Jul 20 2010

“The House That Built Me”

 

If I could just come in I swear I’ll leave

Won’t take nothing but a memory from the house that built me

 

–Miranda Lambert, The House That Built Me

 

I began my summer with a trip home. 

I spent almost two weeks soaking in the warmth of family and old friends who welcome me with open arms every time I return.  I sat in small-town coffee shops and read.  I slept in and snuggled with the dog we got when I was sixteen.  I went running in my parents’ neighborhood, waving at people I’ve known since I was a kid.  I watched my mom coach softball and celebrated my birthday at my favorite restaurant.  I saw a movie with my parents and my brother.  We all cried at the same scene, then laughed at our tears, and wiped at them with popcorn-stained napkins.  I had coffee with a friend I’ve known since we were babies, and went to a barbecue filled with people I worshipped in high school.  I had drinks with my senior year boyfriend and breakfast with my maid of honor. 

This trip set the tone for the rest of my summer.  After a very stressful, emotional academic year, going home grounded me.  It put me in the mindset I needed to enjoy the rest of my time off and make the most of it.

One morning, I ran into the mother of an elementary school friend at my favorite bakery in town.  Much to my surprise, she asked me if I was still writing. 

“I always thought you were very talented,” she told me, and the words made tears spring to my eyes. 

Here was this person I hadn’t seen for probably a decade and a half, maybe more, and she cut right to the heart of the person that I want to be.  It was like I was in fifth grade again. 

She reminded me that I was writing at nine, ten, and eleven years old.  She made me remember who I was back then, when the world hadn’t gotten in the way.  Before I allowed all of the distractions, the trappings, the expectations of adulthood to manipulate who I am. 

In some ways I believe that I’m a better person now than I was as a kid.  I certainly want to be a better person, anyway.  But there are also parts of myself that I’ve lost; parts that I would very much like to have back.  I don’t know if it’s true that you can’t go home again, but if going home means remembering who I really am and holding on to that person, maybe it’s worth a try.


Jul 8 2010

The Soundtrack to My Adolescence

My amazing Austin friend Adrienne* recently took me to see the Indigo Girls play at La Zona Rosa.  Remembering how their music defined my teen years, I was sure it would be an emotional night for me. 

Lately I’ve been thinking about how good it would feel to move back to my hometown; to retreat out of the stress of adult life and pretend that I’m a kid again.  I know that part of my impulse in moving home is just a desire to revert rather than deal with being a grown-up.  And I’m aware that this is like putting a band-aid on a head wound.  That it wouldn’t really fix anything. 

Before the Girls came out last night, I told Adrienne, “You can go back to the place, but you can’t go back to the experience.”  In other words, I could visit my happy little hometown, but I wouldn’t ever be able to recapture the emotional place that I was in as an adolescent.  Not without becoming a complete joke, anyway, like Matthew McConaughey’s character in Failure to Launch.  (A movie I wouldn’t recommend to my worst enemy, by the way.)   

Well, Amy and Emily proved me wrong last night.  Their music marked my teen years, and hearing it performed again brought me back to all of the trials and tribulations therein.  I’m sure that I misinterpreted any number of their poetry, adapting them for the time and the place in my life, but they spoke to me nonetheless.  I had a moment, a memory, for every song.

“And now I’m serving time for mistakes

Made by another in another lifetime.”

 

As I finished junior high, I was often privy to older teammates belting out Galileo in the locker room.  The words would echo around the tiled walls, and I’d listen to the girls in mild admiration.  Being cool seemed so easy for some of those girls; why wasn’t it a simple thing for me?  I’ve often thought that I was paying my dues for past lives; for the people that I’ve been before.  Maybe my old selves were haunting the present-day me.  As a teenager, I did already feel like an old soul.  And not in a good way, either.  Not in the mature-for-my-age, wise-beyond-my-years sense.  Just somehow plagued by indecision and indulgent introspection.  Maybe I needed to call on Galileo for some answers, after all. 

 

“What makes me think I could start clean slated?

The hardest to learn was the least complicated.”

Ah, the summer of 1994.  Least Complicated got me through those endless, hot months, when I’d just gone through a messy break-up with my first real love. 

Nick and I dated for almost a year—an eternity in teenage time—and the whole thing fell apart when we both developed wandering eyes.  (Me for a geeky theater kid, he for one of my own softball teammates).  I sobbed over him for weeks, in the semi-privacy of my bright-yellow room, until I realized that Emily Saliers was right.  It seemed complicated, but it was really so simple:  We’d worked for a while, and we seemed like a great match on the outside.  But he was a high school relationship that was bound to fade.  To a certain degree, at least, we went out because it was expected, and because it seemed like the thing to do.  We made sense.  In the end, it was all so basic, so clear:  We weren’t meant to be together long-term.  It felt complicated, but it really wasn’t at all.  And we took forever (or at least what seemed like forever) to figure it out. 

 

And the best thing you’ve ever done for me

Is to help me take my life less seriously; it’s only life after all.”

 

At the end of sophomore year, two of my friends and I sang Closer to Fine for a choir final, and I don’t think I realized at the time why this song resonated with me so much.  Sure, it’s one of Emily’s best songwriting ventures and possibly the most popular IG tune of all time.  It’s feel-good and upbeat; positive and insightful.  In retrospect, I realize that I should have paid better attention to the lessons that the Girls were teaching me.  Stop worrying so much; forget about searching for meaning in every mundane detail; quit your angst; live and be happy. 

I suppose I could start taking that to heart now.  Because if I’d started heeding their advice at sixteen, maybe I’d be a happier adult today.

 

 

“Because I burn up in your presence and I know now how it feels

To be weakened like Achilles, with you always at my heels.”

 

Of course, just like I had the predictable, good boyfriend in Nick, I also turned to someone unattainable and dangerous in Aaron.  We had a fiery, head-over-heels, exciting relationship…until it burned out, as these relationships do, like cheap fireworks on the 4th of July.  I remember falling so terribly hard for him, but knowing that he would never really be mine, and that he would always be just out of emotional reach.  I would play Ghost on my walkman (yes, walkman) as I walked to diving practice, sighing over Aaron and his terminal emotional distance.  Every time I gained some independence and began to move on, he’d show up again.  He did, indeed, haunt my teen years like a ghost. 

 

“I’m harboring a fugitive, a defector of a kind

And she lives in my soul, drinks of my wine

And I’d give my last breath to keep us alive…”

 

I sang Fugitive in my high school talent show with two of my friends, who were both sophomores at the time.  I was a senior, about to leave home for college, and I didn’t really know who I was yet.  And I knew that I didn’t know.  There was this girl hiding inside, waiting to come out…But she wasn’t ready yet.  And, as one of my new friends pointed out during freshman year of undergrad, I had a way of hiding her away even from myself.  Sometimes I wonder if I’m still digging her out from the cave that she lives in now. 

I’ve seen the Indigo Girls play at least half a dozen times, including once at a huge outdoor amphitheater just following my high school graduation.  They have since recorded several albums, most of which I’ve only listened to a little bit.  But that didn’t matter when I was swaying back and forth the other night at La Zona Rosa, arm-in-arm with my friend, two adult women riding high on nostalgia and girl-love.  Maybe it was the drinks, maybe it was being wrapped around Adrienne (who’d have a few too many and needed me to hold her up), or maybe it was just the soulful lyrics that always seem to speak right to me. 

I cried twice.  Yes, cried.  In the middle of the dirty, sweaty, alcohol-slick floor. 

I sang as loud as I could during the songs I already knew.  I listened hard to the lyrics that were unfamiliar. 

The bright lights made my grown-up troubles seem so damn small, and my teenage years so bloody fresh in my mind.  I suppose that, while I can’t stay in that emotional place, I can at least visit.  Because I will always be the teenage girl who played her Indigo Girls CDs until they were scratched and worn-out. 

Or, at the very least, a somewhat older, slightly wiser version of her.


Jul 3 2010

Recipe for a Team

I sit in the bleachers next to my dad and try to pretend like I’m not crying. 

I watch my mom cheer along with a dozen high school girls, all in various stages of elation (tears, screaming, laughing), as one of them hoists a trophy over her head and presents it to the crowd as if to share it with them.  I can already see that image in the local papers, along with a similar picture of that very girl—the lone senior and captain on the roster—hugging my mother, her coach. 

My mom coaches varsity softball in my hometown, and over the last few years she has enjoyed an impressive series of winning seasons.  Tonight’s win marks her second regional championship, and redemption after a disappointing loss that unexpectedly knocked her team out of play-offs last year. 

I flew home to surprise my mother in the middle of the series, hoping to meet and cheer on the girls through to the last games of their season.  I’d heard about them in every conversation with my mom for the last four months—just see the recipe below.

And so it is that I hold back tears as I watch these girls celebrate.  I just met them, but I know them nonetheless.  What is it about girls’ sports that makes these moments so special?  In this case, with these teammates, it’s the level of support that they offer each other.  It’s the unique personalities that they celebrate, in turn, about each other.  I’ve experienced that type of respect and love enough times to recognize it when it’s there. 

When we get home from the game, I sit down with my parents for a celebratory drink.  My mom’s best friend—a teammate of hers from college, as a matter of fact—and her husband join us.  An outstanding athlete himself in his own day, Norman comments on the game:

“You know what’s different about girls’ sports?” he asks us rhetorically.  He talks about how when he played baseball, no one talked to you when you struck out at a critical point in the big game, or told you it was going to be okay.  You put your head down, he says, grabbed your glove, and waited in shame for the inning to end so that you could attempt to redeem yourself.  He points out that in tonight’s game, when one of the girls would strike out, her teammates patted her on the back, hugged her, and told her to keep her head up.  

We all nod at him in agreement.  I recall how, in the last of my mom’s games that I’d watched, the girls all hollered at me from the bus after the victory.

“You’re good luck, Colleen!” they shouted.  They wanted to share their success with me—someone that they’d just met the day before.  They wanted everyone to be a part of the win.  I neglected to point out to them that they’d managed to win every single game already this season despite my absence up until that point. 

I’ve certainly been a part of teams that were more Mean Girls than The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, but my mom’s current team is full of encouraging, kind, positive young women.  And that’s the kind of team that makes me want to cry, whether they win or lose.  They’re the young women that remind me why girls’ sports are so valuable. 

Aside from the confidence and positive body image that studies show girls develop through athletics, it’s the relationships and the team mentality that stand out to me now.  Amidst the cyber-bullying, teen mom reality shows, and vampire-boyfriend romances that dominate teenage culture right now, girls’ sports have stood strong as a place where young women love each other for their talents and for who they are, rather than what they look like or who they date.  They build each other up and work together; they accept each others’ flaws and admire their strengths; they mourn the losses and they revel in the wins together.  Just like Emily raising the trophy to the stands to share it with as many people as she can, these girls are selfless and sacrificing for each other.  They are a unit.  A thriving, cooperative, generous team in the purest sense of the word. 

I’m almost envious that they have each other, and then I remind myself that I’ve had that before myself, and that I’m a better person because of it.

Recipe for a Team 

Ingredients:

1 good-natured, college-worthy pitcher with a staggering record of strikeouts (junior)

1 powerful, smart, over-achieving catcher (junior)

1 fiery and fast-as-lightning short stop, preferably already having made a verbal

commitment to a college team (junior)

1 third-baseman with soft hands that pick up every bunt and eat foul balls alive (junior)

1 designated hitter whose self-esteem will benefit from media praise for her

performance (sophomore)

1 first-baseman who has also played the lead in the school musical, with a voice and

energy that can barely be contained on the field (junior)

1 second-baseman with a challenging home life, hailing from a famous baseball family

(sophomore)

1 quirky and clever, hard-hitting leftfielder (sophomore)

1 young right-fielder, still acclimating to life as a varsity athlete (freshman)

1 spunky, determined leader in centerfield (senior; captain)

*Blend pitcher and catcher until firm.  Repeat ground balls and double-plays with remaining infield ingredients and combine the two mixtures.  Pepper outfield with pop-flies and hard skipping ground balls until tough.  Add to remaining ingredients.  Sprinkle with team bonding activities, fund-raising efforts, and a challenging spring schedule.  Place on a newly-skinned field.  Add heat and enjoy the show.