It’s true that I have been bugging Beth for a follow up post from the original Lighting A Fire for … a few months. I had to know more. How was the town dealing with her rabble-rousing? How was her relationship handling gender inequality? How was she doing? Was she winning? What was happening now? How about now? Now? I also didn’t want to just have that one installment and say, “Cool, thanks, good luck with that!” because I actually care about her succeeding and I think it’s really important to cheer women like Beth on until the end. It’s easy to to get excited for something at the start, but it takes a special endurance to see it through, especially when it’s no longer thrilling and just kind of sucks.
So! Beth sent me two posts, unable to decide which to lead with. And I loved them so much I told her I wanted both! (I’m a glutton for good stories.) So here they are, in conversations with each other. And break out the tissue, folks, because this is a reminder that life is complicated and real and has nothing at all to do with movies on Lifetime or Hallmark cards.
The Update and Crowding The Plate
When I fouled the ball off no one realized the ball had actually hit it my thumb, and not the bat. I wouldn’t look down the third baseline to my dad. I barely looked at my coach for the sign. I hoped this pitch would be a good one to drive because my thumb was numb for the moment, but there was no telling how long it would stay that way. The pitch was indeed good, and I drove my last base hit of my high school career up the middle.
Trotting back to the dugout an out later, I avoided my dad’s gaze. He commonly watched the games from the outfield end of our dugout to avoid the parent drama common in the stands. On the way back out to the field I was dreading having to throw the ball with my now throbbing right hand. I made it through the half inning, making a good throw to third on a bunt. It was enough for my dad to notice something was wrong. On the way off the field he called me over. I wouldn’t look at him. “Show it to me,” he said. I gave him my hand but still wouldn’t make eye contact. It was starting to swell. “Is it broken?” he asked.
“I don’t know.” I mumbled, vaguely aware I was probably lying to him.
“Look at me,” he said gently. I did and tears started to prick my eyes. Neither of us said another word and into the dugout I went. It was probably unfair to my teammates that I didn’t admitted to being hurt as I wasn’t effective in my last at bat but I played defense well and it turned out to be the last time I got to take the field for my high school.
Last time we talked, I mentioned being in a holding pattern—I’m still there. I call to check on the status of my EEOC claim every couple of weeks, each time, the answer is the same, it’s “waiting to be assigned to an investigator” and when asked, they don’t know when that will happen. The waiting just continues and in the meantime, I’m becoming an EMT, I bake pies for library fundraisers, Forrest and I continue to serve on boards in town. But it feels empty. I don’t want to care for town anymore.
After over a year of this drama (Forrest was asked to join a year ago in April), I’m feeling lonely. I feel like the community should know what’s happening.
And that feeling made me do something bad.
The twenty minute drive home after the game was quiet. Eventually my dad said, “This is my fear with you girls playing sports. It’s one thing if guys have swollen and ugly knuckles. A dad never wants his girls to look that way though.” Unspoken was the pride that he clearly took in my sister and I when we played. I knew this because I only played a handful of games, prior to college, that neither parent attended (I think I once counted eight). Unspoken were the hours we spent together in the backyard working on my swing and the hours upon hours we “talked baseball.”
Our last game of the season was the next day. I was a senior and there was no guarantee I’d play in college. He asked me if I wanted to go to the doctor. I shook my head. That was a decision I didn’t want to make, not yet anyway. I hadn’t said anything to my coach and wanted to play. Just one more game.
We’ve repeatedly talked about how I need to take the upper hand and try to side step the issue as best I can for lots of reasons: legal ones, ones so what I say won’t be misinterpreted, and the one where it doesn’t matter what I say because I’m an outsider.
About a month ago, I went down to the bar and wasn’t exactly circumspect about the situation. Alcohol loosened my tongue and I told. I told the owner. I told the regulars. There was a lot wrong with what I did. I apologized to Forrest the next day.
I have to admit though, every time I slip up a bit and talk, I feel better. It makes people uncomfortable. It makes them think. Because even to hate me more, they have to think. It makes me feel less empty.
The game I was delaying the doctor for was rained out. I let my mom know prior to my AP Physics test. After the test she was waiting outside the gym to take me to get my hand looked at. I went to practice that afternoon and shocked my coach when I told her my thumb was broken.
The next day, I kept score and watched a perfect game thrown against us.
I never did ask Dad which parent’s idea it was to make me go to the doctor. (Or if it was a joint reconsidering allowing your 18 year old daughter to make her own medical decisions.) I like to think he was going to let me play through it.
Speaking with outsiders who are upset helps too. The response on this blog after my first post was exceptional and helped to carry me through. My fellow EMT student who jokingly suggested I apply for a job with the Coeur D’Alene fire department just to show how well I do on their civil service exam and physical fitness test make me smile.
Others, like the man we met on a on a plane, are unexpected but hugely comforting. Forrest and I were studying for our EMT midterm and he politely asked me what we were studying. We eventually spent the flight chatting with him rather than being immersed in our books. Eventually, it came out that I was trying to join the department as a firefighter as well. His indignation on my behalf made me want to cry but instead I listened to him ramble about lawyers and how wrong it is. I listened as he declared that anyone who can and wants to volunteer their time should be able to.
Dad was on the decline into his battle with alcoholism when I told my parents I was going to go through fire academy with Forrest. My mom just repeated over and over that both my birth-parents had become fire fighters (she was very into this parallel). My dad didn’t say much. I like to think he had the same attitude towards this new revelation as he had towards me playing softball: “Please don’t let my daughter get hurt but I’m certainly proud of her.”
Dad would have warned me that people in this town wouldn’t necessarily understand that I had a right to be on the fire department. He’d have been worried that they were going to isolate me and that I would suffer but he’d have backed me in this battle 100 percent. He’d always encouraged me to chase dreams and to go places; I can’t imagine this would have been different.
My dad was no saint. He certainly wasn’t perfect. And I’d say he was a pretty far cry from a feminist. But he for damned sure wouldn’t have let anyone tell his daughter she couldn’t when she could.
So what I do is wait and wait some more. I wait for the EEOC to start investigating. I work on my EMT license. I dream of what I actually want from my life. Maybe it’s not here. But I comfort myself with the fact that regardless of mistakes along the way, the general path of fighting is the real right thing to do.