I’m Joey: software developer by day, novelist by night. All of my happiest moments involve silent indoor spaces, a book in my hands, and golden sunlight to draw rectangles on the floor. I’m a man who has always lived small but dreamed big. My greatest hope is that I would encourage, comfort, and give hope with my words.
Being gay has ruined large crowds for me.
Something about being surrounded, seen but utterly unknown, twists my soul. And then add to that the layers of guilt I feel.
All these couples I’m jealous of because they get to be here together. Or the number of attractive men I see, the number of times I don’t control my lustful thoughts. Or worst of all: when I spot a gay couple somewhere out there, and I want to be them, and I wish I didn’t.
One day, I decide to go to a baseball game — knowing there will be crowds.
It’s a beautiful summer day, sunny and breezy. People are wearing our team colors and cheering when they see matching strangers. I’m one of the first ten thousand fans through the door, so I get a free bobblehead of one of the players. I have to ask who it is.
I have to ask who we’re playing against, too.
I’m not really here for the game. I’m here to spend time with friends. To be outdoors. To live a few mask-free hours in the company of twenty thousand and breathe easy the entire time.
Except for the moments when my breath seizes in my throat, when I realize how alone I am. When my chest tightens and my thoughts run on overdrive.
It’s easy to cover these slip-ups. You force a smile and pretend you were startled by the roar of the crowd.
I find my assigned seat, sit down, and notice a hundred disconnected things at once.
I can see at least five different scoreboards from this one spot.
I’m already thirsty, and we have at least three hours of game coming up.
Also, cute guy at four o’clock.
And two more at 9:30 and 9:45, respectively. Are they together? No, they’re too bro-ish. Must be friends.
Must be nice.
The summer weather has brought out t-shirts and tank-tops, and I’m impressed by the number of guys who obviously managed to hit the gym a few times during lockdown.
We sing the national anthem. The game begins.
I settle in, splitting my attention between the baseball field and the mob of people around me, knowing I’ll need their help responding correctly when something good or bad happens. Like when the opposing team scores three runs in the very first inning — I pretend to be upset by this. I’m absolutely flawless.
Am I the only one whose mind is spinning out of control? Am I the only one lost in his own emotions instead of the game? I notice all the details I don’t want to see: the uniforms of the players which are pleasingly tight, showcasing their well-toned legs and buttocks; the handsome lad a few rows down, who’s only a kid; the other handsome guy a few seats over, who’s a dad, married, with kids of his own.
Come on. How can I think it’s okay to see all of these people this way?
Maybe I’m too hard on myself. Guilt and shame come easily but tend to have limited usefulness in our lives. They start as helpful mouthpieces of our conscience, but they quickly become millstones around our neck.
And there has to be a difference between aesthetic appreciation and objectification, right? Where is the line? Does anybody know the line?
I wonder if the fact that I’m pursuing this question means I’ve already crossed it.
I once asked a straight friend if he similarly has an immediate and complete knowledge of all the pretty women upon entering a room. He said, “Yeah, pretty much.”
So, maybe I’m normal. Maybe all men, or at least all young men, operate this way. But I can’t help feeling that I expend an awful lot of energy sizing up the possibilities — when, for me, there are no possibilities.
They score. We score. They score again. The innings slide by, but my head’s not in the game.
It’s been an hour and a half of baseball, and by now I really need something to drink. I stand up and slip past the friend on my left, heading toward concessions, bracing myself for the insane stadium prices.
Everyone’s here with someone else; there isn’t a single single in sight. I suppose that, from the outside, I appear befriended, too. I certainly know how to laugh and look like I’m having a good time. I know how to bounce my gaze away from where it wants to stick, to keep myself from staring, to keep myself from wishing.
Could I ever have what all these people have? Could I have the baseball buddy, the automatic tagalong? Someone to yell jokes at over the roar of the crowd? Someone to buy a beer for, so I’m not returning with one hand empty?
I know it’s not beer I’m here for. I don’t need the thing that looks like gold and tastes cool going down but leaves you thirstier than before. I just need water.
I was right. The prices are unthinkable.
Water for five bucks a bottle. Love at the cost of your soul.
I make a purchase and return to my seat, more alone than ever. The cutest little kid is sitting next to us, spinning in circles and offering fist-bumps to strangers. His parents got him a junior-sized jersey. The organ sounds, such an iconic part of baseball, catch my ear. I hear a fleeting wrong note and realize for the first time it’s being performed live.
It’s amazing what your brain notices when you’re desperate not to think of anything at all.
But I paid good money for this ticket. Maybe I should stop considering everything else and give the game a chance.
I force myself to focus, realizing there’s tension in the air. We’re behind by two, but we have two men on base and a third at bat. All the elements for victory are right before us.
The importance of this moment sinks in. I attempt to see past all the distractions; despite myself, I lean forward in my seat.
The batter hits the ball — not a home run, but a fast line drive, and the players on base run. Two of them make it home, and the last guy slides safely into third just as the baseball comes his way —
— but the ball goes wide. The opposing team misses the catch. We all start screaming. Our guy sees his chance. He jumps up from the ground at third, races forward, pumping his arms and legs. He’s rushing into home.
The baseball and the runner converge back over home plate. Everyone draws silent. A cloud of dust fills the air.
The umpire holds both arms out wide.
Safe. The runner made it. He scored.
We leap to our feet, clapping until our hands are sore, yelling our voices hoarse. I join with everyone around me. My throat hurts the next day, and I sound like a smoker, which I’m not.
But for a little while, I got to be someone else. A fan who belonged. A family member. One of the people living by hope whose hope has resolved into reality.
I wasn’t wondering, or wanting, or hurting. I was just existing, along with the rest of the fans in the crowd that day.
This, I think, is what heaven might be like. Not sports (at least for me) — but selflessness, unity, a victory everyone can share, bought at the price of someone else’s dedication and sacrifice.
I leave the stadium with a smile on my face, happily lost in the crowd. I have become someone else. I’m one of the winners. And for a few moments, I forget to feel alone.
Do you catch yourself staring in crowds, and what do you think about? Single or not, how do you see yourself amidst a group of people, or a group of men?