“I focused on relieving the pain more than revealing it.”
CHAPTER 2 – Catch & Release
College softball. It will forever be one of my most treasured life experiences. I started playing at a very young age and never missed playing in 25 seasons. I tried every position but found my most success with third base and center field. I could then, and still can, throw a fast ball over and underarm. There are few people who “want” to warm up with me. I’m proud of that! Batting, well that’s my greatest strength even today. When I was recruited to play on a College – Division III team (even with my terrible academic grades) was a great accomplishment.
We lived down the street from Villa Maria College, on Pineridge Rd. As kids, my Father would take my brothers and I to the college property to use their lawn space as a place to play catch. This is where I learned a very important lesson about softball. We stood a reasonable distance apart, with my glove ready, he throws the ball and my split second reaction was to catch the ball with the wrong hand. Unfortunately, I broke my thumb. It was my first injury (of many) and the first time I wore a cast. From that moment on, I knew better. It never stopped me from playing, although I had to learn how to NOT be afraid of the ball, after the injury healed.
My favorite part about any team sport was just that, “team”. I enjoyed cheering on teammates on and off the field. I wanted to become a better player and learned so much from the many coaches I’ve had over the years. Although, due to my “free mind” and stubborn disposition, I still exercised stupid. (I’m laughing because I just had about ten different memories, relating to stupid, flood my mind.)
Do you remember when the energy drink Red Bull began to fill shelves and bellies? They had an obnoxious truck drive around and give out free cans. They rolled in Hilbert College and I sprinted to that truck. Who doesn’t like a few free samples, right? I told the representative that we had a game and wondered if I could share some with my teammates. They handed me a case and I head towards the field for pre-game practice. I drank one can, then two, then three, before the game even started. I remember, in the second or third inning, this surge of super powers. I don’t remember whether we won or lost that game but I do remember what happened after. We returned back to our dorms to clean up and get changed to go out to eat. I stroll back down to the common area only to find that my entire team had left without me. Apparently, they didn’t want a Red Bull hyped-up team mate going out into public with them (haha). I didn’t think it was funny then. Looking back, it was absolutely the right choice. I went to the cafeteria and ate two plates of French fries and waited for them to return. It was the first time for energy drink “stupid” and the last.
Gosh, I loved that team and everyone on it. I had two great coaches during my time at Hilbert College. Softball was the reason I needed to push myself academically. Once diagnosed with ADHD and put on medication, my GPA went from 1.0’s to 3.0’s. If only I knew the struggle years prior. No regrets, though, It’s part of my journey.
I stayed out of trouble, for the most part. Until one unfortunate situation turned my life upside down and my drive to be successful into a downward spiral. I knew Volleyball and Softball meant so much to me. So much so, that I did stay out of trouble. I was asked to be the designated driver, many times. We were allowed into bars but couldn’t drink unless we were 21. Sure, once in a while I’d drink. I’d have a few beverages but not enough to get trashed. I never really liked the way alcohol made me feel, anyway.
I’ll refer to this person as “B” as I tell the story. I was asked to be the DD for a party in Angola, NY on a Friday night. It was a warm spring evening with not a cloud in the sky. B and I made the drive out to the “kegger” party around 10pm, windows open and 50 cent blaring. “In Da Club” was a recent hit and the radio played it on repeat. I knew I was to bring four others back to the campus after the party had ended. Unfortunately, the party that B was to enjoy did not turn out to be the same for me.
When we arrived, the house was already packed. It was the usual college party. Too many people, loud music and a potent smell of beer and liquor. I sat on a couch and watched the party unfold while making small talk with people who would probably not remember me the next day. A few hours into the party, I asked if I could lay down and let B know to wake me when the crew was ready to head back to campus. Now, usually the DD has the say on when the party ends but I was too nice. I didn’t want to be the buzzkill. I went to the back room and fell asleep. Back then, we didn’t have fancy cell phones with SOS capabilities. I don’t believe they had alarms to set, either.
——– RED LINE——— (skip to the end of the red-line section if triggered by difficult content)
I was awoken by two college guys wanting to have their way. I kicked and screamed the best I could during the first interaction. Not many organized thoughts run through someone’s mind when they’re experiencing this type of trauma. I did remember telling myself that It didn’t matter how loud I screamed because the music was at an obnoxious level. I also remember telling myself that two-on-one was an unfair fight.
When the second guy had his way, I didn’t fight as much. I didn’t scream. It was not because I was exhausted but because my survival mode flipped on and I knew I needed an energy reserve to have the strength to get-up and get-out once the torture was over.
It did end. (May I remind you, all torture has an end.)
———RED LINE——- (resume here)
They fled the dark bedroom and I hopped out the first floor bedroom window shortly after they left. I didn’t have my shoes, my keys or my cellphone. I just had myself and an unfair amount of shame and weight to carry as I thought about how I’d get back to campus. I physically hurt, but nothing compared to the emotional despair and confusion that followed. Walking back to Hamburg from Angola (a twenty minute drive) took about 5 hours. I cared less about my vehicle at that point. I returned to campus around 9am. I remember walking along the lake as the sun began to rise behind me. I could see the city of Buffalo illuminate. Despite the horror that happened a couple of hours earlier, I remember stopping for a moment and soaking in the landscape. It was truly beautiful.
I replayed the scenario over and over. Who were they? Aside from chuckles and the sound of a belt buckle, I couldn’t remember much. I didn’t have much to identify them by. I began to focus on what strength and integrity I did have left. I knew that “free mind” stubborn self would get me through.
I spent the weekend in my dorm room, in bed, relying on a cheap bottle of liquor to keep me from being awake. I took off a few days from classes that upcoming week, and even practices. Eventually, I was visited by a coach who set me up with seeing an on campus counselor. They knew something had happened as my charismatic, hyper and loving personality were not three words to describe the “place” I was in. I didn’t reveal much to the counselor other than something unfortunate happening at a party. She pried but I didn’t give in. I couldn’t then and still don’t use the “R” word loosely.
I learned a lot about life and Lee that night. It changed me. I went from making wise decisions to destructive ones. I became extremely promiscuous. I thought giving “it” up was better than being forced into it. I placed men into a category that set them up for failure. I focused more on relieving the pain more than revealing it. I had a friend who enticed me with selling synthetic marijuana to pay for tuition, as student loans just didn’t cover the active debts. I stole from my roommates to pay car insurance and afford food. I would place money back in their wallets but I got caught. I was in such a fight or flight mode that I just wanted to survive. I wanted the next day to come so I could continue searching for hope because at the end of each night, I couldn’t find it.
Not only did I begin to lose grip of everything, but I also lost working with youth in all of those initiatives across the state. Served me right, though, I was failing so bad and falling so hard that I couldn’t be a true role model to them. I was losing everything. The day I was escorted off campus wasn’t the day I knew something had to change. It was the day I thought I had become the person I was already assumed to be… by others in my life. I was a failure even before I started. My dream of becoming a psychologist had just left my grip.
Time had passed, the decisions I made become less and less destructive but it took more time to correct them than it did to make them. I moved into an apartment with friends and turned out to be even more destructive. I worked as a cocktail waitress and began to drink more, until I lost a place to live, my newly purchased vehicle was repossessed and I lost my only source of responsible income.
I had signed up for the NAVY because I felt that I had no choice. My high school principal pretty much gave me no choice, and I’m glad. She knew that I needed a reset, some discipline and hope. While waiting to leave for boot camp, I returned to a party on campus.
One of the rich kids, who had his own apartment, invited mostly “older” college students to his place for a party. I was looking forward to seeing old faces. But, after losing everything, I gave up on the drinking. The consequences far outweighed the benefits.
A few hours into the evening and after winning six consecutive games of billiards, a very serious situation occurred. One of the younger girls had way too much to drink and was unresponsive. Two thoughts raced through my mind. First, it’s going to be very easy for her to be taken advantage of. And second, more importantly, she could die. While the majority of the party goers continued to put cups of beer to their mouths and made crude remarks, I stepped in. I grabbed her flip phone and hurriedly raced through her contacts to find a familiar name. Mom, Dad, ICE, etc. I found her Dads number and called it. He answered. Thank God. I told him where the party was and that his daughter drank too much and was unresponsive. I asked if he wanted me to call an ambulance or wait for him. He asked me to check her pulse and to turn her on her side. He showed up within minutes. I stayed with her, as she laid on the floor between the bedroom and living room. I talked to her and hoped in my heart that she would be okay. The party continued all around me. I heard a knock at the door, knowing it was her father. He forcefully walked into the apartment, stepping over people sitting and laying on the floor and followed me to the bedroom where she laid. He scooped her up in his arms. I remember her body being lifeless as her arm dangled back and forth as he carried her back through the living room and outside. He had an ambulance called and a stretcher ready.
The police had showed up, too. The music stopped. The ambulance lights illuminated the apartment. The father jumped into the ambulance and thanked me for calling him. The police had us huddled up but the father yelled, “anyone but her…. She saved my baby girls life”. I was able to step out of the group and leave the situation. I sat in my friends car and just cried. I thought about how many times I could have been that girl, at a party, overlooked and ignored, dangerously close to death.
I didn’t know who she was. I didn’t know her name. I didn’t even know if she attended college. Still, to this day, I don’t know who she is. I just know that she survived and that her father was a cop. That was a turning point for me. It wasn’t long before I was being shipped off to boot camp but it did make the days of waiting a bit easier. If I could save her life then I could work on saving mine.
In softball, you learn to calculate. Sometimes you get smacked in the face with a ball and sometimes you catch it. Sometimes you hit a home run and sometimes to you strike out. Sometimes, you need to slide under the opponent to be safe and other times you can run right by them. And sometimes you need to sacrifice yourself in order to advance your teammate. You win some, you lose some. But when you stop comparing your stats with someone else’s, when you stop focusing on team wins and loses and begin to focus on how your own game can improve, that’s when you can truly find yourself. That is what makes you a great player, a great teammate, a great loser, and a great winner. “Shift Happens”. And please, use the correct hand when catching a softball. It hurts much less.
Like I said earlier, “I focused on relieving the pain more than revealing it.” If I could just shift that thinking… life could change for me. I guess you won’t find out how that shift happened… until the next chapter.
If you only knew how valued and important YOU are. Because, you are.
Lee takes you on a journey through real life rough terrian experiences and leads you to the place where she learned how healthy perspective, radical love and an unyielding hope can squash any trial or tradgedy.
“LOVE BIG” is being released in an untraditional way. A chapter will be released every Monday and Friday evening. There is a group page set up here if you’d like to join the discussion and have live Q&A with the author.