BY BETHANY ELDRIDGE | EDITORIAL INTERN I am a woman of hypotheticals. I like to think that the map of human experience is an equation that we have built, and hypothetical questions are fascinating decisions that alter that carefully crafted equation. This equation talk may seem like some pretty serious stuff, but honestly, it just means that I get joy out of making my closest life companions answer questions like: “Would you rather wear soggy oatmeal filled shoes for 6 months, or would you rather eat only hotdogs as food for one month of your life?” I like the reactions these hypothetical questions get out of people. Well, sometimes it gets a little weird because I seem to have a very broad definition of my “closest life companions” when in actuality I ask these types of questions to just about anybody. Ask any number of my friend’s Grandmothers or the Janitorial Staff at my High School for more information.
I am also a woman of hypocrisy. I like to put people on the spot, pressuring them to answer my inquiries with my over exuberant tone featuring a gummy smile that never fits the mood. However, when somebody stabs back, when somebody takes a stab at my self-identity, with a question asking how I would rather change my equation, I can’t help but have overly conflicted reactions. While my reactions are the kind that I hate getting from other people, it is terrifying to me to think that my life, which I have carefully planned out minute by minute in my zebra plastic planner, bought specifically to section out my chaotic weeks, could be threatened by a question asking if I would rather die by tornado or shark.
"They see into my life, they see my double sports practices, my tournaments every weekend for seemingly infinite weeks and they respond by asking me to evaluate my life choices, to break down the equation that I have created to see if it is really all worth it."
If you start annotating the pages of my planner, the most prominent thing you will get out of it would be athletics. Sports are what I run to every day. As one of my coaches put it, I really do not have a “slow down” button. In my opinion, if I am going to do it, I better do it. So, it is not unlikely to see me running from basketball games to Ultimate Frisbee games on most weekends, playing up to eight different events and then going to eight two hour practices the week following for the two sports I adore.
Why do you do this? Why do you do this to yourself? Why do you run from practice to practice?
Or even worse:
“What if you just stopped?”
These questions are the most terrifying hypotheticals that have been thrown in my direction and are often asked by my friends after peering into my ink-filled notebook and seeing my schedule. They see into my life, they see my double sports practices, my tournaments every weekend for seemingly infinite weeks and they respond by asking me to evaluate my life choices, to break down the equation that I have created to see if it is really all worth it. Well, maybe because I am slowly maturing or maybe because these questions have persisted through much of my mind recently, I decided to give it a crack. Why don’t I evaluate the choices that I have made in my life? Why don’t I annotate my planner like I annotate the pages of articles I do for English? I love breaking down the stories portrayed in articles written by other people so why not break down my own?
There really is no denying that the hustle and bustle of my athletic lifestyle induces the anxiety of my peers. It is the tournament after tournament almost every weekend for months, it is the games and the practices that rarely come with a break. To some, I think the idea of playing two sports during one season, or the idea of running from a cross country race to a pre-season basketball game is daunting and just does not seem right.
But, when I look back on it, sports are really the thing that always seemed right to me. They are the beginnings of my happiness. The way that I would start my annotations of a document, would be to ask questions in the margins. So, using this knowledge of my happiness helps to answer the first question that I would ask:
If athletics is one of the main theses in the text of ‘Bethany’ where is the beginning?
My relationship to sports is the reason that I met and connected to so many people in my youth. Before gaining such connections, I was the kid that was behind the pack. Although I am an avid writer now, keeping a journal and submitting my poetry to any contest that will take it, I was the kid in the lowest reading group stuck outside the Kindergarten classroom. Everybody else could write their “B’s” facing the right direction while eating graham crackers at the same time. I have never been more impressed with multi-tasking as I was sitting outside with Mr. H trying to understand the shape of the words he showed me. My Dad helped me come to realize that I was “special” at a time where I did not know the sneaky meanings behind that word so I took it in stride. I was the kid who really would not speak much to most people, because I was scared that my questioning, for instance the reasoning behind sleep or the reason why drool was a thing, would not fit in with the one-dimensional lingo that filled the halls of my school. I had a desire to create things, to question things, to accomplish tasks, however, I really just did not have much of an outlet before I became involved in sports.
The moment that my solitude truly changed coincided with the moment I met my lifelong friend Henry Deegan Finch. The reason that Henry and I became friends was for two reasons, one, he liked purple and green just like me and two, I mistook his name for “Harry” which I thought was hilarious due to his shoulder length shaggy hair that much resembled the cute dog on Little House on the Prairie.
Little would I know, Henry was the first person to ever support my imagination, and my desire to create things. We used to sit in fields and make up story after story, obstacle courses and inventions. One of my most distinct memories of our imaginative tendencies, was when rain started pouring on us when we were outside on his wooden swing set. I guess looking back on it, most kids would go inside, but we decided the rain was really just pee from our imaginary pet elephant. For some reason this made the cold rain a bit more appealing.
As most things do, our ideas morphed into more mature innovations, the majority of them being games like basement baseball, where we would set up four pillows for bases and hit a ball with our hands as far as we could without breaking anything. Well, most of the time while not breaking anything. We would go to parks for hours and play football alone, kicking it back and forth and tackling each other to the ground, trying to get across the field without getting a mouthful of dirt. We would play one on one basketball, have running contests, play all the sports video games possible on his Wii. Some people may have labeled these non-stop playdates as lame, perhaps a bit lonely because it really was just us, but I would disagree. He was the first community I had. Our games were the first things that I felt a part of, and eventually it translated into opportunity as I grew older.
Later in my elementary school career, I was one of the only kids who was so used to competing, and was one of the only female players who played pickup basketball during recess with the boys. I was one of the only girls who was not afraid to play against boys the same as I would with girls and rough them up. I never cared about my face getting too red, and I was always picked first for many of the games that we played. I was often quiet still. I had countless labels placed on me from solely being known for my stint at the peanut free table or to my resistance to listening to Taylor Swift. The way that I earned my fame was by showing up to games during recess to prove to my peers that I was worthy of notice, and my goals were met when I scored goals, or made baskets or kicked homeruns in kickball.
Once my persistence paid off, I was invited to stay after school to play games in the park with high schoolers, and I held my own. I would later mimic the protective way the older boys set screens protecting my crotch instead of my chest, much to the amusement of my women basketball teammates and coaches of the future. I am incredibly grateful for the time that I had to develop the competitor that I wanted to be.
"It is the tournament after tournament almost every weekend for months, it is the games and the practices that rarely come with a break."
These games let me have no fear. They led me to join Little League as one of the only girls, it led me to pitch in games and play shortstop, it led me to strive to compete whenever I could whether in athletics or in other aspects of my life. Maybe that is all I really need. So back to those hypotheticals:
“What if you just gave it all up?”
If my schedule was not filled with practices, games, and workouts I would not be who I am. Through these activities I find my purpose. I have structure, but most importantly, I have dozens of communities. Communities that I have a variety of connections with, some knowing my oddest rarities to others simply knowing me as the redhead with the low pony or the redhead with the high bun (depending on the era of fashion awkwardness I was in when we played together).
I have competed game after game. I have cried through cross country races, given accidental black eyes in basketball games, travelled from state to state to compete against kids around the world all with different goals, with different purposes and different identities. My goal has always been to prove myself. To prove to myself that I can accomplish goals that I have set, to prove to myself that there are communities that will tolerate my questioning, to prove to myself that my training, and my childhood of imaginative games all can lead me to success.
I have realized that the choices I make can undergo questioning, questioning from myself and from others. But when it comes to the times scrawled into my zebra planner notebook, there is little room for wasted time over thinking who I am and what I have learned to do. Who knows, maybe sometime in the future I will reflect back and be something completely different. Maybe I will be a garden queen or the star of a Disney channel show and I will come up with a whole new introduction to my story, completely negating the ideas of myself as an athlete first and foremost. (It’s not impossible, gardening runs in my family). Right now, my athleticism is me. It is my identity. It is a part of my womanhood, and it enables me to fill my pages with equations and equations of opportunities each and every day. I have a culture to be a part of, I push my body every day and I am able to continue using my imagination to create opportunity on the field and on the court.
Why question that?