I was never athletic. Being neither particularly coordinated nor enthusiastic, I opted out of sports as much as possible. Yet gym classes forced participation.
When I would be so lucky as to hit a fly ball that was, in my mind, easily caught, I would happily trot back to the bench to await my next dreaded turn or an opportunity to trudge out to the field a pray that no ball came my way.
“Run it out!” Miss Beckman would always huff at me. “What if someone drops it? Then you could beat the throw to first!”
But, I would think silently as I shrugged apologetically at her, I don’t want to beat the throw to first. I want to sit back down and avoid sweating or otherwise embarrassing myself.
In the event that there is a metaphorical first base and I do want to get there safely, I think letting situations play out while giving full hope and effort to a pleasing outcome is…something. Not wise, perhaps, since many of us battle steep odds and risk great pain in doing so. Not even particularly brave since the effort toward an unlikely goal seems irresistible to some of us. It's not really a choice so much as a compulsion.
Human. Perhaps the mad dash to first – expending all energy in a sprint with arms pumping – even while watching your ball drift easily into someone’s glove - is human. After all, we are smart enough to know that lack of effort means certain failure. So in ducking your head and hurtling down the baseline, there is expressed some hope in yourself and the world and chances that even when things look bad, if the effort is there, then maybe. Maybe something will change and the ball will thud to the ground and we’ll beat the throw.
I spoke to Rachel last night – a very dear friend from college who married a man I happen to hate based upon how he treats her. We spoke of work – she recently earned her Masters and she wanted to thank me for the gift I sent – and families since we know each other’s parents and siblings. We eventually turned to our current turns at bat.
“I want out.” I said when she asked of my job. “It’s just needlessly difficult here. I don’t like the systems they have set up to deal with scheduling and meetings and… I don’t know. I feel like so many people are miserable that they take out their negative energy on others. And I’m one of the others a bit too often. While I know that if I were better and happier, I would likely perceive the situation differently, I’m just not. So I want to leave in another year.
“But,” I continued thoughtfully, “I have to resubmit my grant in July. I have ideas on exactly what to cut and what to add, so it’s easy enough to throw it back to NCI and see what happens. In the meantime, I’m trying to do enough work and meet enough people so that I can get out of here and head north. We’ll see how it plays out. I’m just unhappy a lot of the time and I know I need to work to fix that, but I’m too damn tired to do much about it.”
“That describes me.” She offered in a voice that is both familiar and foreign. Familiar in that we’ve spent hours and hours talking. I sat with her in a multimedia lab while she did some complicated artsy project and we talked. We giggled while I devoted half my attention to Physics homework or differential equations. We sang Matchbox 20 songs when her radio was broken. We went to hockey games and shared fantasies about our favorite players. We were fixtures in each others lives, and I remember and wish for a moment that I could go back and let myself appreciate what I had when living with my best friends.
Yet there is a loss of sparkle in her voice. The confidence and hope and some of the beauty has dissipated over the years since we graduated. Her husband has historically been an asshole, but she loves him and doesn’t want to be alone, so she stays and loses part of what she was to gain, I suppose, who she has become.
“We’re not doing very well.” She sighed when I asked. “He got another DUI and since we was driving on a revoked license anyway, it’s really not good.”
“I thought you were driving him everywhere.” I said softly. “I’m so sorry, sweetheart.”
“I take him to work, but then on weekends, he ends up driving himself around for some reason. So he goes out on Sundays and plays baseball then drinks with his friends. All day. Every Sunday. I dread it all week because he’s mean when he’s drunk. He says awful things and then we fight and it’s just not good. So I called him at 9:30 one Sunday and he said he wasn’t coming home for a couple more hours. I told him I thought that was a bad idea, but he hung up on me. So a few hours later, he called and woke me up to tell me he was on his way. As we were talking, he got pulled over and I listened to the whole thing. How he didn’t have a license when she asked for it, when he said yes when she asked if he’d been drinking. She was nice enough to wait while I came to get the truck, then I watched her load him in the car and take him to jail.”
“Wow.” I said, not quite able to imagine watching someone I loved screw up over and over, undaunted by punishments while I was humiliated by the very idea of them.
“Yes.” She agreed. “So we have a lawyer – I was going to go to all these consultations and then I decided I was tired. I work all the time and if he can’t care enough to avoid trouble, I can’t keep spending all this time and money getting him out of it. I’m just tired.”
“I know.” I offered. “I’m so sorry.”
“He came home last weekend, and was drunk again. I was already asleep, but I rolled over and asked him what was important – drinking with his friends or peace in our marriage. He can’t have both anymore – I just can’t do it. And he said he wasn’t going to stop drinking.”
We both sat in silence, letting that statement linger, and I sighed.
“I know you don’t want to leave. I don’t know what the right answer is here, Rachel. I do think a therapist would help you clarify your feelings and options and goals. So I’d call your human resources department and get some names. It really might help.”
“I just don’t understand how I can stay with someone who has so little love or respect for me. But I can’t leave either – I don’t know if it’s the right decision. So even though I don’t think he’ll change, what if he does? I don’t think we’re going to get pregnant – we’ve been trying for 18 months now – but what if I do? I really want a baby. I just don’t know how to end things when I love him.”
I thought and made sympathetic comments and reiterated that I don’t know the right answer. It has long hurt me that she’s unhappy and in a relationship with someone who so utterly fails to appreciate her wonderful qualities. He says ugly things and cheats and puts her last, and she takes them to heart, feeling badly each time she strikes back and spends a night alone while he sleeps in his truck. It’s overly dramatic and hurtful and I hate it. I have distanced myself from her for years now because I just can’t watch her to do this to herself.
I do, however, understand the need to let the situation play out. When given someone who didn’t like me very much at all, I loved him too much to let go until left with no other option. I have not, despite numerous pieces of advice from friends, walked away from this post-doc because I wanted it to turn around. I wanted a couple of papers or projects or pieces of knowledge that indicated this was something other than a colossal mistake.
In my case, it worked, at least to some degree. I got some help and have rebounded to create a body of work that is less than it could be, but far better than nothing. Likewise, I’m not willing to advocate Rachel taking a step to end her marriage unless she’s ready and certain enough to act.
“Promise me that you’ll call on Monday.” She said before we hung up. “That you’ll talk to a new therapist because the old one helped you. You can be happier and work harder and do more. I know you can, and I so want you to be happy.”
“You call too.” I said, wishing I could help and support her in some meaningful way. “Talk to someone about where you are and where you hope to go. I love you.”
In the end, I suppose there are two choices. If I end up back on the bench, still gazing longingly upon first base, be it work or love or whatever, what will I do differently when my turn comes around again? And if I beat the odds and circumstances and faith and skill allowed me to be standing on the base that looks fluffy but somehow is not (always disappointing to a young Katie), how the hell am I going to get to second? And do I really want to get there at all? Letting a situation – especially one that is painful – play out is one thing, but maintaining the status quo for something that’s not worthwhile after all is just silly. The trick, I think, is being capable of distinguishing to two while you’re involved in the given situation.