In a place at the edge of Detroit, there is a green diamond ablaze beneath the sky. We, the young ones in this town of little pattern houses, call it the Lighted Field. Year after year, grasping at childhood, we ride our bikes with streamers on our handlebars, whooshing down the streets. Meet me at the Lighted Field, we say. Game or no game. Night or blinding summer day when the sun extinguishes the fierce electric lights. Meet me at the Lighted Field.
But this 1969 night burns brighter than sunlight. Is it the way I remember? Mosquitoes fry high above the outfield on white-hot bulbs. Dust flies after base runners. Crowded feet in sandals and sneakers dangle between rows of bleacher seats. Bats pop. Popsicles melt. Heatwave. Top of the ninth. You and I make out behind the clubhouse at the Lighted Field. We run before the inning ends. To Canada. Oh Canada, she would sing. And I would sing. Don’t Mess With Bill.
Soon, your draft notice lands in the family mailbox but finds no soldier boy there to enlist, because of small acts across our childhood years. Chase games, hiding games. A red crayon Valentine slipped through your locker door. Secrets. Blushes. Whispering, camping in the backyard, a homemade tent cloaked in suburban sprawl. Do I remember? Beach towels and a transistor radio at the lake. Warm sand coating your skin. Until tonight’s game when frightened adolescent kisses send us driving for your life. All the way to downtown Detroit in your old Ford with the windows rolled down for wild air, my hair whipping across my face.
You drive, wordless along Michigan Avenue, past the big stadium aglow, right turn to the river, through the Windsor Tunnel, and out the other side. We don’t look at one another. We don’t look at anything. It didn’t happen.
Top of the ninth. Years too late. On a summer afternoon, I park my car and find a space on the bleachers at the Lighted Field, baking my bare, outstretched legs in the sun. Unknowable world at the edge of Detroit. There is the clubhouse where I had us hiding and scheming and making out.
No one recognizes me anymore. I watch the game. Until the day of my own death far from this place, if my old mind flickers to the green diamond beneath hot sun or beneath tall electric lights and black sky; or if the words, Lighted Field, flash and then go dark, then one last time, my heart will race and my throat tighten with grief.
In memory of Bill Crowell