"L.D. Zane served seven years in the Navy, which included a combat tour in Vietnam on river boats, and five years aboard nuclear-powered, Fast Attack submarines. His life is quieter now: anything would be quieter than his military venture, according to L.D. He is a member of the Pagoda Writers Group, and finds that he's been devoting more and more time to his writing."
One Out of Three
BY L.D. ZANE
One out of three ain’t bad, I thought, staring at the picture on my phone. I was on a smoke break and sat on the bench of the cheap-ass, plastic picnic table, hunched over, with the phone between my knees. Funny…that’s exactly what my high school baseball coach said before every game. I could feel my expression change from a smile to a blank stare of despair, as I lit another cigarette.
The movie that played in my head was the coach’s speech. I remembered every word, the sound of the coach’s voice, the players around me, even the smell of the locker room: “One out of three ain’t bad, gentlemen. That’s over a three-hundred percent batting average. Do that consistently here and you might get to play in college. Do it consistently in college and you might get to play in the majors. Do it consistently there and you will probably wind up in the Hall of Fame.”
I was aware of my state of mind and detached stare. It was a thousand-yard stare, and I had seen it many times on the faces of the men I served with in Vietnam—even experienced it myself—especially after a firefight. I was experiencing it then.
The picture was of my three children, taken that previous weekend at a picnic held at my ex-wife’s house. The children were in a line-up formation in order of height and age—as if it was planned that way—with my thirty-year-old son, Reuben, at the far left. Next came Meredith, my twenty-six-year-old daughter—on leave from the Navy—dressed in her Navy whites. Last was Zoe, my twenty-four-year-old problem-child daughter.
She lives twenty minutes away, and that bitch-of-an-ex-wife couldn’t find it in her cold, miserable heart to invite me, as I tossed the used cigarette and immediately lit another. Yes, I chain smoke.
I have a tortured relationship with Zoe. She has never forgiven me for divorcing her mother, my wife, and rarely speaks to me—except for the occasional text message on my birthday or Father’s Day. Even then they’re brief, with no other sentiment. I have since stopped communicating with Zoe. Her wish has come true.
“Since I’ve given up hope, I feel so much better,” I once remarked to a friend about my relationship with Zoe. “Why even try? I only set myself up for failure.” But I knew then I was lying—as did everyone else who heard my tired explanation—as I realized it wasn’t how I really felt; it was just my weak and whiny way of protecting myself.
Both girls felt I deserted them. Anyone who really knew me understood that wasn’t even close to what happened, yet no amount of discussion, or explanation from me was going to change their minds. Reuben didn’t feel that way, as he was older than the girls when I left, and knew the real reasons why we divorced.
Meredith was now the one causing me anguish. I thought I had started to repair our relationship during her junior year in college. After she graduated she lived with her mother, and would join me for breakfast several times a month at a down-town, corner hole-in-the-wall eatery. While at breakfast, we enjoyed each other’s company sharing our thoughts on movies, books, and current events. But as soon as I would drop her off at her mother’s house, the chill would return. That door of affection would slam shut faster than a teenage girl would shut a bathroom door before a date.
I always figured Meredith would come around, but the pattern continued when she entered the Navy. She had her degree in physics, and was accepted into the Navy’s preeminent Nuclear Power School.
I was the only one to attend her graduation from boot camp driving over twelve hours straight, in the dead of winter, to Great Lakes, Illinois. Six months later I was the only one to see her graduate—from the first of her three schools—driving thirteen hours to Charleston, South Carolina, and then driving another thirteen straight hours taking Meredith back home to spend her leave with her mother. We took turns driving, and with the exception of a few catnaps, we talked almost the entire trip.
We arrived at my ex’s house at two AM, only to have Meredith leave the car saying, “Thanks for attending the graduation and the ride home,” and walking away without so much as a goodbye kiss or a hug, or uttering the word “Dad.” It was almost as if Meredith didn’t want her mother to know, or see, how much she enjoyed being with me. Her mother’s brainwashing had taken its toll, and Meredith just couldn’t—or wouldn’t—allow herself to break free.
I felt as if a grenade had gone off in my gut, and I became physically ill. I left, stopped two blocks from the ex’s house, got out of the car and threw up. I’m the one who took the time and made the effort to see her, and yet, I’m the bad guy. I’m the one who is treated like shit…not her mother. Me! I wiped the puke from my face. What the hell did I have to do to show Meredith I really loved her?
I could feel an ever-so-faint smile return to my face as I looked at the picture, and noticed they were all smiling, looking happy together. But the despair set back in as quickly as it left. They were all smiling but not at me, or because of me, at least not the girls. Reuben had to lie and told them the picture was for him. Had he revealed it was taken for me, I doubt if the girls would have wanted to be in the picture. I might as well have been looking at ghosts.
A pained expression creased my face. Holy shit, I feel like I’m in mourning. Yet I wouldn’t allow myself to cry. Perhaps I felt I had already shed too many tears. Or perhaps I felt like a dam that had reached capacity, and one more drop would cause the dam to break, washing me away.
I ran my fingers through my hair, and buried my face in my hands. I’m losing Meredith, just like I lost Zoe. It’s like I’m observing an accident that is about to happen, and knowing I can’t do a fucking thing to stop it. I can’t afford to lose her too. And what if… I quickly and abruptly raised my head, closed my eyes, and shook off the thought—the thought of what if I also lost Reuben.
With that what if pushed aside, I stood, threw my cigarette to the ground, and stomped the life out of it. I saw no difference in the cigarette butt and what the girls had done to my heart. It now joined the pile of my discarded cigarettes and hopes.
I regained composure and said aloud, as if my coach was standing next to me, “You were only partly right. One out of three may get you into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but it doesn’t mean shit when it comes to your children. There’s probably not going to be any hall of fame for me, but I’ll be damned if I strike out.” I didn’t care who was around me.
I finally allowed myself to mourn. I wiped my eye, walked away, and left behind the cold, gray ashes.