Friday, November 6, 2015

Becky Dent

Kansas City Royal's Rally, November 3, 2015

My daughter Katie and I are in that photo up there, a bit to the right of the Liberty Memorial at the top. Can you see us? We're the ones in blue. Us and about 800,000 of our closest friends.

A couple of years ago, before I got back on my Sertraline, I never would have been caught dead attending something like this. A baseball rally? Are you kidding me? I'm not into sports.

People who know me now, who didn't know me as a kid, probably have a hard time thinking of me as a jock. I'm a librarian, for God's sake. I'm a reader. A writer. I spend most of my "active" time in my comfy chair. My brain is fit while my body fails to cooperate with me most of the time. I'm middle-aged, nonathletic, fat. No judgment intended. I'm just telling the truth.

I do like to get a rise out of people by telling them my jock-day stories. When I brag to our nine-year-old daughter about the time I won the layup contest in seventh grade, the jock girl inside me cringes and rolls her eyes, but I can't help myself.

me, age 13 in my badass basketball days


I'm like one of those dads who sits at the Thanksgiving table with a beer resting on his belly, talking between bites of pumpkin pie about the good ole days when he used to be the star quarterback in high school. His kids probably aren't even listening. His kids are probably outside playing football without him.

Even though I long ago shed my jock-girl persona, I actually tried to coach my daughter's third grade basketball team last year. When none of the other parents offered. I'm proud to say we won one game. All season. Sure we came in last place in the league, but didn't we have fun, girls? Girls?

One of the girls on my team was actually honest enough to say what all the other girls were thinking when she told me that her mom was going to put her on another team next season. When I asked her why, she said, "I guess she wants me to learn how to actually play the game, you know, instead of just having fun."

I didn't take it personally. It's not my fault if that family doesn't have its priorities straight. Fun is the only thing I get about sports these days. Fun, and camaraderie. A sense of belonging.

I like to brag about how athletic I used to be not because I care about winning, but because I like to challenge people's assumptions. When people look at me today, middle-aged, nonathletic, and fat, their first thought is not often, "I bet you were quite the baller back in the day, Becky." It's generally, "Hey, Miss Librarian, could you recommend a good book for my son who likes basketball?" So when I tell people I was once a great athlete, it's more because I get a kick out of surprising them and less because I give a shit about the score.

I was always an active kid. I always liked to play outside. I got bored sitting still. One of my first memories is looking out the window of my parent's bedroom, where Mom was folding the laundry, and listening to Mom sing this song:
Rain, rain go away
Becky Burton wants to play
I hated to be stuck inside on a rainy day. Our house was sooooooooo boring. It was just Mom and me at home during the day, and she was busy watching TV and doing housework. My dad worked from sunrise til sunset. I guess even though he was an accountant, he couldn't get over his farm roots. My siblings from my mom's side of the family, who range in age from nearly 8 to nearly 13 years older than me, were all in school and at after-school activities. My sibling on my dad's side of the family, 15 years older than me, was already away at college. We lived on the top of a hill with no other kids. My best friend Kristin had moved the year before, so I had no one to play with. I couldn't wait to start school so I could be around kids my age.

It wasn't all sad and lonely, though. Nights and weekends were fun with the family all at home, eating dinner together around the big dining room table with the leaf in it to expand to fit our huge family. I'm the youngest of six kids, although technically I'm an only child. It's complicated. My dad was married before he married my mom, and his first wife and he had one daughter, Glenda. My mom was married before she married my dad, and her first husband and she had four kids--Jay, Kitty, Pat, and Jenny. Then they all divorced, my parents met and married, and I was born one year later, the BABY baby of the family.

I loved it when everybody was at home. I loved being part of a big family. Feeling like I belonged to something greater than myself.

Then my siblings, one-by-one, began moving out. Going to college. Living with extended relatives. Getting married and starting families of their own. By the time I was twelve, I lived alone in the house with Mom and Dad and no other siblings. It felt so strange. Not only because Mom and Dad did not get along, and ended up divorcing a decade later, but because I began life surrounded by people and in twelve short years our big family crumbled til it was just the three of us.

Mom, Dad, and I moved to Overland Park, Kansas--a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri--in May 1983. I don't remember the exact day, but let's just say it was May 1, 1983. It was a few weeks before school would let out, so Mom drove me back and forth to school that last month so I could complete sixth grade with my school buddies, the same kids I'd known since we moved to the district a month after first grade started. When we had moved there, the month after first grade started, I was devastated. I didn't want to move. I had no friends. I felt shy and awkward. I never thought I'd make new friends, but I did. By sixth grade, I had tons of friends. I played team sports--basketball and softball. I was friends with everyone at school, never had a shortage of friends to play with at recess. I hate to brag--oh, who am I kidding? I love to brag: I was always the first one picked, if not the team captain, whenever we'd play a game of kickball at recess. I had friends in the neighborhood. We'd play baseball in the street. They nicknamed me "Becky Dent" after MVP Bucky Dent. I'd finally felt like I belonged once again to something bigger than myself.

In a flash, it was gone. Again. When we moved to Overland Park it felt like my foundation had completely crumbled. I was back to square one. No friends, No teammates. And to make matters worse, no siblings at home to share in my misery. It was one of the worst summers of my life.

And also, one of the best. I had my Royals. On May 1, 1983, the Royals played the Cleveland Indians. They lost, 1-2. Not that my memory is all that great. I'm a librarian, remember? All these years of working at the public library have turned me into an all-star researcher. See, I'm even a wiz at citing sources.

I have no idea if I listened to that game, but I certainly began my obsession with listening to the Royals on the radio sometime at the beginning of that summer. They became my friends. The family I wished I had. I fantasized about running away and becoming the first professional female baseball player. George Brett and I would get married and have kids. Life would be full of fun and family and friends.

Too bad I suck at baseball. Actually, softball. Overland Park didn't have a girls' baseball team, so I signed up for softball the summer after seventh grade. I completely and totally sucked.

I had completely and totally sucked the first time I tried to play softball on a team, when I was an anorexic eleven year old:

me, age 11

I had assumed I sucked at softball because starvation and athleticism don't generally go together like peanut butter and chocolate. More like Tab and chocolate.

Turns out I still sucked at softball, even after I had stopped starving myself. I was the worst player on the team. I was terrible at catching and running. I had once been a fast runner, but now my growing boobs were in the way. They hurt every time I'd run hard, and I didn't have the sense to ask for a sports bra. I was fairly good at hitting, but only when I wasn't flinching at the pitch. I was terrified of getting hit by the ball. A softball is much smaller and harder than a basketball. It stings when it makes contact with your skin and bones. A basketball is easier to catch and bounce away from your face.

I simply didn't fit in with the girls on the team, who were all jock-girls who'd been playing on the same team together for years. I felt left out. I had been such a great basketball player, I didn't know how to be a sucky softball player. It was the first time I knew what it felt like to not be the "star".

The coach made me play right-field. Not because I had a great arm to throw from right-field to home or anything. Because I sucked at catching fly balls, and most of the girls on the opposing teams were right-handed. It was out there in right-field one day, that summer of 1984, that I realized my career as the first female professional baseball player had ended before it began.

me, age 13

It was one year after my obsession with the Royals began, and soon my love for them would wane.

I considered signing up for basketball that fall, but my big boobs protested that idea. And anyway, I'd recently reunited with my friend Gina from my old school. Her parents were getting divorced and her mom moved close enough to us that it wasn't a pain for our parents to drive us over to each other's house for sleepovers.

Gina was "artsy" and not athletic at all. She had no interest in sports. I had more interest in having a real life friend than fantasy sports team friends, so I stopped paying attention to sports. My obsession with the Royals, and specifically with George Brett turned into an obsession with the band Duran Duran, and specifically with the drummer Roger Taylor. Gina had introduced me to Duran Duran and Star Hits magazine. Soon, instead of fantasizing of running away and joining the Royals, I began to fantasize about running away and joining Duran Duran. I could be their backup singer. I could marry Roger Taylor and have his babies and we'd be one big happy family.

Too bad I can't carry a tune. It hasn't stopped me from singing though. Sure, I took a thirty-year break from singing when I felt too awkward, but, with the help of my meds, I discovered I have a talent for singing goofy kids songs. I'm a children's librarian and I get to sing and read with preschoolers every week. I met a great guy. We got married and had a kid. I've built my own family. I'm happier than I've ever been. My life has turned out way better than any pubescent fantasy.

Which is why now, after a thirty year dry spell, I can look at my Royals with warmth and esteem. I'm in a good place in my life, so I can afford to relive a joyful childhood interest I had long ago. Maybe it's my midlife crisis, but it seems like a relatively harmless one. I'm no longer obsessed with the Royals, but I enjoy following them, and I had a blast at the rally after they won the World Series this year with my kiddo and 800,000 of our closest friends. It felt like I belonged, to something bigger than myself.