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Her daughter finished the drive home in shock. At least the worst was over, Kayla thought.
The course of the disease was curious. It could slither through the body and brain and then coil, like a python, around the will to live: The long-term impact of sex abuse in childhood was the leading cause of attempted suicide among females of that era. Or it could burrow and congeal, as R.A.'s did, a time-release capsule secreting a toxin too subtle for anyone, even the carrier, to trace.
Who could have guessed—after a Texas Rangers trainer saw a group photo of Team USA's starting pitchers just before the 1996 Olympics and noticed that R.A.'s arm hung at a different angle from those of his teammates, leading to tests that revealed that the team's recent No. 1 draft pick had no ulnar collateral ligament and caused the club to reduce its $810,000 offer to a mere $75,000—that for years every reference to that missing ligament would go straight to R.A.'s core wound: You see? There's something wrong with you. You don't belong here. And that every media reference to his having been picked off the scrap heap, as he bounced from team to team and languished in the minor leagues for most of 13 seasons, would bring back that old wadded-trash feeling he'd had when the babysitter and the teenage boy were done with him. And that every ragged pitching performance would confirm his deepest fear: You deserve this. You're damaged. They know it. You know it. Then, when he could bear it no more, whiplash, turning upon the very God for whom he'd created a Christian charity that took sports equipment and the Gospel across Latin America: Dammit, I work harder and longer than everyone else. What do you want from me? Am I not doing everything I can, God? What do you want?
His body would be standing on the mound in front of thousands, peering in for the sign, but his mind would be curled up and cringing, repeating psalms with runners on second and third to con God into conjuring a pop out, bracing for the next blow because each blow was landing on the old dagger, driving it deeper. He'd rip off his glove and cleats after getting the hook, sometimes hurling them into the trash, slipping away to sit in the dark of a movie theater, teeth grinding on popcorn.
He refused to give up on the game when he found himself reporting to Triple A Oklahoma City for the fifth, sixth, seventh time, when he packed up and moved 31 times in 10 years. He needed what baseball was meting out to him, the punishment and the rootlessness and the skin-deep camaraderie, the garage apartments and the cheap motel rooms, the blow-up mattresses and the cardboard-box coffee tables, the drifting and the distance.
His guilt grew each February when he left behind his wife, Anne, a former valedictorian at Tennessee, to raise their two daughters so that he could try and fail again while her career choices dwindled. He shrank further and further away from her as their marriage wore on, the wounded wolf resorting more and more to the survival skills that had always worked best: camouflage and motion. Using his affability and gift for words to lighten the mood, to appear in charge, to change the subject whenever it began creeping too near to his feelings, his sadness, his secret. Living the way he pitched, afraid of contact.
Nearly a decade into their marriage, sitting in another clubhouse getting ready for another game, he got a call from her. She was hysterical. Come home right now, she cried, or it's over. She'd found out. The reef he'd been living on had grown too lonely. The co-founder of Honoring the Father Ministries had strayed.
He lost his home that autumn of 2006. He lost his life with his wife and three young children. He slept on a couch in their old house in Nashville—the one they'd moved their furniture out of but hadn't yet been able to sell—while Anne decided what she would do next. No, he didn't sleep. He lay there breathing in the stench of his aloneness, listening to the echoes of everything gone. A hose attached to a muffler would do the job if he could trust himself to sit still that long. A country road and a tree and an unbuckled seat belt would, if not.
There was no seat belt for Kayla on that never-ending truck ride through the night. No real seat, either. She was squeezed into a fold-up lawn chair jammed between two bucket seats in the cabin of a U-Haul truck, waking up just to cry again, crying till she slept again, hurtling 800 miles from Ohio to the outskirts of Boston because her mother couldn't risk a motel or a rest stop, couldn't peel her eyes off her 16-year-old daughter even when they stopped for gas or to pee. Kayla might make a break for it. "What are you doing?" Jeannie cried when Aaron, who was heading east with them, pulled off the road to take a catnap. "Keep driving!"
For a month she'd watched all the circuits shut down in her daughter: no school, no judo, no reason to rise from her bed or the couch. Then Jeannie, desperate, rolled the dice. People might have thought she was nuts to drive 14 hours and deposit a depressed child with strangers—the coach of the U.S. Olympic judo team and his father—at a dojo atop Bruno's Plumbing and Stewy's motorcycle shop behind a cement factory in Wakefield, Mass. But Daniel was free on bail, and Jeannie was convinced that she had to get Kayla far from his clutches, convinced that fighting again and dreaming again was the only way Kayla would ever live again, convinced that her daughter's only way out was through.