Where to Keep Your Eyes
When you don't want to be seen but find yourself the center of attention
“Being safe is about being seen and heard and allowed to be who you are and to speak your truth.”
-Rachel Naomi Remen
I’m standing 8 feet in front of the pitcher’s mound, pitching a softball to a 6-year old. My daughter. She’s waiting to swing the bat. She’s good, especially being the petite little thing she is. “See the ball,” a dad on the sidelines hollers to her. “Just see the ball and hit the ball.” Epic advice.
This is a beginner’s league. Coach pitch. And I am going to strike her out. Not on purpose, but because I’ve already given my daughter an extra swing and the last pitch I throw will be fast -- quite fast -- which is actually a unique and enterprising idea of mine, considering she’s been swinging ahead of the ball all night long.
Later, after the game and before the blessed ice cream man arrives, a father from the other team -- a friend -- will come up to me and remark, “Really throwing some heat out there tonight, huh?” And I will want to wallop him in the face. Because I am out of time and energy for other opinions right now. But I’m a woman and I’m an adult, so it’s improper for me to take my anger out on anyone besides myself. Be a good girl.
Coquettishly, I answer him. “Oh, come on. They’re not toddlers here.” And then I drop the coquette. Because I’ve discovered that when a woman speaks her mind it is shocking to people, and shocking people can be cathartic and fun. Plus, I am god-forsakenly fed up watching man after man throw loop-de-loop, slow-as-snail pitches at these special little women. They are tougher than that. And the daddies aren’t seeing.
In wretched addition, the daddies who pitch wear JEANS. Jeans! To play a sport: MY sport! They actively patronize our little girls by throwing rainbows and wearing dad jeans. (((And only SOME of them have good butts!!!)))
In front of the pitcher’s mound, I am wearing a team sweatshirt and the comfiest and most understatedly-stylish black sweatpants that one could ever own. I don’t own them; they are my brother’s and I stole them from my parent’s house because I borrowed them one day and they were so, so incredibly comfortable that I never wanted take them off. Those are the type of pants you should be wearing to coach this game.
A precocious 2nd grader -- a power-hitter, one day-- steps up to bat. It’s exciting when she’s up at bat. I have faith in her hitting the ball.
I feel a little guilty about stealing these sweatpants but I have learned to fend for myself in that chaotic, if caring, home. Plus, my brother is very handicapped and will probably never know that I stole these pants from him. Or that I miss him and think of him every time I put them on.
My power hitter smashes it, hard. Whoo hoo!
A new batter arrives, with an all-business look and a fuschia bat. My best friend’s kid. Please hit the ball kid, please. I aim and toss.
Unlike my children, I won’t be visiting the ice cream man tonight because my old best friend, an Eating Disorder, has come to visit me again. She (he?) arrived with very little advanced notice and a remarkable amount of newfound strength. Not to mention luggage. I really thought I had jettisoned her 15 years ago; I guess she was just in remission.
Rather suddenly, I’ve become nearly incapable of just “eating.” I find myself staring at food like its alien; like I don’t need it in my life. Like every morsel is a trick. Back in the day, I used to shove my face sometimes. Entenmann’s; cookie dough straight from the tube. The good stuff. This time around I don’t let myself get full on junk. I don't let myself get full at all. Nowadays I am more discerning; my Bulimia has matured.
My best friend’s kid whiffs the ball for the fifth time. I have to call her out. I pitched it slow, I swear. I gave her two additional swings! Shit, things are taking a turn. Paging my angels.
Tonight on the field, my body is protected by two angels floating slightly above my shoulders and distracting people’s gaze. As effective an idea as any. An idea suggested to me by my genius therapist/life coach who for the past few months has been assiduously excavating my soul from a deep and frothing pit of mud, tar and quicksand. I hope that she can uncover most of it.
One of the angels I’ve chosen to protect me tonight is a writer and spiritual activist* who is kind of like me. Who feels very deeply, and fast. Who gives me hope I can survive. Or even thrive. Who reminds me it’s okay to be “here” and yet “not here.” Which I am, tonight, in truth.
Because, to tell you a secret… what the players and coaches and spectators and even my friends at the game don’t know… is that while my body shuffles innocently in front of the pitcher’s mound, comfy as a kitten in my stolen sweats, that “I” am actually floating ABOVE them all… in the air… actually hovering above my body.
A spitfire of a 5 year old dashes to the plate. She's got the spunk of a Tasmanian Devil, but blonde. She is also sweet, and cute, and eager and funny. I flick the ball to her. She swings and misses.
“Hit the ball!” A Dad shouts. “You gotta hit the ball this time.” Just SO MUCH epic advice.
The other angel on my shoulder this night is my gentle and funny former JV softball coach and high school chemistry teacher. A man who had made me feel peaceful, safe, and -- crucially -- seen, if only for a while, way back when.
I used to want to be seen. I craved it.
My own daughter, filled with nerves before our first game, asked me why I liked softball. “It’s meditative,” I said. “It’s fun. I like hitting the ball. And it’s a team sport, but I like how when you’re up at bat, everyone is looking at you and they’re rooting for you to do great! To knock it out of the park! To show them what you’ve got.” They are invested in you, in other words. They care. If only for some meaningful moments.
“Oh,” said my little girl, the natural ham and show-stealing ballerina, who proudly dances on tables and other elevated surfaces (like her mama, but with more feeling, proficiency and sobriety). “Well I don’t like that,” she said. “I don’t want people to look at me like I’m the center of attention.”
Currently hovering above the field, I understand.
I’ve heard a theory that some Compulsive Eaters with a history of trauma might “become” obese so they can feel invisible. My particular eating habits don’t give me that luxury. People look at me. Especially when I am fully “present” in my body. And I think, that they think they see.
Blonde Tasmania cracks the ball and whirlwinds towards first. Thank you, sweet pea! Great job!!!!
“If you don’t want to be the center of attention then then just concentrate on the ball,” I finally told my daughter. “Pretend like nothing else is there. Just play a fun little game with your smiling friend, that bright yellow ball.”
I spin the bright yellow ball to find the laces. One of our weaker batters, a lovable first-grader with a heart-melting smile, meanders up to the plate. Every time she swings she looks like she’s chopping wood. Just an up-down, up-down swing, like the ball’s a giant log or a whack-a-mole. Somehow, she doesn’t seem to process either metaphor. (Incidentally, when we attend her birthday party, I’ll discover the largest backyard pile of firewood that I have ever seen.)
The reason I must float above my body tonight is that tonight I can’t risk being seen. That would be scary, reckless, potentially dangerous, possibly irreversible, and indulgent. We are here tonight for the kids. And I am an adult now, who can manage her emotions without panic and cascading despair. Except I can’t. Not yet. Maybe soon.
Exposed in broad twilight by the pitcher’s mound, I feel absurdly, exceedingly and precariously fragile. It’s possible that I might implode. My emotions are potent tonight and -- maybe like yours sometimes -- can be scary, offensive, feel deadly, and come fast. Plus, it appears that my emotions CONTROL me. I cannot afford to attach to my feelings, and this denial of them makes me brittle.
Little Wood Chopper hits the ball. It is a glorious night after all! We’ve scored five runs and it’s time to change sides.
My husband hollers to me from the sidelines. He’s standing alone. He knows better than to confront me in front of other people right now. I know what’s coming but he’s being simultaneously too sexy and supportive to ignore. This is not an everyday occurrence.
“Just slow it down,” he says. “Just a little. It makes it look like you’re TRYING to strike them out.” He smiles a bit to keep the mood light and so he doesn’t get walloped in the face.
“Fine. But actually,” I inform him, “the kids seem to hit my pitches the best, and strike outs are a part of the game, and I personally feel that rainbow-ass pitches are HARDER to hit than straight pitches. But I’ll slow it down a little.” I feel frantic. And mean. And small. And too big. This was a mistake. Those judgers.
That’s a second reason why I float tonight. Living outside of my body gives me strength against judgers (also known as people). Because when people tonight are “seeing” me — judging me for good or bad; for throwing a few fast pitches; when they’re holding me in their minds for even one minute each (too long) — then I’ll have the privilege of knowing they really weren’t judging “ME” at all. Takes the pressure off, you know?
Next to the dugout, I chat for a moment with two friends of mine, moms on the other team. “You blend right in with the girls!” one of them informs me. “You look like a pro out there!” the other proclaims. Great. Two more juxtaposed conceptions of myself that I now need to coalesce and keep in mind.
Because when people are thinking about you, they are creating and solidifying parts of you. It reminds me of what Eminem raps: “I am, whatever you say I am. If I wasn’t, then why would you say I am?” The more that people look at you and consider you in their brains, the more you are projected upon, put upon and changed. The more it becomes a risk to shine. Or maybe that’s just me. And maybe I am the biggest judger around. I love my comfy sweats.
We’re back on the field.
A sweet and quiet kindergartener is at bat. Three weeks ago she didn’t know how to hold a bat. (Three weeks and 10 minutes ago she didn’t know if she was a righty or a lefty!)
At bat she stands rigidly: both bravely and afraid. Her dark ringlets tremble from immature nerves. She is so intimidated she is almost shaking! She is standing there petrified and here’s the thing — she is ALL THERE. All of her! Right there in front of me. Standing right in front of my shell.
And I want to shrink further away but I can’t. Because I feel, somewhere deep inside or maybe floating above my head, that I have a duty to show these little women a FEMALE role model who is a motherfucking warrior; with inner and outer strength, tenderness, faith in them, and composure. Composure. So I have to become that person. Or at the very least fake it.
Because the thing with “composure” is that while other people are looking and seeing a “composed” (or standoffish or “unapproachable”) person, what they actually might be witnessing is a person whose spirit and locus of control are floating several feet above her head; scattered about into the universe where her immature and over-stressed spirit won’t get hurt again or cause any more trouble than it already has. She is not solid so she’d appreciate it if she can PLEASE stop pretending.
And the more you think about it, the more ironic it is. People might see composure in certain “put-together” people because they are only seeing their solidly — literally solidly composed — parts and not the decomposed fragments of self that sizzle tenuously outside of their bodies, which are actually as vacant and hollow inside as a drugstore chocolate bunny.
My god I want a chocolate bunny. Why did I eat that extra cheese. That cheese was a mistake. You pig. What have you done. I told you, my thoughts and feelings come fast. I’m working on it.
Luckily, what these little girls need now, perhaps even more than true and actual composure, is someone who can pitch them the goddamn ball. And that’s me. I swallow. I'll give them both.
I have to come down. This sweet little girl standing in front of me is shaking. She needs my attention, affection and help. I have to come down because if she’s not really seeing me then we are not seeing each other. And then I can’t really help her hit this ball. She needs some strength right now, and I have to let her borrow some. Ughhhh.
I come down. I do not say a word. I look her squarely in the eyes and we connect. I show her I believe in her. I smile, just a little bit. She smiles back, just a little bit. We nod our heads, and I pitch the ball.
And do you know what? She swings!!! Even though she is so, so afraid. She is so afraid to move. And she even hits it! And runs, and makes it all the way to first base. You go, you strong little thing! Epic.
So epic and inspiring that I make the decision to stay down. I flip the bright yellow ball, around in my first-baseman’s mitt. The men don’t wear a mitt when they’re pitching. They pitch and catch barehanded, in their dad jeans. As if they’re too darn tough to wear a softball glove… when they play softball.
Currently, these men are doing spins next to the dugout trying to determine which child is supposed to be up at bat next. As in, right now. This has been going on for minutes now. (Mothers, I implore you to volunteer.)
Finally, a petite brunette bounces out of the dugout in a light pink helmet and bright teal Nike’s. It’s my daughter!
She prances to the plate and we square up excitedly. I am there, with her. We are playing a game. I have faith in her. Momentarily, I will strike her out. And everyone will see.
I think people want — really crave — to be seen where they are. Where they really are.
Sometimes you might not be able to locate your SELF, yourself. In that case, you might need the help of someone stronger and sturdier (if only just a little) who puts in effort and attention and takes the time to FIND you. Who can mirror yourself to you to help you realize where you are. And then, you can start to really BE you.
When you swing the bat with your full being, that is when you hit the furthest. It will not happen every time.
Sometimes you and your bat are as fragile as stained glass. Sometimes the only reason you can even walk to the batter’s box is that guardian angels are holding you steady. Sometimes you don’t want to be seen but you find yourself the center of attention, standing at home plate, facing your mama in front of the pitcher’s mound. Hopefully, if you are scared at home plate, your mama — or any mama — will see and she will respond.
After my daughter struck out, she looked sad. I saw her; I knew that she was sad. I took a moment for the two of us. I didn’t care what anyone else thought. Delay of game, shmee-lay of game.
I jogged over to her and put two actively loving hands on her shoulders. I gave her a kiss and a comforting hug. “I am so proud of you,” I told her. “For taking those swings. You swung really hard. You did a great job. I love you.” She smiled humbly, straightened up, and seemed to bring her confidence and spirit with her back to the bench. That beautiful girl, whom I hope still lives within her body. She was the picture of composed. I think.
You can’t hit them all in softball but you can't let fear stop you from trying. If you don’t try, then what’s the point? I mean, I get it: you might strike out and live a lifetime of blind reactivity and self-perpetuating trauma forever. Ahem, excuse me — I mean that you might strike out.
Or, you might triumph, and show them what you’ve got.
Hopefully, they will see.
We won the game.
*Thank you, to Glennon Doyle