Monday, November 14, 2005

Vicki's Story - Part Five

Click here to read Part One
Click here to read Part Two
Click here to read Part Three
Click here to read Part Four

Part Five

The first day of sixth grade was hard, but in retrospect, went as smoothly as it would for any “new kid.” For the most part, the kids were still young enough (and curious enough) where they took my sutured-up face in stride and I made friends pretty quickly. Sixth grade was really the end of Innocence for me. Seventh and eight grade proved to be two of the most difficult years of my life. Again, in retrospect, I don’t think I suffered any more than any other junior high kid who had the misfortune of being too tall, too skinny, too chubby, too shy, too smart, or who had too much acne. In other words, no one gets by with anything when they’re 12. And in fairness, I dished it out just as bad (if not worse) than everybody else. Junior High is the closest I ever got to thinking Darwin was a genius. Nowhere else in the world does one see evidence of “Survival of the fittest” than in the confines of a junior high classroom.

By seventh grade, I was a chubby pear-shaped girl, I was pale as a ghost, flat-chested, with a deformed face, completely non-athletic, shy, and I had braces…on the top teeth only. To make matters worse, I knew nothing about pop culture, popular music, movies or anything else any “cool” kid would be talking about. About the only thing I was good at was spelling….which made me even more of a nerd.

I hated gym class more than anything else in the world. Not only was I an uncoordinated weakling but my last name began with an “A” – which means I got to go first. About three or four kids into the activity, the whole class would be bored and disinterested, but that first guinea pig with the “A” names – all eyes were on us – one false move and you got it. You know, nothing reverberates off those high gym ceilings more than the cacophonic laughter of judgmental twelve-year olds.

I was fully convinced that 99% of my problems would go away if they would outlaw junior high gym class. Those horrible uniforms that earned for me daily taunts about my pale, skinny bird legs…my inability to score a goal even when I was a foot from the goal and the goalie was off on the sidelines eating an orange wedge. And what is with those dodge balls? I must have had a homing device in my forehead – every single dodge ball ever launched between the years of 1984-1986 seemed to land square between my eyes (which of course sent my face bleeding like mad because of those blasted buttons wired to my face)!

Then, as if things weren't bad enough, some teacher had the bright idea to start a softball league for the seventh and eight graders. I had no desire or intention to join. But the classes were small and lo and behold, EVERY kid in all of seventh and eight grade signed up. After hearing, “You didn’t sign up for softball?!” a hundred times, I crumbled under the peer pressure and signed up.

The dreaded day came – the first day of practice. The entire seventh and eighth grade was out on the softball field next to the school. The teacher decided to give every single student a chance to bat.

My heart started beating. I was more nervous about trying to bat in front of my classmates than I was before my last surgery. “What if I strike out?” “What if they make fun of me?” “What if someone trips me when I try to run to base?” “What if the whole crowd laughs at me?” Or, “What if the pitcher, just to be mean, whales me in the face with the softball?” Hey….it was known to happen before with the dodge ball, so my concern was not completely paranoid.

Then I had a bright idea! I could stall my turn and if I waited long enough, my mom would be there to pick me up and I could get away! I had found my way out – I started to breathe easy.

I heard a car pull up and turned with anticipation and was shocked to see, not my mom’s car, but my dad’s. My dad NEVER came to pick me and my brother up – never. My heart started to beat. He came out of the car and walked toward the field. Dad was always in a hurry to go. “Let’s go, Dad!” I pleaded. “No, no….I want to see you and your brother bat!”


I was so scared. I prayed and prayed that the kids wouldn’t make fun of me in front of my dad. I didn’t want him to know how mean they were to me. I went out of my way to not tell my parents about all of their cruelty. I didn’t need sympathy. It was shameful to me to admit to my parents that I was a freak that nobody liked. I had tried so hard to hide all that from them – and here was my dad, on the sidelines of a baseball diamond, in front of my entire class, about to watch me strike out and get laughed at. The secret would be out.

I panicked. I was so desperate I actually decided to admit defeat (this was long before I learned that telling your dad something meant he would immediately come up with a solution).

“Dad, I can’t bat. I’m going to strike out.”

I was merely forewarning him. It was just a fact, nothing more.

“Go grab that bat!” Dad said.

My heart sank….he was supposed to just accept the fact that his daughter was an athletic moron and take me home. Now, I had just unwittingly gotten myself a batting lesson.

I went and picked up the bat and dad gave me a spontanius batting lesson right there on the sidelines. He showed me how to stand, where to position the bat, where to look, when to swing. I humored him, but knew once I got up there, I’d panic, louse up, get hit in the face, and have to face the humilation of my dad witnessing the whole treacherous experience.

Dad’s coaching session was interrupted by the teacher yelling, “VICKI! You’re up!”

“Go get ‘em!” my dad said patting me on the back. He had such a huge smile on his face. Such expectation. I was about to humiliate myself and my dad in one fell swing in front of every kid I knew and he didn't even know it.

I got to home base. My arch-nemesis was the catcher – sitting there cockily whispering, “You’re gonna choke, Anderson.” I felt like I was stuck in a really bad after school special. This was a nightmare.

I looked up at the pitcher – none other than the eight grade atheletic king, Hein Lee of South Korea. His muscles buldged as he warmed up his swinging arm. My heart was beating so loud it was as if it had jumped out of my flat chest and started running around the bases without me.

“You stink, Anderson….” The catcher antagonized.

I looked at my dad on the sidelines, he was grinning like a Muppet.

“Oh God… me” I prayed. I sucked the tears back into my face. I was so scared. “Please don’t let the ball hit my face,” I prayed. “Oh God, please don’t let me strike out.” I positioned my feet just like dad had showed me. “God, please don’t let me strike out, please…” I took a deep breath and lined up the bat with my shoulder.

The ball came flying at me. “Choke, choke….” The catcher chanted.

I heard my dad yell, “Now, Vic!”

I swung that blasted bat with all my might, then I heard something I had never heard before and would never hear ever again --- the crack of wood slamming against a softball. The ball retaliated and catapulted through the air. I was in shock, I stood there just staring at the ball.

“RUN! Run to first!” I heard someone screaming.

My feet took over and I ran to first base…and then to second….and then to third. By the time my foot hit home plate, the outfielders were still in the neighboring yard to the school looking for the ball.

“SAFE!” the ump called. I looked down at the catcher with a smug look of victory on my buttoned-up face. “Pure luck,” he sneered.

I didn’t even care…I walked over to the sidelines with the echo of my dad’s voice screaming, “Go, Vic! Go, Vic!” ringing in my ears. It was the happiest day of that entire school year.

It didn’t earn me any respect or any kindness, but it taught me something about God. Here He is with a universe to run – the Space Shuttle Challenger had just blown up, there were things going on in the world – big things – and here was God, taking the time to bend His ear to a silly seventh-grade girl begging for the strength to hit a stupid softball.

Sometimes the softball incident would come to mind to remind me that God was there, he was listening, he did hear my prayers, he did care about me, he did have a plan for my life. But as I got older, the memories became fuzzy. I forgot all about buttons and baseballs and God's goodness...



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