A View from Afar / Union

The scenic route: Finding time for the beautiful game

Photo: Garen Meguerian

It’s 3:30 p.m. on Saturday when I drive past the Route 322 exit on the New Jersey Turnpike.

My last chance to turn west toward Chester, Pa.

I drive on.

North.

North, going back home.

I’ve been away a long time. I always am. I travel a lot. Current home is a long way from childhood home. Current home is across an ocean. Life has a way of taking you strange places you never expected to go.

Then it takes you home.

The exits pass by. There’s still a chance to turn back toward Chester. Go. Catch the game. Enjoy the moment. Carefree.

Philadelphia Union host the Portland Timbers in just a few hours. The Union are good this year, real good, maybe the best we’ve ever seen. I watch them from afar.

It’s not the same as watching in person. You can’t feel the vibrations of the stadium. You can’t hear the roar of the crowd, smell the scent of freshly cut grass. You’re alone. 

But I drive on, because I lack the time.

Home is where Mom is. She’s been sick. She’s always sick. We never know when the end comes, so take the moments we have now.

Mom’s home isn’t the home where I grew up. It’s a tiny apartment in South River, N.J.

But the photos are there. She is there. The memories came with her. It’s a few weeks from her 30th wedding anniversary with my stepdad. Sometimes we’re blessed to find good people the second time around. She was. I can’t believe 30 years have passed since their wedding.

Time has not been kind. Time is never kind. We’re always losing it, never gaining.

Part of me would rather watch the soccer match. We don’t have to think of hardships. We put them aside and open ourselves to the rush and joy and passion of the game. We cheer. We laugh. We hug strangers. We live our childhoods all over again. Life becomes simple. Time evaporates, but for the clock on the scoreboard, and it counts up, never down. Soccer gets that part right.

I drive north, to my brother’s house in Rockaway, N.J.

There’s a baby boy there I’ve never met, six months old. His hair is thin and light, his eyes the deepest blue and ringed beneath by folds of fatigue, his smile toothless and hesitant with the stranger. He got the recessive genes, like I did. None of our kids have the dark curly hair, dark eyes, and dark skin of our mother’s family. I sometimes wish they did, but then they giggle and I don’t care about it anymore.

This is what I traded the soccer match for. A baby’s toothless laugh. His soft hand on my neck as I hold him. He wraps his tiny fingers around my index finger like a vice.

This is better than any soccer match.

My brother and I smoke ribs and kielbasa on Sunday, cook up some sweet corn. Corn everywhere else tastes like cardboard. New Jersey corn tastes like home.

I plan to watch the replay of the Union-Timbers replay the first thing Sunday morning, but I stay up too late Saturday catching up with my brother and his wife. Then I do the same thing the next night. There’s only so much time.

We say our goodbyes Monday afternoon. My brother and I never embrace, but his kids always get a hug and kiss goodbye.

I drive through New York City to JFK Airport. The city’s rhythms and concrete always trigger childhood memories. Hipsters and gentrification haven’t touched my grandparents’ neighborhood in Flatbush, but time has. Last year, I visited there for the first time since I was a kid. There were shopping carts on the sidewalk, dilapidated homes on the block. It wasn’t like that when I was a kid, but that was a long time ago, and my grandparents are long gone.

At the airport, I consider watching the condensed Union-Timbers match on my phone. I decide against it, continue to avoid news of the game, and board the plane I sit within now. I’ll be home Tuesday. I can watch with my little boy. Isaac is five years old. He’ll watch the game with me, sidled up in the crook of my armpit. The Union will score, and he’ll yell, “GOAL!” He misses half the goals because he’s distracted, but I always rewind to give him a second crack.

This is how I want to spend the waking hours of my jet-lagged, sleep-addled Tuesday. I’ll be a little late, because time stops for no one. That’s OK. I waited a long time to meet Isaac in this world, but the years that passed before that made these moments resonate that much more. I haven’t seen him in a week. We’re going to spend two hours with the Union.

*

13 Comments

  1. el Pachyderm says:

    “time can tear down a building or destroy a woman’s face
    hours are like diamonds, don’t let them waste.
    time waits for no one, no favours has he
    time waits for no one and he won’t wait for me.”
    .
    .
    enjoyed the thoughts here, Dan. Lost my mom in 2014 – a hole I can’t seem to fill.

    • Sorry Pachy, in my experience you can’t fill that hole. Lost my mom in 1995 when she was 54. But time does the same thing to holes as it does to everything else. The sides gradually get a little less steep and the depth a little less deep.
      Thanks the article and insights Dan! Good luck with the novel.

  2. One interesting part — which you allude to but don’t otherwise address — is the use of technology to “shift” time, thereby allowing you to enjoy the Union match with your son, as though live, without missing the time with your family.

  3. Tim Jones says:

    I suspect I am not the only reader to think of the word “poignant.”

  4. Beautiful Dan. Making me tear up here. As my parents get closer to their destination points, I can’t express how much it scares the hell out of me. Best wishes Dan. May you easily find the path to walk through what may come.

  5. Beautiful story Dan, thanks for sharing it!

  6. Great read Dan. Its amazing how families can be your rock,and comfort. Its been 10 yrs tomorrow since my Pop passed. It is a hole. But time definitely does its magic to dull the edge. I shovel good memories into that hole also! It’s the best thing I’ve found to fill it with.

  7. HopkinsMD says:

    Only just read this now… Thank you, Dan.

  8. Dan Walsh says:

    Postscript for laughter’s sake:

    We got to halftime, and the Union were down 2-0. My little guy got annoyed and said he didn’t want to watch anymore. He said he only wants to watch when the Union are winning, not when they’re losing. I tried to explain to him how comebacks are the best part of sports, but he wasn’t having it.

    Typical sports fan. 😉

    • As a long time reader/commenter on this site really appreciate the quality of writing and commentary here! Thanks Dan. And all who are a part of this fine site!

    • OneManWolfpack says:

      Really awesome article. Well done. Gotta tell your son it’s the Union he supports. He needs to get used to the times when we aren’t winning 🙂

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