I had size and heart and apparently was good enough to play the infield. I played third and pitched and enjoyed the accolades for reasons other than being smart. While the attention from the IHM nuns was flattering, it didn’t do me any favors outside of school. I wanted to be cool. I may not carry off the terry cloth shorts and spaghetti strap look, but I could play ball. I rode by myself to the field a half-mile away while my dad worked and my mom mothered my three siblings. It made me feel grown up and strong. I packed my glove and water bottle safely in my basket and in ten minutes I was in a place where I was good at something other than dissecting sentences.
long distance bully
I had to find an alternate route to the field by then. My usual route would take me past HER house and the bile would rise into my throat and I’d have to stop to get off and take a drink. SHE was out to get me and SHE made sure I knew it. From the crank phone calls, to the filthy letter from her cute cousin sent via US Mail (intercepted by my parents), to the threat addressed to me on the Woolworth’s girl’s dressing room wall, I knew that I was being hunted. So I went the long way for better odds and to tame the fear.
It was a gloriously sunny day. The coach was the only one in those days with clip on sunglasses to shield the glare. I wore glasses and I was on the mound so I had pulled my hat down as close to my eyes as it could go. My thick strawberry hair meant hats where always an issue and I never found a hat that liked me. But today I didn’t care. Coach had called me over from third and I was going to be the second pitcher in the game. I don’t remember the inning or what color shirts we were wearing. I don’t remember what I pitched or whether we won or lost. I only remember the cat-calls coming from above as I struggled with each underhand pitch.
SHE had found me. Of course SHE had. It didn’t matter whether I biked by her house or whether my parents let the phone ring incessantly without a pick up. SHE knew I loved to play ball and SHE knew where I played and today the longer route to the field was just delay of the inevitable threat.
The grade school baseball field was in the bottom of a bowl fed by big hills that spilled down. In the winter families from all around walked the short distance to sled, catching up with friends and pulling their wooden crafts behind them. At the back of the bowl was the private pool that many belonged (not us) and then the great expanse of green to accommodate baseball and football games alike. When it rained it took days to drain and many spring games ended up double-header make-ups. Today we were at the field directly next to the school with the hill to the right of the mound where SHE and her posse could gaze down at me.
The taunting began innocently enough – a few girls calling toward the mound. To some sitting on chairs and metal stands it may have seemed like cheers – friends of the tall pitcher nudging her to victory. But the cheers were actually taunts. Nasty threats and embarrassing observations reserved for only me.
I tried to pretend they weren’t calling to me. That they were nasty girls taunting us all, making fun of a bunch of athletes who dared to play like the boys. But they called my name, and by then I was bowling the ball on the ground unable to give it satisfactory lift over the plate.
The coach and the team became uncomfortable, clearly bothered by my performance and unaware or unmoved by the taunts that were affecting my confidence. Finally, mercifully, the coach caught on – but instead of heading up the hill to clear the rim from the threat, he walked onto the field signaling the ump to delay and meeting me at the mound.
“Are you ok?” I remember him asking me.
“Ignore them,” I remember him telling me.
“Keep your head in the game.”
My head was not in the game and not on my shoulders but instead repeating the filthy threats and embracing fear that consumed me. He handed me the ball and I felt numb. I glanced around and saw her smirk, a joyful expression signaling she was satisfied she’d hit her mark. I took the ball back and after a shaky finish was banished to the bench. She and her crew were long gone by then. With no cell phone invented to secure a safe ride home, I cycled back the way I came, alone, ashamed, and convinced there was nowhere to hide.