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Prove myself…

I was angry, baked by the heat of the sun, and out to prove myself. This mix proved to be a complete disaster during a softball game. I had been put on the reserve team and completely overlooked for varsity, I thought I was better than that. No, I knew I was better than that. To me this demotion to a lesser team fueled my anger and my need to validate my skills as a solid softball player. I grew up with a brother who was the MVP of the high school baseball team and my father expected nothing less from me.

I was constantly told by the boys’ football, basketball, and baseball coaches that I had heart and if they could have ten players just like me they would always win. Yes, being a girl isn’t always easy. It was the middle of a heat wave and I felt like I was in a desert. The grit of the sand stuck to my sun burnt skin and the wind whipped across my body, reminding me of how brutal the playing field was. It was like I was in the deserts of Iraq, I was at war. The war really was in my own heart. I had to prove to myself that I was everything that the boys’ coaches saw in me, but my own coaches didn’t.

I heard my dad’s words pump through my brain as I got up to bat. “Don’t think, just do it”. “Take the ball for a ride”. “Be aggressive and be positive”. I tuned out everyone and everything else. I set out to crack the ball into the outfield and drive in runs and get as far around the bases as I could. I could have settled for a double, I drove the ball out to the fence between the left and center fielders and they scrambled to get it in. Yes, I should have stopped at second base and been happy with a double and the two runs that I brought in.

But something inside me urged me on. “Keep going”, I thought, “make them throw me out”. I heard my father’s voice again. “Slide into their shins, they’ll either get out of the way or drop the ball”. I saw my target and aimed. She was standing on third base and the ball was coming in from the outfield. I heard my coach scream “go back! go back! ” Of course I didn’t listen to him, I never did. The third baseman wasn’t moving. She was a large girl and I could tell that she prided herself on being a brick wall that could not be gotten through.

I was even angrier at the look on her face when she caught the ball while I was a few steps away from her and the base. Every time I ran it felt like sandpaper was stuck all over me, the heat beat down on me with a vengeance. I had never felt so determined, so strong, and so sure of myself in my life. Then I got in position, I slid right into her shins as I was taught. I remember thinking, “why isn’t she getting out of the way? ” Then I heard a snap, a sound that seemed to resonate throughout my whole being. Then came a scream the chilled me to the core, even in the massive heat.

She dropped the ball and doubled over. Amidst all the dust that flew up after my slide I could see her face twisted in agony. I thought two things, “oh my God, she is hurt” and “wow I am safe”. People began running out onto the field and the umpire called a time-out. I stepped away from the girl on the ground and before I could ask her if she was alright, her parents barreled out onto the field. I took a few more steps back as they looked at me with contempt and anger. An ambulance was called and people from all over the place began coming to the field to see what happened.

My coach was too busy talking with the other coach about how to proceed and my parents were already out to their car. I kicked the sand around in such a way to show how sad I was. I was more shocked really and confused. I played the game the way it was supposed to be played and someone got hurt. I had played before that at a caliber that was higher than the girls on the varsity team, yet I was a reserve. Life no longer made any sense and there was nothing that I could do to prove myself and make it make sense again. The girl ended up with a broken leg. I ended up with a broken heart.

I remember crossing the plate to score a run somehow after the incident with little enthusiasm. For me the sport was never going to be as I envisioned. I remember thinking “this isn’t for girls”. I sat down on the bench amidst strange looks from my teammates. I began to see them differently and wonder what made them play in the first place. I had something to prove and I suppose I did that, but what I got in return was a sense of who I was and the limits of that. I was, unlike the boys, never going to get a scholarship for college or play professional sports.

This was it for me, I guess it was supposed to be fun and for the girls around me that was enough for them. I had always believed that women could do anything that men could do. I set out to prove that on that hot summer day. Amidst the apology that I managed to give the girl later, I wanted to apologize for so much more. I wanted to say, “I am sorry that for the rest of your life people will see that you are a girl and that is somehow lesser or weaker”. I wanted to tell her that she would always have a story to tell her children about the time that she refused to budge off of that base when she was playing sports like a pro.

I thought that someone might say something to me that would make me feel better about being a girl, but I heard even more from the boys’ football coaches about how I not only had heart but that I was tough. But the way they said it was strange, as they looked back at me and I shook my head. They saw it, I had lost that heart and I think they realized that the day would come. I had finally realized that I was a girl and like a girl is “supposed” to do, I cried. I suppose we all cry when we realize that.

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