When Natalie was twelve, her world turned upside down. A promise of a better job moved her family halfway across the country. Her parents said it was a chance for a better life. She wasn’t so sure.
They had moved over the Christmas break, and when her teacher introduced Natalie to her sixth grade class, the kids looked at her as if she was an alien from another planet.
“You dress different,” the red-headed girl said to Natalie later at recess.
“And tawllk different too,” another girl added.
I talked funny? Natalie thought. Were they not aware of that silly southern twang to their voices?
But suddenly, she did feel different, like one of those dreams when you look down at yourself and realize you’re only wearing your pj’s.
Natalie huddled deeper into her heavy coat but couldn’t escape the wind’s bitter sting against her face. She longed for the warmth of friends and family she had left behind.
Then one day, while sitting at her desk, the classroom started to spin. She raised her hand. “I’m not feeling well.”
The teacher handed her a pink hall pass to the nurse’s office. She hurried out of the classroom and stumbled down the hallway. She was almost there when everything around her began to fade and then went black.
Natalie was only vaguely aware of the ambulance siren, a machine’s constant beeping, and the distant sound of her mother’s voice. After a week in the hospital on IV’s, she spent the next couple of weeks at home recovering. Natalie had never been so relieved to be so ill.
While she was home, the kids in her class made her a huge card. Each one had written a message wishing her well and saying they hoped she came back to school soon. When she did finally return, they were nicer to her. “We heard you passed out. What was wrong with you? Are you okay?” Natalie guessed it was kinda cool when you keeled over at school. Several weeks later, Cyndi, the red-headed girl, even invited Natalie to join her softball team.
That night at dinner, she mentioned the idea to her parents.
”Why don’t you sign up?” Her mother suggested.
“I don’t even know how to throw a softball.”
“You can learn,” her dad said.
“I don’t know. I’m not sure if I want to.” But mostly, she was just afraid. While she had completely recovered from her illness, the wounds of rejection still stung. But, on her knees, Natalie found the courage to take a chance.
The next day her father bought her a softball glove, and immediately after dinner he motioned for her to follow him outdoors. “C’mon, Nat, let’s play catch.”
Grabbing her glove, she trailed behind him like an obedient puppy.
“Now, let me show you how to throw the ball. Pivot your right foot, step out with your left, pull your arm back behind you and throw like this.” The ball landed in her glove with little effort of her own.
She lobbed one back in his direction.
“You’re throwing like a girl!”
“I am a girl, Dad!”
“Yeah, but you don’t have to throw like one!”
“Step into the throw and follow through. Put it right here.” He smacked the inside of his glove. “Here’s your target. Now, come on...”
She bit down on her lower lip and hurled another his way.
Snap! “Did you hear that! Now, that’s what I’m taking about.”
Night after night, they played catch. He also taught her how to swing the bat and how to pitch. Natalie played third base, and by the end of the season she was backing up the pitcher. Her team came in second place, but the real victory was the friendships she made with the girls on her team. Once again, Natalie enjoyed the warm embrace of belonging. And, no longer did she feel like an alien wearing pajamas.
That was many seasons ago. Since then Natalie had four children of her own. They all played ball, and she spent countless hours playing catch with each of them. On several occasions, her children said something reminiscent of what her father said all those years before.
“Mom, you don’t throw like a girl.”
Natalie always told them not to say that about girls—that girls can throw just as well as boys. But, if the truth be told, she took it as quite a compliment. And deep inside, she couldn’t help but smile.
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