Baseball is my favorite sport. Seriously. Nothing beats sitting in your favorite ballpark, watching your favorite team on a hot, sunny day, with a hot dog smothered in all the goods in one hand, and an ice cold beer in the other. This scene is symbolic to American culture.
It is also symbolic of the ten years, between 2004 and 2014, during which I vowed to be the most neutral, the most socially acceptable version of myself, and, for the most part, succeeded in doing so.
Opening Day brings out the weird in me.
When I was in the 7th grade, I was bullied at school– specifically, cyber-bullied on AOL messenger by kids who found my precocious nature to be worthy of ridicule in their “AIM profiles.” So when I was invited to opening day at the Phillies in a group chat with a bunch of my peers, I thought it was a turning point in my middle school career. On the appointed day, my mom drove me all the way to Philly, only for me to get stood up by my “friends,” and get ridiculed at school the following Monday.
Summer break couldn’t come sooner that year.
In an attempt to help turn my terrible year around, my parents sent me to summer camp, and the bullying there hit a new dimension– the lets steal her clothes and towel while she’s showering in the woods dimension. It was rough, and at thirteen years old, I made a vow to myself to never be treated that way again. I decided to hone my social skills so finely, I would be liked and appreciated and lauded for the rest of my life. I would not feel too much, say too much, seem too different, or embrace any shred of authenticity. I decided that, if I couldn’t change them, I would suppress me.
Rather than saying what was on my mind, I trained myself to gauge what people wanted to hear from me, so I could say the right things at all times, in effect, becoming inherently likable. This became a pattern woven deeply into the fabric of my personality, so much so, that when, ten years later, I found myself in an abusive relationship, one in which gaslighting was the key feature, it took me months to snap myself out of it.
It’s ironic how these things work. You read about partner violence, abusive language, instances of gaslighting, and personal accounts of other women’s firsthand experiences your entire life, and think to yourself “this will never be me.” You tell yourself that you will never be so naive as to miss the signs. You will walk out. You will step away. You will not let someone demean you.
But then it happens. It happens to you, and you allow it, not because you don’t know any better, or that you are helpless and have nobody to turn to. You allow it, because, despite being smart, educated, gainfully employed, social, likable, and surrounded by a wonderful support system, you’re simply too good a person to believe that another human being can be and is inherently bad. You hope it will get better, or that it is a phase. Or that this person will eventually come to their senses. After all, they love you. After all, you can’t change them, but you can suppress you.
I eventually learned that it does not and will not get better, so long as you stay in that relationship and refuse to stand your ground.
Red Sox Opening Day 2014, exactly three years ago from today, and ten years from the day I resolved to start being “likable,” it happened. I decided to unravel the threads of my perfectly guarded being. I made a conscious decision to stop optimizing my life to be liked by others. I decided it was time to stop giving into social constructs of how a woman should be, and to, instead, focus on just being myself.
I don’t want to get into the details of what transpired that evening. It has been three whole years, and I am still not quite ready to divulge what happened, what was thrown, how hard things were flung, how loudly I screamed, how many stitches I had to get, how I hid it all from my roommates at the time, or how much I cried. But this was the last of several such events that lead to me rediscovering and re-claiming my authenticity.
I decided then– when it seemed like everything around me was on fire, sitting 3 rows from the dugout, with the wind blowing through my long locks, yet feeling like Fenway was closing in on me, gearing up to swallow me whole with the next pitch– that I would speak up. I would stop being a pushover. I would not let some guy, or any guy, or anybody ever make me feel small again. And I resolved that, unlike 10 years ago, this time, I would reach my goal by being an even greater, even more outspoken, even more heightened version of the personality I tried to bury years ago. I would no longer align myself with social norms and societal expectations. I would not let the bad in my life outweigh the good, and I would never let naivety come in the way of emotional acuity.
Now, three years later, I am still struggling to find what makes me “authentic,” but at least I am trying. I am not sure what you, or anybody thinks of me. But on most days, frankly speaking, I really don’t even care. It has taken me my entire life to become happy, to feel contentment at every level of my existence, to develop drive to pursue more and better. I occasionally worry that this happiness will be fleeting. But then one of my good friends– who once comforted me through a nightmare by showing me pictures of Iceland and sheep brain delicacies– reminded me the other day that life happens in cycles. The good and the bad are inevitable. But it is my outlook that determines my happiness, not necessarily the severity of the events taking place around me.
So on Monday, I’ll go to a Yankees game, and I’ll enjoy that hot dog smothered with an ungodly amount of mustard, my iced cold beer, and, weather permitting, let the wind blow through my locks. This time around, the stadium will not be closing in around me, there will be no horrendous boyfriend, no bullies, no introspection on how I can change myself to cater to the world around me.
Just a girl in impractically tall wedges, enjoying her favorite sport, thanking the weather Gods for cooperating so her selfies turn out well.