facing fears

I stood, in blue gym shorts and the pale t-shirt, featuring the Clarke Middle School owl, on the grassy field that was, in 1982, the spot for gym class volleyball. Mrs. Cook had imparted all that she could to us–the way to hold your fist when serving the ball, how to bump, how to set, how to keep score. Now all that was left was actually playing. There were enough girls lining the court that it was a fairly safe bet that I wouldn’t have to actually hit the ball, that if it came towards me, I could duck out of the way and let the more athletically inclined girls do the heavy hitting.

Dodging the ball, steering clear of it’s fast descent into my personal space, was a skill I developed. And while I could usually serve the ball and even get it over the net on occasion, volleyball, like so many other sports in my life, stood as an icon of fear. Because unlike mini-golf, where failure to hit the ball where it belongs only impacts me, team sports such as volleyball, impact other people–people who have hopes and expectations that revolve around the concept of my being able to return a serve or get a ball over the net. And perhaps even worse, is that in volleyball, once the opposing team discovers that I suck, I become a target. Hit the ball to the pudgy one in pigtales–she can’t hit it back they say. And suddenly ball, after ball, after ball comes flying over the net, right into my little corner of the world, while I stand, helplessly ducking.

You’d think I’d have remembered all this when I said yes. You’d think it would’ve stopped me. But when two of my favorite boys on the planet suggested that I join their beach volleyball team, I said yes before the floodgate of memories had the chance to surface. I paid for my team insurance and Ms. Cook’s class never crossed my mind. I loaded up on tacos at our team fiesta before the start of the season and only noticed how great the team shirts were. No, memories of the 6th grade volleyball experience were buried deep in my unconscious…until yesterday.

Yesterday, I donned a new uniform–black sweats and a red t-shirt with a new logo: the Deviled Eggs. And I took my bare feet down to the beach and in the Chicago cold of May found myself playing volleyball. And I missed a lot of balls. And the boys on one team–they did target me. But this time it was different. Because my teammates cheered when I hit the ball, even when it went flying off the court. And because I served 5 serves that they couldn’t return. And earned us a total of 6 points. Take that Clarke Middle School!

In the end, the Deviled Eggs won all 4 games we played. (Take that boys who targeted me!) And it was great fun. And I was still scared shitless. But I did it. And next Friday I’ll do it again. And step by step, volley by volley, those old voices, those old fears, grow quieter and move farther and farther away. Step by step, volley by volley, I find I’m less inclined to duck.


all parents make mistakes with their children. parents are, after all, human and so they’re bound to be less than perfect.

this is the story of one of my mother’s mistakes (sorry mom).

all my siblings are half siblings. my father has three children (i’m the middle one). i’m my mother’s only child. so my sister is 8 years older than me and my brother is 13 years younger. and none of us grew up in the same household (or city).

my sister would come to visit for christmas and summer vacation. her visits were moments of such pure and complete joy for me. i looked forward to them far more than anything else i can remember. airports were part of my life from infancy…trips to the atlanta airport were full of expectation when going to pick her up and full of tears when dropping her off. after we put jessie on the plane for her trip back (yeah, it was awhile ago, because we would walk on the plane with her), we’d get in the car, me sobbing, and my father would drive us to the closest gas station, where he’d buy me a package of peanuts and a coke, give them to me, and tell me that i was eating the same thing as jessie, so even though we were far away, we were still connected.

but i digress…

my sister’s arrival meant that jessie sometimes got to pick out special actives or treats. going to the varisity for my sister’s beloved lemon custard ice cream was one standard. going to the movies was another. in 1975 the movie JAWS came out. i know my mom didn’t take me to the first one, because i would’ve only been 4. so maybe it was JAWS 2. i was about 7 years old. and my mom took my sister and me to the movies. and we saw JAWS (i’m guessing 2). and it changed my life.

i developed an overwhelming fear of sharks and the unseen in water (which i love). i remember that year seeing a Carol Burnett show sketch where the shark came up through the bath tub. i was terrified of bath tubs for awhile. but more than anything else, i was scared by the idea of still water being disturbed in strange, fast, unstoppable ways by a destructive force. because i was a georgia girl who was an infrequent guest at the ocean, i transferred my fear to the grate over the deep end of the swimming pool. irrational? you bet! still with me? 100%.

tonight i went swimming in the hotel pool, a lovely 9 foot deep pool, with a waterfall attached. i swam over the grate about 4 times before my fear got the best of me and i found myself running (well, swimming as fast as this body will move) to get out of the tub. yes, i am overwhelmingly aware it’s an irrational fear, but i’m still scared shitless about swimming in slow, still pools over grates.

of all the irrational fears in the world, it’s not the worst. i’m glad i’m not afraid of flying or wine or coffee or chocolate (are those actual fears?). but it’s mine. and it’s with me and now you know.