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Jeff Baker, Boogieman in Lavender: “Extra Innings.”

Jeff Baker & Darryl Thompson at Home. Photo by Amy Tharp.

Extra Innings

by Jeff Baker

I’m a writer.

It’s who I am. It’s who I think I always wanted to be, even during Grade School and Jnr. High when I wasn’t sure “what you want to be when you grow up.” I always liked doing something creative, even if it was just drawing parodies of comic books in a notebook during class.

Being a writer permeates my being, even more than my sexual orientation. I didn’t realize I was Bisexual until I was about twenty years old. But that isn’t as important as the writing.

I lucked out in 2008 when I met my future husband Darryl Thompson online (totally by accident!) From the very beginning he encouraged my writing and in the early 20-teens when I working a lot and wasn’t making time to write, he kept up the encouragement. I started writing on my lunch hours, eating with one hand, scrawling stories in a notebook with the other. And Darryl was as proud as anything when I actually began selling and placing stories, as well as writing a flash fiction story a week on my own blog.

The writing has done me a lot of good.

Around 2019 my Dad, who was about 90, had to have cancer surgery. It was successful but it left him weakened and not himself. His classification (at the excellent retirement home Mom & Dad were at) was moved from being “rehab” to “hospice.”

I would sit with him a lot and sometimes when he was sleeping I would pull out the notebook and write up the weekly flash fiction story or an article. It kind of took me away from everything for a while. He passed away in early 2020.

We hadn’t told my Dad that my Mom had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given about six months to live. But she lived on another two years, largely in no discomfort and happily busy surrounded by friends at the hospice facility where they had been living. I would go and visit her, bring her burgers and the like or books and sit in her living room for a couple of hours while she dozed or watched “Jeopardy” or the news. And I wrote, of course.

Through all of this I would come home to Darryl who was a wonderful source of comfort and love and normalcy in that strange time.

My Mom passed away a couple of weeks after her 91st birthday, a week or so after being visited by some old friends of ours who found her in wonderful spirits and not looking like someone who was sick or old.

Darryl and I spent a couple of the winter months snuggling on the couch, watching TV, sometimes with me writing and with us talking about how lucky we were that my folks had accepted us from the start and that we were going to miss them over the coming years.

But then in late March, Darryl got suddenly weaker and we figured it might be his heart. We had him taken to emergency then to a hospital room where we sat and watched TV and even snuggled together in his hospital bed one afternoon. And I always kept a notebook with me, to write.

And then one evening when I was there and fortunately nurses were too Darryl passed out from what they told me was a “breathing episode’ and I was rushed from the room. Darryl might have loved what happened next; a scene right out of the medical shows we loved to watch. Doctors rushing into the room, the spouse ushered into a waiting area, and you know it’s bad when the Chaplain shows up.

They were able to re-start his heart, they moved him to Intensive Care and miraculously he hadn’t lost any brain function.

Yeah, I cried.

And I swore that if we got ten more years together, or five years or five days, I would consider it extra time. “Extra Innings,” baseball fan Darryl would say.

We got about a week, a week that we would not have had if it were not for the hospital staff, nurses and doctors and I will always be grateful for that.

During the week in the ICU, Darryl received excellent care from the staff and nurses (some of them male, a couple of them Gay!) who learned to love him as much as I did. Darryl was that kind of a guy.

As for us, we held hands, kissed, talked about our hopes for the future, watched plenty of old TV shows (we loved that!) I even sacked out in the recliner one night so we could hear each other snore.

And I pulled out my notebook and wrote. Last month’s QSF column, a couple of the flash fictions, some other stuff. It helped. Believe me, it did.

In an introduction to his short story “The Woman In The Room,” Stephen King said that writing is play for many of us. “Play Therapy” the psychologists call it. King said he wrote the story as “therapy” to deal with his Mother’s death. This is quoted in “The Complete Masters of Darkness,” edited by Dennis Etchison, published by Underwood-Miller in 1991.

I agree completely.

All stories have an ending, and in the end Darryl’s kidneys had failed and he had no time left. So early one morning I held his hand and sang to him and he slipped away from this world with all of its infirmities and indignities that Darryl had borne with love and good humor.

I was stunned but not that surprised. He’d had his share of health issues. And I had meant what I said about extra time. I cherished, will always cherish those last few days. And I believe Darryl and I will be reunited again someday.

But meanwhile, I had a life to live. Stuff to do around the house, people to call, arrangements to make. (God Bless my friends! I would have totally lost it were it not for them!) And I knew that week, the weekly flash fiction story I had been doing for a prompt picture site for nearly seven years would simply not get done.

Then I went outside to get something Thursday morning and found one of my tires was low.

Damn!

I was able to drive it the three miles to the repair shop on the corner where I sat and waited while they examined the tire, found a nail, repaired the tire “good as new” and wrote up a bill for thirty bucks which I gratefully paid. But while they were doing that, I was sitting in the waiting room and I pulled out my notebook, checked the prompt picture on my Android phone (which I call “Ziggy”) and wrote the weekly story in a white heat of creation.

Like a lot of my stories, this one featured a happily ensconced, happily in love M/M couple. Yes, all the ones I have written about like that and will write about, come from my experience of being in love with a man I knew for fifteen years. A man who encouraged my writing and always told me he was proud of me for going after my dreams.

And when the story was done I felt good. Not great, but good.

So, that’s the story basically. Of how I learned again what the power of producing the written word can actually do for somebody. In the midst of anxiety, boredom or unimaginable grief it can take the writer, like the reader, sort of away for a while and just maybe give them strength to go on or the realization that they can go on.

As for me, I will go on. The next year or so will be difficult and sad I know, but I have found laughter in these wonderful memories too so I will be fine. And I will not stop working at my chosen calling to put something of myself down on the page.

Because I’m a writer.

—end—

Jeff Baker blogs about reading (and writing) SciFi, Fantasy and Horror on or around the thirteenth of every month. He is a regular contributor to the RoM/Mantic Reads e-zine RoM/Mantic Reads | Free m/m fiction (wordpress.com) and his fiction and non-fiction regularly get rejected from many other markets. He posts fiction on his blog, like this story he mentioned writing above https://authorjeffbaker.com/2023/04/14/the-errant-kidnapping-and-inadvertent-time-travel-of-james-sandall-jnr-friday-flash-fics-from-jeff-baker-april-14-2023/and wastes time on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100063555483587 He lived happily with his late husband Darryl Thompson since 2010 and they married in 2016. Darryl encouraged Baker’s writing of fiction and of these columns, so this one’s for Darryl.

And y’know what? They’re all for Darryl.

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