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Vogue Hockey Essay

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Reader Comments (1)

I just ran across your article in Vogue the other day and it totally resonated with me. As a young girl, with an extremely dysfunctional and broken family, sports were the one place where I could feel safe. My teams became my surrogate family. From Jr High School on, I had the extreme good fortune of being nurtured through sports: basketball, track, softball (all summer), tennis in high school, and even volleyball (which I completely sucked at). My sports "family" included not just the girls on my team, but their parents who tagged along and transported us, fed us treats, and cheered. My Mother showed up when she could; my Dad was completely non-existent. Sports gave me confidence and clarity of purpose, a place to belong.

Beyond that, playing softball, in particular, gave me the sense of being "in the game" in a way that truly transcended the mundane. I have the most vivid memories of patrolling my section of the outfield, knowing each knot in the grass, each indentation that might throw a ball off kilter. The smell, the humidity, the softness of the turf that was always a little wet as the field abutted a stream. Waiting for the ball to come to me, and when it finally did, knowing exactly where to throw it. Nailing the runner at second base. Joy!

When I met my future husband in college I convinced him to sign up for the intramural softball team I was organizing. He hadn't played ball since little league, and was a little unsure of himself, having lived most of his adolescence in Alaska, riding bikes, playing tennis and staying away from team sports. His first at bat he hit a home run. He was a natural. After graduation and moving to Seattle, we started a rec team, the Tube Sox, which turned into a big family of friends playing ball for a decade. After my husband was diagnosed with brain cancer in September of 2003, he was determined to get back on the field. He ordered himself a batting helmet with no ear flaps to wear all the time, stuck a radioactive sticker on the front, and returned to third base the next season. His vision wasn't quite what is had been, but he still could hit the ball a mile.

Three years later, the day after the summer solstice, my husband died. The Tubes wore black arm bands for the rest of the season.

When my husband died, I was broken. I had lived on adrenaline for three years, raising our young children while caring for my husband, trying every treatment, scheduling every appointment, managing every insurance quandary, and somehow staying upright. His death brought a huge release from the intensity, but also a collapse of self. Without him, who was I? I retreated to the backyard and the wine bottle. I didn't believe I could ever retrieve my healthy pre-cancer caretaker self. I was old, heavy, slow, in pain, and self-medicating. I was lost.

Slowly, I began to find the strength to go back to the things I loved. I started riding with the kids to school on our bikes. My husband and I had been big cyclists in our twenties and had ridden the Seattle to Portland ride a couple of times and had always intended to usher the kids into the cycling fold. Now I was doing it--without him. After a few months, I started to remember what I had pictured our life would be before he had cancer--and realized I could recreate that vision, just sans daddy. It was hard, but it was doable. Though somethings I could never teach or create for the kids. There will always be that void.

Finally, a few years later, I decided to move us to an Island in the Puget Sound, to start fresh. We found a new home, new friends, a new community. And, after a year of healing and grounding and being free and alone, I did it. I answered the call and joined a softball team.

When I arrived at the first practice I was as pumped up as when I tried out for my college team--lots of nervous energy and lots to prove. I went for every ball like my life depended on it and I ran hard for every base. I was out of shape and farsighted, but I didn't know how to NOT go all out. I thought I was gonna die by the end of that day, but I didn't care. The thrill, the rush, the feeling of confidence, competence, of knowing the intricacies and subtleties of the game....it all came back to me in a split second. I was THERE.

The coach loved my enthusiasm. When I went up to bat the first time, though, I realized a problem--I couldn't see the ball! I'd been wearing reading glasses bought off the shelf for sometime, but now I realized, I needed to be able to see the ball from it leaving the pitcher's hand to hitting my bat. I needed bi-focals! Post-40 softball lesson #1--get glasses!

But, the point is, I did it. I returned to the thing I loved, the thing that nurtured me as a youth, brought community and joy to my early adulthood, the thing I had so intently shared with my husband. I returned and drew from softball the sustenance I needed. I returned to the joy.

My knees don't allow me to play anymore. It is a sad reality of aging. I am turning 50 next month and my husband has been gone almost 8 years. My kids are teenagers now, and my daughter has just made the basketball team at her middle school. She's not the jock I was, but I feel that being on a team will teach her all sorts of powerful things,not the least of which is her personal strength. I'm so proud of her.

Thank you for sharing your story, Elizabeth. Glad you're back on the ice!

January 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPenny Webb

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