Small, Hard, Fast Balls

I learned early on I was a magnet for small, hard, fast balls. My first encounter with a hard, fast ball was when I was 6 years old. I was playing, hanging out with other kids in a rec center where parents dumped their kids while they went to the Piggly Wiggly or who knows what. This was the ‘50s; I’m sure the stay-home moms needed some time alone.

I was standing a little too close to a pool table watching some “older boys” (9-10 year olds) shooting 8-ball. Suddenly one of the pool balls jumped the table, flew straight at me, and hit me in the mouth. My lip split, my tooth broke and I was forced to drink from a water fountain while blood flowed from my mouth. I don’t remember the pain as much as I remember the discomfort at being the center of attention. My front tooth was chipped and my lip was swollen but otherwise I was fine. I had that chipped front tooth from elementary through my teens; it became part of who I was. (I later had it capped.)

The next time I was hit with a small, hard, fast ball was a couple of years later, when I was 8. I was standing in the backyard of a friend’s house watching her father hit golf balls. (I was still unaware of my magnetism issue.) It was a hot, Texas, summer day and we had nothing better to do. Her dad took a swing and suddenly the golf ball flew towards me like a speeding bullet and hit me square in the eye. Yep. It hurt like a-fucking hell, although we didn’t say fuck in the ‘50s. I didn’t lose my eye but I had a big shiner and was developing a fear of hard, fast balls.

Around the same age, although this has nothing to do with balls of any size, but does indeed involve gravity, in that same friend’s front yard, I was hiding in a tree from the older kids being let out from the school bus. I wasn’t intentionally hiding; I happened to be climbing the tree when the school bus stopped and I was so shy I didn’t want anyone to see me. Suddenly, I lost my balance, fell out of the tree, landed on my back and was knocked out for a couple of minutes. No one noticed me lying in the grass under the tree. Spread-eagle, staring up at the sky, through branches and clouds, I watched the older kids step over me on their way home. Apparently compassion was in short supply in the ‘50s. Before helicopter parenting, it was dog-eat-dog. I finally got up, dusted myself off and walked home. I didn’t tell my parents, or anyone. Well, I may’ve mentioned it to my Mom, but again, these things happen. No need to get excited if there was no blood or bones sticking out at odd angles. The idea of a concussion or brain damage wasn’t entertained. Thinking back, I may’ve suffered a slight concussion but it’s 60 years later and I’m writing about it so no worries. I decided to steer clear of this friend and her front and back yard for a while.

The last time I was hit with a hard, fast ball happened when I was 12. I was under some misguided illusion I should learn to play a team sport, softball. It was my turn at bat and sure enough, I’m standing there, bat in hand, watching as a softball comes hurling towards me and hits me in the head. I fell down and while lying there, I realized I wasn’t cut out for playing team sports. Especially any sport involving, well, you know, a ball.

So, there you have it. I learned early on that I am cursed with a magnetic energy field that attracts small, hard, fast balls. I’m like a planet with a gravitational pull. I don’t understand the metaphysical or mathematical reasons; I only know that I’ve got it.

And I learned to duck. Finally.

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“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” – Anaïs Nin

The first time I went for a run, I was 24 (1975). I had not intended to run, I was compelled. Walking my dog, Max, I discovered a sweet pocket park, not far from where I lived in Capital Hill (Denver) called Alamo Placito. One day, while walking around the park, I started to run. And I kept running.  After I ran around the park 20 times, I stopped; fell on the grass, breathing heavily, staring at the clouds, I felt alive, awake. Max came over and licked my face. A heaviness I had unknowingly been carrying for years was lifted. I didn’t have running shoes or what would become expensive, proper running gear (sports bra, anyone?). I was blissfully unaware of looking cool. In those early days, the popularity of running was just beginning to take off.  Frank Shorter, notwithstanding, the commercialization of the sport was in its infancy.

I eventually found other trails and paths close by. For my remaining time in Denver, my favorite trail was the Cherry Creek bike path, which I discovered when it was still partially dirt. I became stronger, liked how I felt in my body and loved the freedom of running. Gradually running became the medicine I needed to function. I didn’t know that my brain chemistry was being altered, that running released hormones (serotonin*, endorphins, dopamine) that flooded my brain, creating a euphoric high. I quickly became addicted.

* Serotonin – “runner’s high” – less anxiety and a diminished ability to feel pain.”

Running competitively never interested me. It was always about running solo – me and my thoughts. I worked out problems, had conversations with those whom I needed to talk with but couldn’t, wrote Haikus in my head, started stories, replayed broken relationships, tried to figure out where I was going in life, ran off stress. When my sister died in 1981, I fell into a dark hole of depression. I sobbed while running, tears streaming down my face, not caring what passers-by thought. Running lifted me and helped me find a way out. I processed the loss and grief with my feet pounding miles of pavement and dirt over the next few years. I would push myself until it hurt. And that felt good.

Over the years, I’ve kept running – more or less. I ran 5Ks and the Bolder Boulder 10K several times. My daughter and I ran a few 5 and 10Ks together. (She was/is more a natural runner than I ever was.) I fell in love with a beautiful, elite runner, who changed my life completely and forever. I never got tired of watching him run – he was a natural athlete, a gifted runner – gazelle-like, his feet seemingly never touching the ground.  After many years of training at a high level, competitively, his body turned on him. His hamstrings were so injured he was unable to run. While in physical therapy, trying to heal, weeks without running turned into months. He would limp out to run and come back within half an hour defeated, depressed and in pain. After months of not running, the chemicals in his brain changed.  Serotonin levels dropped, a genetic marker for depression was no longer controlled by endorphins, and he plummeted into darkness, and eventual psychosis. After almost a year to the injury date, he took his life, forever free of the pain that had taken over his mind and body.

I’ve read many articles about how healthy running is, how it changes brain chemistry, the “high”, the Zen of running, how running keeps you fit and sane. I’ve not read any cautionary articles about what can possibly happen to a runner’s brain, who has trained at a high level for many years, when the runner is forced to stop running, for whatever reason. My theory is that my boyfriend had a genetic marker for depression and mental illness (confirmed by his family) and because he ran and trained at a high level for many years, he was unknowingly self-medicating, keeping his depression at bay. Once he stopped running, the chemicals that were keeping him mentally healthy dropped precipitously and because they were not replaced (artificially) with SSRIs, a pathway was paved for the genetics of mental illness to take over. I’m not a doctor or a scientist, but this is what I sense happened, in retrospect, over the course of that fateful year.

After I turned 60, my body changed. I’ve kept running but it’s harder because of weight gain, worn out parts and injury (plantar fasciitis, knee, joints). I’m 66 now and I’m learning to appreciate walking. But honestly, when I get out on the path, all my body wants to do is run. I use to see older (in their 60s-70s) runners out on the path jogging, with a hitch in their giddy-up and I’d think, “Good for them! That won’t be me!” Well, guess what? It is me. And just like those older runners, I don’t care what anyone thinks. I’m out and I’m moving. It ain’t pretty baby, but it’s all I’ve got.

I do miss running. I think the main reason I ran was to mitigate stress and depression. Getting outside and running in every season, in all types of weather, was good for my soul on so many levels. I can still get about half of that high walking and enjoying, albeit a bit more slowly, what is going on in nature, being in the moment and moving to the beat of my own drummer.



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The Day Twinkle Said Fuck

The first time I ever heard anyone say “fuck” out loud was when I was in middle-school, 7th grade. I was 13 years old, 1964, small town Texas. We were at a slumber party at Twinkle’s house and after freezing everyone’s bras, we were horsing around outside and suddenly, out of Twinkle’s mouth, flew the forbidden word, “FUCK”. You could see it floating above everyone’s heads in dark cloudy letters.   F—U—C—K

Everything stopped. The Earth stopped rotating. Birds stopped chirping. You could have heard a pin drop. We all stared. With that slip of a tongue, she gave permission to say this word. A word I’d seen written in public places by teenage hooligans, but never spoken. Certainly not by my parents or any of their friends. I’m not sure how, but we knew that some words were not to be spoken out loud.

I was stunned. My world suddenly cracked open in a way I didn’t realize then, but do now. I was liberated, my jaw unlocked. I could say a word out loud that before only existed in my thoughts. It took me several more years to use it as a verbal spice to pepper a conversation or written communication. And it wasn’t just that word. It was a joyous freedom-of-expression, power-of-language, moment of realization. I’m still staring at Twinkle.

If you’re wondering, Twinkle looked exactly like what her name implied. She was pretty and petit, twitchy with wild curly hair, a thin boy-like body and was crack-you-up funny. I suspect she hasn’t changed all that much.

It’s taken me this many years to realize I owe Twinkle a debt of gratitude. Thank you, Twinkle, wherever you are, darlin’, for setting me free.

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My Turn

via My Turn

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My Turn

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
― Maya Angelou

I was between 19 and 21, early 70s in Texas. I don’t remember specifically the year or my age. The trauma wiped out those details. Rape was not something anyone talked about. I don’t know if I was ever warned about sexual assault. I don’t think I had heard, read or knew anyone who had been raped.  Where and when I grew up, young girls and teens were not taught or warned about sexual assault. We were barely told about sex. We learned about menstruation in 6th grade and that was pretty much it. End of story.

Afterward, the thought of going to the police never entered my mind. Who would believe me? I couldn’t imagine. I chose the path of forgetting. I shrink-wrapped the experience and put it away in a box on the highest shelf in the darkest corner of my mind and never looked back. Some might say I was in denial. Denial is not deep enough for what I buried.

And then one day, about 15 years later, the memory surfaced. I was watching the Oprah Show and the subject was “Date Rape”. A piece of a memory became dislodged in my brain and I remembered something. And then something else broke free.

I do not remember his name but I do have vivid memories of place and other details. It was summer. I worked at my father’s company in an office with a large open window that I could look out of while working at my desk.  There was a new salesman and every morning I watched him walk into the offices for the sales staff. He was from Southern California, new to Texas,. He was “older” – in his late 20s/early 30s. He was attractive in that 1970’s blow-dried-California-way. He was a loner; he didn’t socialize with the other salesmen and seemed to have no friends. As he passed my window, he would bend down, smile and wink at me. I was flattered and eventually developed a little crush on him. And he knew it. What I didn’t know then was that he was grooming me, the shy, insecure boss’s daughter with a half-formed identity.

One afternoon we were getting coffee, just the two of us, and out of the blue he spoke to me. I don’t remember what we talked about before he asked me if I’d like to go to dinner. He was charming and I said yes. I was flattered.

He gave me his address and told me to come by his apartment around 7:00 and we’d go to dinner from there. When the day came, I left work early, went home and got ready for my date. When I arrived at his apartment, a woman with a squalling baby on her hip answered the door. He briefly explained that she was his sister and he was staying with her until he could get his own place. He mentioned he wasn’t ready to go out yet and motioned to me to follow him.

I followed. He closed his bedroom door and almost immediately started to undress like it was the most natural way start to a date. I was confused and totally blindsided. He started taking my clothes off. I began to protest and stammered that I thought we were going to dinner. He said, “we will afterwards”. I didn’t know what was happening. After my “NO’s” and protests were ignored, I gave up. He was tall, strong and completely over-powered me. Fear took over and I was paralyzed. My body was on high-alert.

I remember kind of blanking out and going along because I was afraid to cry out for help. I was overwhelmed with the feeling of fearing for my life. Subconsciously, I did what every woman since the beginning of time has done, shut up and hope to live. Survival instincts tell you to go along and then get the hell out. What I know now, but didn’t then, was that this man was an experienced rapist. I wasn’t his first rodeo.

I remember feeling powerless in a way I’ve never felt before. He was rough, uncaring. His penis was huge and he was hurting me and I told him. He didn’t listen. He didn’t look at me. I cried, but intuition told me not to scream. I knew if I did, he would shut me up. I was scared, terrorized and trapped. I remember feeling that if I could just get it over with, I would live and be free to go home.  After it was over, he told me I could leave. Or maybe he told me to leave. I left. We never made it to dinner.

It was still light outside and I felt humiliated and ashamed as I stumbled to my car. I drove home numb, crying, feeling sick. When I arrived, I pulled myself together, quietly slipped in the house, grateful no one was there I would have to interact with. I immediately took a long, hot shower and afterwards quietly closed my bedroom door and stayed there until the next day. I never told a soul. I don’t think the thought of telling someone (my mother) even entered my mind. I knew how upset my mom or dad would be and I didn’t want to be the cause of that. I also felt I would be blamed.

And yes, I felt ashamed. I was the one who went over to his house. I was the one who followed him into his bedroom. I let it happen. I didn’t scream loud enough. I was stupid. The thought of reporting him never even occurred to me. I somehow knew who would be blamed.

I never saw him again. He disappeared – quit the company and moved away. Where did he go? Why did he leave California to come to Texas in the first place? Did his sister hear me crying, saying “No”, “Stop”? Did she know what he was doing in the next room? She must’ve known. Crap. Had he done this before and she knew it? She knew her brother was a rapist and said nothing. Was she a rape victim?

Unfortunately, I will never know because I didn’t go to the police. And because I didn’t report him, he likely went on to continue his career as a serial rapist. My prayer has always been that a woman – braver than I – did report him and he spent a significant portion of his life in prison. I’ll never know. He’s probably dead by now. I hope so.

I was marked from the first moment he saw me. I was a shy, insecure young woman searching for herself. That I was the boss’s daughter probably made me a more attractive target for him. He was in total control from the first moment to the last. He took a chance that I wouldn’t be a whistle blower. His instincts were correct.

I felt it was my fault for following him into his bedroom. What I was left with was shame. Shame is what prevents women from reporting. Shame and regret. Shame that I followed him into his room, regret I didn’t have the courage to go to the police.

I’ve shed the shame and regret. I write my story, not to elicit sympathy, pity or admiration, but to shine a light on what has long been buried. To tell my untold story. There are so many similar stories out there and all are unique and need to be told. I’m not that special, but my story is. So is yours.

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Of Dreams and Memories

I awake at 6am. It is dark.
Did I sleep? I don’t know.
I look outside and find
A faded watery dawn.
Pale light filters through a syrupy fog.
A weak promise of a sunrise.

I see the ghost tree and it looks different
Than it did before.
My state is altered. Nothing is the same.
In slow motion, I take a shower.
I wash my hair. I put on make-up.
I get dressed. I am a robot.

We drive through a frozen, white world.
It is quiet. There’s nothing to say.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,
I think to myself.
We arrive and enter the church.
Noise and reality slice through my brain.

We sit. We stand. We pray. We sing.
Many are weeping.
I stand and float to the front.
And look up to a sea of sad faces.

I begin to read,

“Stop all the clocks … cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking … with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos … and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, … let the mourners come. ”

“He was my North, my South … ”

I continue to the end,

“The stars are not wanted now: … put out every one;
Pack up the moon … and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean … and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can … ever come to any good.”

And float to my seat.

A slow, silent ripping of reality, separates time.

An ending and a beginning –

An ending of you – of us.

A beginning of life without you

Entering a life
Of dreams and memories.

From February 17, 2006

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Write like a …

Write like a ...

From The Rumpus’s Dear Sugar (Cheryl Strayed) column. Recommend Cheryl’s “tiny beautiful things, Advice on love and life from Dear Sugar.

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