get un-gross in the shower when you get back.” 

            “You should come with me, then we could get un-gross together,” Cait looked at me, raising her eyebrows. 

            “I don’t think that would turn out well,” I exhaled deeply, and rolled onto my back.  Staring at the ceiling I said, “I’m pretty sure I couldn’t keep up with you, and I know I can’t keep up with Selma.  I’ll have a cold bottle of water waiting for you when you get back.” 

            “Sounds nice, you sure you don’t want to come?  We can go at you pace.”  

            “This is my pace,” I said, turning to face Cait again, and wrapping my arms tightly around her.  “Is my three minutes up?”  

            “Just about, look Selma is getting agitated,” Selma’s head had appeared in the doorway.  She didn’t enter, but stared intently at Cait.  The implication was obvious. 

            “I can’t compete with that look,” I conceded. 

            “You’re a close second,” Cait pressed against me, and stretched her legs as far as they could go before relaxing and climbing back out of bed.  I reached after her, but my fingertips could only graze the small of her back, and then she was gone. 

            Hours later I was on the driving range.  I had given up hitting balls for a few minutes, and was sitting on the wooden chest that housed bottled water.  The little eight-ounce bottles that displayed the club’s logo were placed strategically in these chests all over the grounds.  Perhaps influenced by the power of suggestion I had taken a water bottle from its ice cold home, but hadn’t yet taken a drink.  Condensation gathered on the exterior of the bottle while I twirled my driver in my hands, and tried to think.  Every time I closed my eyes I had the equally unproductive visions of my golf ball sailing left or of Cait leaving my bed that morning.  Neither of these thoughts would help me get the ball in the fairway. 

            “You look like you just realized golf ain’t easy,” Randy startled me.  My day dreaming mind had not allowed me to hear his golf cart approaching. 

            “Know any courses with eighteen dogleg lefts?”  I asked, shaking my head in frustration. 

            “No, but I might be able to fix a hook,” Randy slid out of the cart.  “Especially for my partner.  I was counting on you making all the birdies next week.” 

            Randy had asked me to play in a pro-pro event, and I had quickly accepted, thinking I was playing great and it would be an enjoyable couple of days.  Now it was looking like it might be a thirty-six hole test of patience. 

            “Could use the help,” I said.  “I’m certainly not getting anywhere by myself.” 

            “Grab your eight iron,” Randy said, leading the way over a stack of balls.  He kicked the top off the pile, and I started in, one eight iron at a time. 

***

            I never really had a swing coach, or a guru, or anything like that.  I had been lucky enough to take up golf at a young age, and possess a certain natural talent.  I spent hours and hours honing this talent, but no one ever built a swing for me.  As much as someone from my generation could be, I was a feel player.  This isn’t to say that I didn’t have my share of lessons along the way, minor tweaks, and a tip here and there. They all help, but the only time I was really struggling, lost to the point of contemplating giving up the game, Randy was the one that pulled me out of that hole. 

            It was the summer that I wandered back from the mini-tour with a defeated feeling, and not an ounce of passion for golf left in my body.  I thought that I could come home and lay low.  I would spend time with Avery while she was on break from law school, maybe go to the shore a few times, and just relax like a regular twenty-something.  I hadn’t sniffed a good round of golf in some time, and I thought it was probably time to call it quits.  I’d flop around in the sand for a few months, and then sort out my life.

            The problem was when I got home Avery was hardly around.  It was the summer that she started working for Marylou.  She had become obsessed with the job, with the status she seemed to think it gave her, and with impressing her new boss.  They spent countless hours together.  Avery always said that the real-estate business had no set hours, but nearly every day there was a cocktail hour, or dinner, or a late evening showing to accommodate an extremely busy client.  I felt like my fiancée was on call.  I sat around on the couch feeling a little sorry for myself, and jealous of Avery’s networking.  She, when home, seemed displeased with my newly found affinity for a sedentary lifestyle.  She wondered aloud why I wasn’t playing golf, or at the very least, practicing.  Finally, I did start to head to the range every day, just to get away. 

            It was during one of these sessions that Randy had stumbled upon me.  Every year Randy came back to the Philadelphia area to play in, and help run a benefit tournament that he had started as a fresh faced pro some two decades prior.  Back in those days junior golf programs were rare, especially anywhere but private clubs, but Randy had always loved teaching kids the game, and when he got the pro’s job at a public course in the Philadelphia suburbs he wanted to start a junior camp.  The main obstacle seemed to be that none of the local kids had parents willing to pay for a golf camp.  The first year Randy did a free camp for one week, and nearly went broke.  As a solution, he used the only resource he had at his disposal, the golf course.  The first Beef and Beer Scramble to benefit the Randy Weld Junior Golf Academy took place the next year. 

            The Randy Weld Golf Academy had long ceased to exist, but he still was the driving force behind an outing every year to raise money for junior golf.  The tournament was also an excuse to bring him back to the area for a week or two, and a good part of that time was spent touring some of the areas better courses, my father often in tow.  The day they finally made it out to our club I was on the range, hitting it sideways, but happy to out of Avery’s critical glare.  I noticed Randy watching me hit a few, but didn’t pay it any attention until I heard him start laughing.  I turned to faced him. 

            “What?” 

            “Are you Dave Althouse’s evil twin?”  He asked.  

            “Could be,” I said.  I had no idea what he was talking about.  I thought maybe he and my dad had been crushing bloodies since breakfast. 

            “What I mean is, what in the hell happened to your golf swing?”  Randy emphasized the word, hell. 

            “Nothing, I’m just a little off,” I said defensively.  I slid the club I was hitting back in the bag, determined not to hit any more shots with Randy watching. 

            “No, I’ve seen a little off.  That’s not what it looks like,” Randy made his way over to my golf bag, and peered inside.  “That was seven-iron?”  He asked in disbelief. 

            “Yeah.” 

            “I seem to remember you hitting seven irons about 185 on a trajectory that looked like it was dialed in by the god damn United States Air Force or something.  What the hell do you call those you were hitting?” 

            “I don’t know, I’m just catching it a little towards the hosel,” I explained.  The truth was I was hitting weak, heely fades that were lucky to make it to the 150 yard flag.  

            “Hit another one,” Randy said, pulling the club from the bag. 

            “Randy, can you just leave me alone right now?  I’m not in the mood for a lesson.  I’m sure my dad’s waiting for you to go play.” 

            “I got all the time in the World.  Now hit one.  I know you’re not in the mood to be hitting it like that.” 

            I took the club half-heartedly, and proceeded to hit a few more weak seven irons down the range.  I turned back to Randy with a look on my face that I hoped asked, are you satisfied? 

            “I’m sorry I laughed earlier, because it’s really not funny,” Randy paused, trying to find the right words.  “You’re really lost, aren’t you kid?” 

            I took a deep breath, and bit my lower lip while I tried to think of something to say.  I felt an almost overwhelming rush of sadness, and yet I was relieved as well.  I had lost it, but now I wasn’t the only one who knew. 

            “I guess so,” I finally said, softly. 

            “The good thing is, we know it’s in there somewhere,” Randy said. 

            He kicked the bag of balls I was hitting out of the way, and we started working.  The first fifteen minutes I didn’t even hit a ball, and an hour later I was still only up to a nine iron, but at least I had started finding the center of the clubface on occasion.  I started taking uniform, perfect divots, and the ball was leaving the face with a sound that I had nearly forgotten.  It felt so good to hit a decent shot again, that I didn’t want to stop, and Randy stayed as long as I could manage to draw the club back.  He didn’t think twice about missing the round of golf with my father. 

            “I’d say that looks a hell of a lot better,” Randy said, when I’d hit the last ball we could get our hands on. 

            “Little bit,” I agreed.   I looked down at the ground, and then my hands.  The right one worn nearly raw, and the left covered with a now tattered glove. 

            “You’ll be fine,” Randy assured me.  “You just have to go back to having fun a little bit.  That’s what made you so damn good in the first place.  When was the last time you had a good day on the course, anyway?  I’m not talking about score.  I’m talking about just a good fucking time.” 

            I looked up at Randy, and thought about it for a second.  “I really don’t know,” I said honestly. 

            “Well, that’s changing Monday.  You’re playing with me in the scramble.  You can’t have fun there?  Then you better pawn those clubs, and head to truck driving school.” 

            I agreed to play with Randy in the charity scramble.  There isn’t a more laid back form of golf, and Randy made sure my head was in the right place on the first tee by telling me to make sure that I swung from my ass, and had two beers open at all times.  If I wasn’t loose at the beginning I certainly was by the back nine, when I was half in the bag, and laughing almost uncontrollably at every shot, no matter the outcome.  The good news was that I was also whaling away at driver with no conscience, and sending towering bombs down the center of every fairway.  I don’t remember what we shot, but I remember how much fun it was, and after that Monday I started going back to the range to practice not because I wanted to get away, but because I wanted to feel those solid golf shots again. 

***

            The session on the range at the Lake Club didn’t last nearly as long as the marathon back in Pennsylvania, but the results were similar.  Randy straightened me out pretty quickly, and with his chances once again looking better in the pro-pro tournament the following week he seemed as relieved as I was. 

            “You shouldn’t go so long without having someone give you a look,” Randy said as we walked back to his cart.  “No matter how good you think you’re hitting it, cause it can go quick, and then it just becomes a head game.” 

            “You’re right,” was all I could manage, but I knew it had become a head game.  Some minor glitch in my set-up had started sending the ball left, but since it happened first when I was playing with Avery I thought I had given myself some sort of mental block. 

            “Well, I was a little worried when I heard you were hitting so many balls, but it turned out to be nothing,” Randy pulled the cart up to the chest full of water, and grabbed us both a bottle. 

            “Between this, and Freddie helping me on the greens, I’m pretty sure I’m ready to go,” I said as I got into the cart, and twisted the top from the water. 

            “Freddie,” Randy laughed.  “Now there’s a character.  He can kind of roll it though, can’t he?”  Randy laughed again, and started pulling away. 

            “Little bit,” I admitted. 

            “Well, I’d ask you to come over to the house for dinner, but I’m thinking you probably have other plans.” 

            I looked over at Randy, expecting to see some type of knowing smile, but he looked straight ahead.  I didn’t know if he knew about Cait, or was just alluding to the fact that I probably wouldn’t want to eat dinner with the old guy, and his wife. 

            “Actually tonight I do have something,” I said, thinking of Cait waiting for me back in the cabin. 

            “I figured, but one of these nights we need to get you over.  How about after we win next week, it’ll be a celebration?” 

            I told Randy he had a deal, and then he drove me all the way to the employee parking lot.  He said he’d have the cart kid put my stuff away, but thinking of my own long ago days in a similar position I just grabbed my bag, and threw it in my trunk.  I made up something for Randy about wanting to wipe the grips down.  I watched him drive towards the clubhouse, and it occurred to me that I hadn’t thanked him.  I know he would have brushed it off, but I couldn’t believe I hadn’t managed something.  I figured the best way I could make it up to him was to play lights out at the pro-pro. 

            I felt great on the short drive home, anxious to see Cait, and to tell her that I had figured out my golf swing.  She didn’t even know I had been struggling, but I had to tell someone I was hitting it well again.  Of course, maybe I would just skip the golf talk, and try to lure her into my bed, or somewhere where I could wrap my arms around her, and feel her warmth.  Feel the positive energy that pulsed out of her body. 

            It was just starting to get dark as I pulled into the driveway.  I parked next to Cait’s truck, and looked through the small window into the living room.  The room was lit up brightly, and I saw Cait lying on the floor next to Selma.  The television was on, and Cait was teasing the dog with the tattered remains of a rope bone.  She dangled the bone right in front of Selma, only to pull it away at the last moment.  Instead of walking towards the front door, I walked closer to the window, and watched them.  After a moment’s more teasing, Selma had enough, and pounced on Cait, seizing the bone, and sending Cait into a fit of laughter.  I couldn’t help but laugh a little myself as I watched Selma start to proudly prance around the room.  When she caught sight of me in the window she froze, but then rushed towards the door wagging her tail wildly.  Cait’s eyes had followed Selma’s to the window, and when she saw me she smiled widely, and waved.  She then got to her feet, and made an elaborate show of dusting herself off.  I watched her for a moment longer, and then walked inside.

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