Absolutely, he was nice enough in the way regular kids are nice. He was also mischievous, moody and ambitious with a definite game plan — to play for the majors. Shortstop or third baseman, he wasn’t picky. After school, rain or shine, fall or spring, he’d head to the ratty baseball diamond near his home and knock off a game or two. In sixth grade, when other boys seemed to morph from scrawny to power hitters overnight, it became clear to Dawson that he had been outclassed. There was always basketball, until he broke his ring finger catching a rim shot. His mother insisted the swelling would subside on its own and felt terrible when the orthopedist told her otherwise.
By the dawn of eighth grade, Dawson had to face a harsh truth that would have crushed a lesser man. While he loved sports, he would never earn a living as an athlete. His parents gently tried to redirect his ambitions elsewhere, but nothing came along to replace the sheer joy, the grounded “all is right with the world” feeling he got when he toed in his cleats near home base and pointed his bat to heaven.
For two weeks every summer he stayed with his Grandmother at her lake house. His two older girl cousins were there as well. His Grandfather arrived most Friday nights. Dawson watched him lumber up the long set of stairs to the bungalow totting two six packs of chilled beer. Once, Dawson spotted the elastic in the back of his Grandfather’s underwear peaking from below his belt. To Dawson, this made his Grandfather look like a man who worked long and grueling hours at a job that didn’t involve sports or fun of any sort.
His two weeks at the lake were devoted to swimming and eating. Even during heat waves, he and his cousins baked a cake. That was their tradition. It was also their tradition to boss Dawson around. They’d gang up, directing their pointed will at him. “ Do it, Dawson!” Or, “don’t do it, Dawson!” He had to be careful not to become their puppet, which was hard given all the noise they generated. Every year it was a crash course in understanding what made his two cousins tick. And while he could be pissed off and judgmental, noting how they were different from his friends, he came to realize that they didn’t mean to be contrary. Girls were just born that way.
This hard won information came in handy in high school, when he applied what he had learned to get the pretty girls to laugh at his jokes. He tried out his patter. He updated routines, so that a funny rant about the leaking canoe, became one about the Bio teacher. With his arms windmilling overhead to no apparent beat, he’d say to his audience “picture Miss Simmons as a track coach”. It killed, but you had to be there to appreciate it.
Eventually, he preferred going out with girls who were on the rebound. Usually, they were no longer virgins. Nor were they eager to hook up in a serious way, which suited Dawson just fine.
That is until he met Jennifer, “Jen” in his freshman year of college. She lived on his floor. When she broke up with him, she shattered the comfort of his daily routine that was now, thanks to the threat of an ill-timed encounter, an unremitting source of not only heartbreak but dread.
You’d think that having a normal, happy childhood would immunize you against rage, but that’s not how it worked for Dawson.
During that bleak spring semester when Dawson was dodging Jen, his only release came in the batting cage. He’d set up multiple targets around the cage, then lose himself to the rhythm of the machine hurling a ball through the baseball chute. Later on, when he was an adult, he’d employ this system as a way to cope with the cruelty in the work place. He found that it worked great provided he had easy access to a batting cage and lots of quarters to slug into the machine.