by Robert P. Barsanti
One of the pleasures of attending a baseball game at Nantucket High School comes from watching the sea fog slowly creep down the harbor. From the sunny comforts of the first base stands, the runner takes his lead off first, the right fielder looks in for the signs, the carpenters walk the roof of the new Boy’s and Girl’s Club, and the towers of oceanic blue build up past Wauwinet. For the moment, while the sun is out and the wind is southerly, Spring has blown up from Maryland and Virginia. But let the day wear on, the wind shift, and Canada and Maine will shroud the diamond in wool and polar fleece. We play in the sunny breaks.
Baseball takes to the island about as well as giraffes do. The schedule remains a work in progress through graduation in June. High winds cancel boats and boats cancel games. Or, the best of the Atlantic rolls in and hides home plate from the short stop. Games and practices come in those brief moments when the sun burns through and the white misty whisps blow over head like commuting witches. Unless one of our beloved summer plutocrats builds a dome, baseball will remain an outdoor game and subject to the predictable vagaries of an island spring.
The clock and the calendar start back up in spring. Time absents itself in winter, particularly this winter with its cold, snow, and storms. Then, the sun starts to tick. The weekends and the deadlines begin to sound their alerts. This roof needs to be put on by the weekend, this house needs to be opened by next weekend, and someone has to help move the new merchandise into Vis-a-Vis for the summer. Year to year, the island awakens to the slow returning tide of money. First the realtors, then the landscapers, then the stores, then the restaurants…and then the lifeguards are on station, and we are standing in line for ice cream. Spring follows the same enviable pattern, year after year. We can sit in the same spot, in the first base stands, and see the past play out in the present. A few years ago Aaron Hull hit five home runs right there. It could happen again. Tomorrow will replay today. Over and over and over again.
While the patterns seem to repeat across the rest of the island, in high school, the pattern ends abruptly in the spring. For the sudden sunny days of spring bring new and unsettling discoveries. The word “never” sprouts everywhere like daffodils. One day, those young men take the field and catch their very last pop fly. They run in to the benches, shake hands, change in the locker room, and never play baseball again. A college has sent a very large folder with an even larger bill. Just as they begin to settle into that reality, the Advanced Placement exams start, followed by finals, then Senior Week, prom, yearbook, and finally graduation. Then they never go back. Every year, in almost every young senior’s mirror, the fog builds at the edges. Make it stop. One more time.
Two years ago, a young man attended many of my classes, although I am not sure if I taught him much. He skipped most classes, played “Flappy Bird” on his phone, and completed enough assignments so that he came to the end of his year with a 62 and the prospect of a warm handshake on the stage. The smoke and fog around him cleared for one moment, and he saw the long line of “never agains” that were passing him by. Those friends that rode in his car out to “lunch” were now headed off island to colleges and jobs. He saw the rude exit we had planned for him, and he did the only logical thing he could think of. Nothing. He took his final with his head on the desk and his pen in his pocket When we forced him to retake the exam, with his mother beside him, we made him submit enough so that we could shove him out the door with his diploma. I think he still might be outside in the fog, waiting to get back in.
Fortunately, most of the graduates get past that fog of panic and let the “never agains” pass with Pomp and Circumstance. The AP exams begin this week; exams that may give them college credit or at least credibility. One of my colleagues has put a poster of the Tank Man of Tianneman Square up on his door. “This guy,” she says to the students. “is you. When you leave here, your job is to stand in front of the tank. The world is full of stupid people and your job is to leave the sidewalk, step in front of the tank, and prevent the stupid from happening.” Thankfully, her students absorb that lesson. They leave us in the spring and look for tanks.
And we have no shortage of tanks. Even on Nantucket, history does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme. We lose ourselves in the couplets. One spring repeats another, Daffodils followed by Wine followed by Figawi. The weekends fill with vacationers, our phones buzz with requests, and the paper lists more and more “Help Wanteds” and fewer and fewer “Rooms for Rent.” The fog rolls in, again and again. Every years seems to repeat the previous. In the warm truth, we graduate every spring to a whole new island that only echoes the one we put away in the fall. This one has new curb cuts so that the tractor trailers can get out of town easier. This one will have a bigger grocery store, a bigger hospital, a bigger school, and a third electric cable. In the bright sunlight, we can step up to the plate, set our eye on the pitcher, and take our cuts.