Saturday, January 28, 2012

Get Off My Chest - Part 2

2.  To my high school field hockey coach:  I know this is pathetic, but I have been needing to get this off my chest for about half my life.  Consequently, I remember details of events that should have long been forgotten because I have been wanting to rebuke you these past 20 years.  If you even remember me, which I doubt, you might guess what I'm going to rant on here.  More likely, you have no idea what a hand you played in who I am today and this is going to be a bit of a sideswipe. 
Think back to the summer of 1987: George Michael and Bon Jovi on the radio, high school girls were wearing men's boxer shorts as if they were shorts, the heady smell of cut grass, cicadas zinging, blazing sun... The girls from the previous year's high school freshman field hockey team, including myself, tried-out along with the upperclassmen for the varsity field hockey team.  After intense, and, for me, socially terrifying practices in the blazing August heat, I was ultimately cut (not chosen for the team).  I was very disappointed because I had assumed the social fallout from the hazing at the Princeton summer camp weeks before was under the radar.  I'd assumed that if I was good enough to be one of only a very few of my cohort to substitute for varsity players in preseason practice scrimmages, that I was good enough to be on the team.  I guess not.  It must have been that the seniors hated me because of the incident at camp.  I blamed it on that.
It was the classic scenario:  I'd been led in the dark and blindfolded to an upperclassman's room where I was sat in a spotlight, classically, in shaving cream in front of the rest of the varsity team.  Fine.  No big deal.  So was everyone else.  I was sprayed with water and more shaving cream while sitting in front of a fan and pelted with snarky sexual questions that had no right answer.  Less OK, but totally expected.  We freshmen (to-be sophomores) had been anticipating this all week.  The consensus among my friends was that we were going to stand up to the upperclassmen, be tough and indignant, and not answer their questions.  I don't know why exactly except that we wanted to be as tough as they were. 
By the end of the interrogation, which became jeering and angry as I failed to cooperate,  I was shaking with and cold, fear, and humiliation, perhaps starting to cry, but still mouthing-off and not giving them satisfaction.  Who did they think they were to be doing this to us?  As you might imagine, this pissed-off the seniors a good deal.  Remember how it was a group of girls and I who agreed we were not going to cooperate?  Apparently I was the only one that followed through.  If I had only known that the right thing to do was to play along and let the upperclassmen have their laughs and feel superior, which my mother told me immediately when I briefed her on the whole thing,  I would have!  Unfortunately, after that night pretty much the whole varsity team hated me and thought I was a stuck-up prude. I imagine they were probably also pretty sure that I was not going to keep the secret that several were doing cocaine either,  not that I ever knew this for sure as they would not speak to me.  It was rumored and accepted as truth.  In any case, I had my first panic attack the day we got back from camp. 
So, after not making the team, I and some other sophomores played junior varsity sophomore year, without it really being a big deal.  I tried out for varsity again the next summer (1998) as a to-be junior.  I was certain I would make the team.  Again I was cut.  This time you chose to put girls from the year before me on the varsity team, but not me.  I was devastated.  Perhaps you did not comprehend what social, and to us, the student-version of "professional" humiliation this was.  It probably did not matter.  You  wanted a winning team that wasn't going to graduate all at the same time. 
I met with you privately to find out why I had been cut.  I asked you why you chose the younger students who'd only learned the game their freshman year, instead of me, who had been playing for something like five years.  You agreed with me that the younger girls did not have my skill or experience and that my conditioning (my weak area) was progressing fine.  I pointed out that I'd improved my running speed at each point we were timed.  No, that was not it.  You said your reasoning was, and let me quote you directly here,  that "they have more potential".
You really told an impressionable student that they didn't have potential?  Are you kidding me?!  What exactly did you mean by that?  Did you think I wasn't going to carry those words with me throughout high school and possibly the rest of my life?  Did you think at all?  I imagine not.  In my opinion this was quite negligent.  I walked away from this exchange not knowing those words would ricochet in my head for 20 years.  I assumed again that it just must be because I was one of the slowest runners, despite my progress.  But I didn't really know what to do about it.  In my utterly unathletic family running ONE mile was considered a great feat. I had no idea how far I should've been trying to go when I ran during the summer in preparation for preseason.  A good coach might have made certain cut players knew the proper goals to set in preparation for the next year's try-outs... Oh wait, you didn't want us  there in the first place.
Right, because you did not intend originally to let us to-be juniors play JV a second season after we'd gone out for varsity and been cut.  We were supposed to just give up and go home.  However, because several parents pitched a fit, we were allowed to play JV that year as juniors.  Most of my teammates who didn't make varsity simply quit out of humiliation.  I didn't.  I loved the game that much... and as evidenced before, I was a bit stubborn.   I  wanted to prove you wrong.  I thought I could show you that I was worthy.  An adult might have known better, but I was a kid.
I experienced more anxiety and panic attacks the next summer as a to-be senior making my last bid to be on the varsity team.  I would be completely nauseated before preseason practice.  Undoubtedly this affected my performance. So did the shinsplints I developed that turned into stress fractures by the end of August. Still, instead of rewarding my persistence and drive by letting me sit the bench in quiet dignity, you did the practical thing and cut me for the third time because I couldn't perform. At that time I didn't blame you. I was broken---physically, and emotionally.  Now that I am a parent myself, I am  appalled at your lack of insight and compassion.  The one act of mercy I received was from a teammate who was arguably the most popular girl in school.  She also often sat in front of me in class since my last name followed hers.  She approached me one lunch period as I pumped ketchup onto my french fries, away from the lunch tables, and told me that she and the varsity team thought what happened was wrong and that it bothered them and they had wanted me on the team.  This was an absolutely huge consolation that I never forgot and I thanked her for it at our 10th reunion.  I'd felt like the queen of the kingdom had let me know I wasn't forgotten even though I'd been banished.
So I survived and incorporated this experience into my being.  I rejected any and all physical activity for about five years after quitting the LaCrosse club you coached the following spring.  This was a reaction to a lecture to the team about how certain "floaters" needed to decide if they wanted to actually play with heart or choose another activity.  You looked directly at me.  I hadn't ever quit anything in my life.  I didn't realize there were times when it was OK to quit, so I'd continued with LaCrosse even though I hated it (being synonymous with you) now, was anxious and nauseated before play, and had no drive.  After that I did quit...and the world did not end.  That was actually a good lesson for me and served me well in the future when I needed to quit a graduate program to avoid a total mental breakdown.  So thank you for that.  Less so for the privilege of carrying the label of "floater" in my interior monologue from then through the present. 
Would you believe I actually trained for and completed the 2003 Marine Corps Marathon just to prove to myself that you were wrong?  Unfortunately in so doing I ensured that I would not be able to run with my future children as they played sports because my knee cartilage did not stand up to the race training.  I'd kept going because at 31 I'd still never had an injury that did not heal,  and I still had trouble with the whole quitting-thing.  Do I blame you for that?  Yeah, I kind-of do.
So, would I have developed anxiety, depression and later post-partum depression that continues on into a six year major depressive episode without having endured all I did from my high school's inadequately supervised summer camps and unforgiving field hockey program?  Perhaps.   But I'd wager it would have developed later in life when I knew how to reach out to available resources, when I was not still a child. I would not have been so primed for it. I would have had so much more self esteem in high school and later.
When I first wrote this I ended by cursing your name, but I know better than to write and post instantly. I decided I'd like to be more mature than that.  With that in mind, I will say that I hope, though not with any real enthusiasm, just for the principle of it, to have enough potential to forgive you...someday.


  1. p.s. How is it that I am able to write this and post it to the universe, but not email a link to here to you? Baby steps, I suppose.

  2. For any that noticed that I had songs mentioned from 1997 and not 1987, kudos. My husband caught it and now it's fixed. That's what I get for writing at 2AM. Gotta figure out a better system. He also thinks it's too long (TL:DR). I told him it's written for WOMEN, who READ. ;) You know, having a medium for poking fun at your husband and sending it to a global audience is pretty cool.

  3. You really should see a specialist about those knees instead of just relying on your GP's advice.

  4. I Loved it and also think you should email the link asap!

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