Saturday, January 06, 2007
My most humiliating and life-changing moment
No, it wasn't the regional spelling bee in the fifth grade when I sat onstage in my pretty dress with my legs wide open. That was more embarrassing for Noni and Popi than for me. I was oblivious.

It was at the end of sixth grade. I was playing softball in a girl's league. It was a fast-pitch league, but fourth to six graders don't pitch so fast, so it was a pretty lightweight league. I always considered myself a pretty good athlete, despite being chunky. I could hit the ball. I was a fair fielder. I remember practicing fielding in the back yard with Popi. I always hated those rolling pop-ups that whacked you good. I even practiced pitching. I was good when I was on, but I was inconsistent. Besides, the coach's daughter was the pitcher.

My memory of a lot of exact details is vague now, but the feelings remain. Deep shame and humiliation.

We made it to the championship. We didn't have a perfect record but we were good enough. We were up against the team that had THE pitcher. We were highly intimidated by her and had lost to this team during the season. Because it was the championship the "stands" were full. My grandparents even came. It was a big deal.

I played third base. The game was going our way, we were actually winning. We had overcome our fear of their pitcher and we had momentum. Then came the play. Here's where the details get fuzzy. I think it was a grounder right to me, and I missed it. I ran after it and recovered it and by the time I got control of the ball the runner was safe on base, and maybe someone had scored a run. For some reason I lost it, I threw the ball on the ground in a rage. The rest of the runners proceeded to round the bases and they scored two runs before my team could recover the ball and stop them. I have no idea what happened, why I did it. Frustration and rage is all I can remember. Once I realized what I had done I started bawling. I wanted the coach to take me out, but he wouldn't. You can imagine that the fans and my team were yelling at me "What the hell had I done!?!" They scored again and we lost the game. My humiliation and shame were complete.

My teammates couldn't even talk to me. It was our last game so I'm sure many of them never spoke to me again. A few offered "condolences" and a measure of forgiveness. But the whole thing was inexplicable, I had nothing to say but I was sorry.

I had already been planning to change school systems between sixth and seventh grade so I never saw most of my teammates again. Unlike your favorite sports-related feel-good movie, I had no chance for redemption. I had to live with what I had done, forever.

I lost my nerve for team sports after that. When I moved to the new school I tried softball again, in the local league. But because my birthday was after the cutoff, I was put back with mostly fourth through sixth graders. They were thrilled to have me, but I felt put down. I was the high draft pick because I was a big girl with decent skills, but I was sent to the worst team. Twelve year-olds don't understand that stuff. I was insulted. So stupid. After practicing a couple of times I quit.

The only thing I ever tried out for again was junior varsity volleyball. I love volleyball, but I didn't know how to be a committed athlete. It didn't help that my BFF decided to go out too and ended up being a distraction during tryouts. We were both cut. Looking back, she was probably there sabotaging me anyway.

After that I no longer had any illusions of myself as an athlete. I never played any school sports. I did end up being on an academic bowl team my senior year, the first year they offered the competitions. In that situation I was a good team player, I was even the captain.

After college I got into volleyball bigtime with adult groups, so I know I can be a good athlete. I just fouled it up for myself in school, way back there in sixth grade.

One thing that resulted from that moment is that I learned to fear my rage. After that I worked hard to suppress my anger and ended up internalizing most of it. I'm not a rager or a fit-thrower, I'm a seether. I believe that moment in time had far-reaching ramifications for me.