Thursday, June 15, 2006

From White to Navy Blue

When I was in the third grade, I was on a park district softball team. I was also 8 years old. We were named after the White Sox. We had this grizzled old man of a coach. Like a cinematic cliche. Also part of my team were the Sanderson twins. I'm not sure why the Sandersons were so mean. Maybe it was because they were identical and they resented all the social interaction that gets tied up in that. Maybe it was because their mom had another set of identical twins almost exactly 9 months after they were born, this time boys. Maybe it was because their hair was so blonde that their eyebrows were, for all practical purposes, invisible. All I know is that they both dated my teenage true love of a boyfriend before I dated him and both of them dated him after I dated him the second time and I'm fairly sure that both of them dated him in the in-between period, as well. Don't ask for details; I never asked.

Anyways, my history with the Sanderson twins did not begin with Ken. They began on the White Sox. They were a year older than me and so they had the benefit of having a summer's worth of experience batting that I didn't have. My dad is a great big jock, so I knew how to throw and catch, but swinging at a pitch was a new thing for me. So, when we had games, I would occasionally strike out, even swatting at underhand lobs thrown by other girls my age who were aiming for a green astroturf mat laid out just behind the plate. No big deal. Everybody's got to start somewhere.

But the Sandersons seemed to think it was a big deal. And when I was up at the plate, they would make fun of me! I have no idea which names were offensive to the 8-year-old me. Whatever they were, the Sandersons used them.

Like I said before, I have no idea why the Sandersons were so mean. Maybe it was a classic case of kids who got yelled at a lot needing to turn around and yell at kids that were weaker than they were in order to feel better about themselves. They must have expected that I would just flinch, take the abuse and feel bad about myself.

Apparently, they didn't know The Slugger very well. (Nobody ever called me the Slugger. But wouldn't it have been a cool ironic twist if they did?) I never had any intention of feeling bad about myself. In fact, I was indignant. My dad may have been a jock, but he was also, more importantly, a sportsman.

I mean listen, here is a man that had once been offered a minor league contract to play baseball and he declined to coach his kids because he knew that he would expect too much of us. Here is a man whose father ran the YMCA in Danville, IL for 30 years. Mr. Poppleton, the 8th grade social studies teacher who grew up in Danville, told me once that he always felt safe at my grandpa's Y, even though they swam naked in those days. Here is a man who apologized to me while driving me to college my freshman year because once when I hit a home run (see, I got better) and slid into home and knocked over the catcher, he wanted to know I'd asked her if she was OK before he congratulated me on the good hit. I have never had a memory of that zealousness. But he still felt guilty years later that he cared more about how I behaved than about how I played and how those priorities should have been reversed in a father rather than a coach.

But, at 8 years old, I certainly couldn't explain to you that the Sandersons behavior was unsportsman-like. I was simply indignant. That's not how the world was supposed to work. I was a kid who liked rules and that was definitely against any rule that I ever knew.

So I said something.

To the coach.

I took him aside at the end of the practice and told him that those girls shouldn't say those things to me and that he should make them stop. I can still picture his face looking down at me as we stood by the parking spaces that line the field across the street from the high school.

There is something happening at work right now that feels like the Sandersons are standing behind the fence yelling while I'm trying to bat again.

The naivete of childhood would be welcome right now.

I haven't done anything wrong. I'm not even really swinging at bad pitches. But someone doesn't like how I do my job and so she has started yelling. I would bet that this is not even personal. She's probably got something going on in another part of her life and I look like an easy target. If she loses control with me and then cites the few errors I've made to deflect the attention from her own unprofessionalism, she feel better about the fact that she has invisible eyebrows. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

And so I am indignant. This is not how the world is supposed to work. I haven't done anything to deserve the treatment I'm getting.

So I said something.

To our boss.


He has ignored my requests that he intervene and now we have hit the breaking point where I have confronted her angrily and publicly for her rude behavior and she has threatened that I better "get up out of her face" and "back away."

And he will take her side.

It's a helpless feeling and I hate it.

I have had to waste the last two and a half days at work writing up incident reports and documenting the history of our relationship, printing out old emails to offer as support for narrative and generally working hard not to tell everyone my side of the story to feel better about being right.

Being a professional sucks on every level but the most important one. What good is walking the high road when, by that path's very nature, you can't tell anyone that you're up there?

When I got fired from my teaching job that I loved, I continued to teach for three months without telling the kids that I was leaving so that I could retain the authority that I would need to actually make them learn stuff for those three months. I still haven't told any of them why I was fired because it was the mom of one of their peers who did it and I don't want that kid to feel bad. But I know that I am remembered by lots of those kids as the bitchy teacher that never got their papers back to them on time instead of the fun, sometimes eccentric teacher that was unfairly fired, which is a much more glorious way to be remembered. That's hard. I can understand why some rock stars might long to die young and let their legacy be shaped by the grief of their fans. If the exit is not dramatic, it can so easily be remembered as pathetic. I'm the Peter Frampton of teaching.

Let's not even talk about the number of ways I could have ruined my ex-husband's life but chose not to because I believe that the high road is the path that will take me where I want to go.

With this pattern of martyrdom emerging in my life, I am losing my perspective. My brother told me a couple of weeks ago that I'm starting to sound like a victim, which is concerning to him because I'm not a victim. I'm smart, funny, attractive, self-confident and young. I have good friends and better family. I will always be able to find a job that will pay me more than what I need to live. I can wield a pair of scissors with the best of them to make crafts that amaze and delight. No one in my family is sick or dying or dead who isn't old.

When my brother pointed out this dissonance between my life and my perception of my life, I made the decision to go back into counseling. It's helping and it will help more as I keep doing it.

But I'm also noticing that I am regaining my temper. My family has always said that my brothers didn't pick fights with me when we were little because I didn't know how to tussle. I only knew how to go for the kill. As I grew into adolescence and then adulthood, I worked toward maturity by gaining control over my temper. In fact, as a teenaged girl made shy because she wanted people to like her, I was completely bewildered that I ever could have been that 8-year-old girl who buttonholed her coach to tell him how to do his job. (Thank goodness my precocious nature was stronger than my ability to control it or I'd be a pretty boring WASP right about now.) The temper that I have worked so hard to control since then is creeping back and I don't know if it is a good thing or a bad thing. I'm sure that the appropriate advice for someone to give me is to find balance, find a way to vent my temper. But seriously, what is going to give me the same satisfaction of making someone else fully feel how human-and-therefore-flawed-they-are-for-the-way-they-have-behaved-by-using-big-words-and-epithets-with-logic-so-sharp-they-don't-get-a-chance-to-see-the-holes-before-it-pierces-their-self-esteem without actually hurting anyone? Somehow punching a pillow just doesn't seem like enough.

My coach did not keep the Sandersons from continuing to heckle me. So my parents requested that I be on different team the next summer. From a white t-shirt to a navy blue one. I had the daughter of one of those coaches (I swear to Jebus his name was Mr. Terdy) in one of my classes at the high school I got fired from. He still talks about the summer after 5th grade when I was 10 and hit a home run almost every time I went up to bat. He still quotes my batting average.

Who will request a different team for me now? And which team will I go to that doesn't have someone jerking wildly to find someone else to attack to make themselves feel better?

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