I will not go to my daughter’s softball practice today. I did not tell my husband why, and I will avoid telling him if I can. I will just let him think I am a bit selfish today, that I have other things that I need/want to do, and I will probably go next time. I like to go and show her support normally, but this is not normal. At the last practice they announced that all the parents will be “playing” against their kids, and to be sure not to wear flip flops and be ready to play. There’s one problem. I can’t play. Anything. Other than reflexes, and good hand-eye coordination, my body completely betrays me.
I dreamed, my whole life, of being an athlete, of throwing my body into a perfect arc that bounced into a beautiful handspring, of doing chin-ups like Sigourney Weaver in Aliens, of volleying in tennis, of making a perfect catch smack into a well worn leather glove. But dreams are just dreams. And it wasn’t for lack of trying. I practiced gymnastics over and over in PE in junior high school. I wanted to do what the cheerleaders did. But I couldn’t even bend my neck right to do a backwards roll. And I practiced over and over again, at home, on a mat that I’d bought. I could do a backbend. A crooked cartwheel. A forward roll that bent my neck and made my head throb. Mom signed me up for tennis lessons, swimming lessons, ballet. She put me on a swim team. I got disqualified from the breast stroke, my only heat, because I took too many strokes under water. I didn’t even know that was a rule.
When it was time to play sports in elementary school, I never even had a chance. I skipped the third grade, which is where you learn the rules for all those games. I went from recess to sports whose rules I knew not at all. A boy in my class literally tried to explain kickball to me while I was standing in line to kick. I couldn’t kick. And when it came to baseball, I couldn’t hit a ball. Even though my dad worked with me, I didn’t hold the bat right. I screamed and ducked when balls came at me instead of catching them. I stood as far as I could out in the outfield and prayed that nothing would come to me.
But there was no avoiding the turn at bat, at kicking, at volleyball. When I came up to the plate, the boys would begin to shout, cruelly, taunting, “EVERYBODY MOVE UP! EASY OUT! EASY OUT!” The whole field would suck inward in a bloodthirsty attempt to be the one that would stop the ball that I’d kicked only feet in front of me, so they could hurl the ball at my chest, my butt, my head. My heart would pound as I came up to the plate, and I would strike out, or the ball would be grabbed and hurled at me. I would slink to the back of the line, head down, and pray I wouldn’t have another turn before the game was over. Tears would sting my eyes, and I would chant to myself, “Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry.”
Volley ball in junior high, everything was the same. I would cower behind the other players, praying the ball wouldn’t come to me. Everybody had to take a turn serving, and the ball would slam awkwardly off my wrist, if it hit it at all, bruising me and sending the ball off the court toward the coach. I saw the scene in Twilight where Bella hits the ball into the guy’s head, and I thought, that scene is inaccurate. She would have missed the ball altogether, and instead of flirting with the guy she hit, she would have cowered and blinked burning tears from her eyes. That was volleyball as I knew it. The skill I learned best while playing sports was how to avoid interaction of any sort.
And the old joke about being picked last? That tired old joke? It’s not funny. It’s not funny if it happens to you over and over and over and over, and they fight over who has to take you. And they groan when they get stuck with you, and roll their eyes.
And now they want me to play ball in front of my daughter. I can’t hit. I can’t catch. I can’t throw. I really can’t run. My daughter is a superb athlete; she gets it from her father, and she is more skilled at seven than I ever have been, or ever will be, in my life. She can catch anything. She can hit anything. I can’t go to that dark place in front of her, other children, other parents, my husband. I’m crying a little now, just thinking about what if I had to do it.
My husband can’t find out why I’m not going. If he does, he’ll think he’s doing me a huge favor by pushing me to go. He’ll think, I just need to try, it’s just a game, I need to get over those old childish fears, no one is going to treat me badly on the field, I need to suck it up, grow up, and try. He doesn’t understand. He never will. He inherited a perfect, athletic body, that looks tight and muscled even when he isn’t working out. He has never failed or sucked at any sport. His only possible disadvantage is his height, but he sometimes brags about his vertical leap, his reflexes, his speed. His body just does what he asks it to. In all the times he has practiced throwing, batting or catching with my daughter, inside or outside the house, I have never seen him miss or even bobble a ball. That arm just shoots out, and SLAM, that ball is in the glove.
I know my husband thinks that I can’t play sports because I just haven’t tried enough. I know I have tried enough. When I was in med school, I dated a guy who was a big Ultimate Frisbee player. Big. Huge. As in, he went to Nationals every year. He made it a condition of dating him, you had to at least try to play the sport. If I met someone like that now, I’d kick him in the teeth and the balls and tell him to take his conditional ass to freaking hell. But I was young, and he was so cute, and so smart, and so funny and I wanted him. I wanted him to admire me. Even if it meant exposing my deepest fears about performing athletically. I told myself it would be good for me; that he was good for me, that I needed to suck it up and really try. Sound familiar?
I practiced throwing that disc with him and his friends every time we were outside. I did windsprints with him. I did pullups and crunches and scrimaged every chance I got. I got as good as I was going to get. But my slow body just wouldn’t respond. In a game, making a run to a thrower to try to receive a pass, I would drag, blocking the players behind me, my man on defense somehow in front of me, blocking me, cutting me off. There would be shouts of, “You’re clogging!”, a cardinal sin of getting in the way of the flow of the offense. And if I somehow got the disc in my hand, all those throws I’d practiced so hard would be meaningless, as my man on D would simply flow around me, and my throw would bounce off them and to the ground and into the hands of the defense.
The worst thing was, everyone knew I didn’t want to play. They knew what his conditions were. And he had dated a large number of the female players, all of whom were good and athletic, and I had to humiliate myself in front of them, be defeated by them, and pay for taking their guy. Whole teams hated me just because I had hurt one of their players just by dating him at all. It was a horrible five years. I tried for five years to be someone I wasn’t, just because I wanted someone to love and admire me. So yes, I think I’ve tried hard enough.
I won’t go to practice tonight. My hands would shake as I walked to the plate. I would swing weakly, ineffectively, and I would miss the ball. I would cower if a ball came at me. I don’t even remember which hand a glove goes on. I own one. My daddy bought me one; lovingly tattooing my name in it with a pin and ink. He tried. Really hard. But sometimes trying just isn’t enough. I can’t go back to that dark place. I can’t and I won’t. And I won’t justify myself to my husband, because he has never failed at anything athletic, and he really can’t comprehend the scars of years of struggle and humiliation.
I refuse to hear my daughter, derisively, not understanding my pain, laughing at me because I don’t stand right and I don’t swing right and I can’t hit the ball and I can’t use a glove. She doesn’t know any better. She’s never failed at anything athletic either. I love to see that in her, though. She is so blessed. I won’t say I live through her, because I don’t, but I watch her perfect body and her perfect moves and I just glow to think that something like that came out of me. But I won’t go there, to that place. I’m crying again now because the thought hurts me so much. I’m not going to watch my daughter practice today. And it isn’t because I don’t care. I care too much.