I like baseball. Now that I’m not in St. Louis or married to a St. Louis fan, I am not really as into it as I used to be, but I’m absolutely still a baseball person. Seriously, after Wednesday night’s game, I dare you to tell me that baseball is boring to watch.
But having grown up in a town without a home baseball team, I now have the luxury of pulling for whomever I want. I still root for the Cardinals and despise the Yankees as a general rule, but with neither of them in the Series and the Cubs poised to break an 108-year curse, it was an easy choice. (My St. Louis friends, who hate the Cubs the way we hate the Falcons, do not see it this way.) Having seen what a Saints win did for this city, I can’t not be thrilled for Cubs fan right now.
Also, I’m thrilled for my Grandma Dot, born just outside of Chicago in Evanston, who died in 1994 after a lifetime as a long-suffering Cubs fan. I’m thrilled for my college roommate Tim, who is a baseball fanatic and spent all of this season (as well as every one before it) glued to the sofa performing various superstitious rituals to try to secure the fate for his Cubbies, who is still alive to celebrate and is exploding with joy. And I’m thrilled for Alex.
Alex and I met just a month or so after Sept. 11 — I was 21; he was 20 — on a trip with mutual friends to Six Flags to ride roller coasters. We rode together in the backseat of my friend Chase’s car from Columbia to St. Louis, and to be honest, he actually annoyed the crap out of me for those two hours. He talked about jazz in what I thought was an obnoxiously pretentious way. He talked about improv comedy, which I can’t stand because it gives me vicarious anxiety. He talked a lot about the Cubs, and I really didn’t care about the Cubs.
But then, right as we were about to get on the Mr. Freeze at Six Flags, I freaked out. “Hold my hand,” I demanded, and he did. I don’t know if the roller coaster released some chemical in our brains or what, but we held hands in the backseat on the whole ride home, driving past dead brown late October Missouri corn fields while Chase played Radiohead. My whole chest hurt as we drove home without speaking.
“Come see me tomorrow,” he whispered when we dropped him off.
“I have a boyfriend,” I whispered back.
“I know,” he said. “Come see me anyway.”
And I did. We watched the World Series — Diamondbacks vs. Yankees — and ate bad college town pizza and tried to impress each other.
“This can’t happen,” I told him when he tried to kiss me. “I have a boyfriend. We’re going to get married.” (We did. We’re divorced now.)
“Anything can happen,” he said (the true mindset of a Cubs fan).
“We’re going to break each other’s hearts,” I said because I was an overdramatic 21-year-old girl who actually said things like that.
“I think it’s already starting,” he said.
It was ridiculous, melodramatic, tortured college romance at its best/worst, and it hurt in the absolute best/worst way, and it really played itself out not long after that. We met for coffee a few times, ran into each other at the student union every so often, sent very fraught glances at each other across the room at a concert we both happened to go to. This being the early ’00s, I kept up with him by reading his Geocities website and his column in the school paper; I made frequent veiled references to him in my column in the rival school paper. And then we both graduated.
I still thought of him sometimes, in a kind of wistful “what if” way, as I got married and bought a house and had a baby and moved to New Orleans, particularly around the World Series, particularly if the Cubs were doing well. Sometimes I’d stalk him on whatever social media site was relevant at the time or read his baseball blog. And then one day, in the late summer of 2008, I went to do my biennial Facebook recon when a page popped up that said, “Remembering Alex.”
My brain resisted processing this for a few long moments, the way brains always try to protect you.
“‘Remembering?’” I thought. “But that … that’s so dumb. That makes it sound like he’s dead.”
Numbly, I clicked through. He’d died in late May in possibly the most unfair way ever: driving to L.A. just after finishing graduate school, on the way to start the rest of his life, killed by a drunk driver driving on the wrong side of the Interstate.
It knocked me for a loop. I had no right, really, to be so upset over the death of a guy I hadn’t seen for six years. But my marriage was already on the rocks at that point, and I saw this almost as a reckoning. If my life was a Choose Your Own Adventure book, what would have happened if I’d picked the “take a chance with Alex” option over the “stay with Jamie” one? Would Alex have lived? But there would be no Ruby. Did I somehow trade a life for a life? And of course, when you’ve never even been with someone long enough to have a fight — Alex and I had some painful, overwrought conversations, but never a fight — you can romanticize the hell out of what might have been.
Gradually, the shock wore off and the sadness set in, and then the sadness wore off too, mostly. Alex had never really been part of my daily life, so it wasn’t like there was a hole to fill. It was just this hard-to-define lingering sadness for a life cut too short, a life that had briefly but intensely intersected with mine.
I’ve processed it now and am happily remarried with two incredibly perfect daughters I wouldn’t trade for the world. In the current chaos of my life as a working mom, Alex rarely enters my mind.
Still, watching the Cubs win in the most insane Game 7 I’ve ever seen, it was impossible not to think of him. It reminded me acutely of this, which I wrote after the Saints made it to the Super Bowl.
I don’t know what I actually believe, but I would love to think that Buddy D and Harry Caray are celebrating in heaven, Buddy D in a red dress and Harry Caray eating a green apple (or something … I don’t really know the Cubs mythology). Most of all, I’d love to think of all the Cubs fans finally getting to know how amazing a championship win feels. Saints fans would be cheering them on loudest of all because we understand more than anyone.