Monday, February 2, 2015

Like A Girl

"You play ball...like a girl." The Sandlot, (1993).

How does a man become a feminist? He has daughters.

I wrote this short story in 2010, a kind of tease for The Heart of the Matter.  It is based on an event that took place at a Florida beach. It makes this an especially long blog - I get it if you decide not to wade in. But, there are a lot of women out there who do police work like it was meant to be done.
This is for them, and for my Mom, Pat, Beth, Katy and Greta - my girls.

Like a Girl

“I’m going to kill you, bitch.”
            He burst out of the shadows, never hesitated; lunged at Deputy Karen Sorenson before she could fully dismount the sheriff’s department bike she rode to patrol her beat. The struggle was personal, instantaneous, and vicious – a strong, determined man’s stale-alcohol grunts, insane eyes that burned in unrestrained fury, and a hand that clawed desperately for her duty weapon while his other savaged her. Her initial reaction – disbelief – soon gave way to an overpowering anger that the man would put his hands on her.

            “You’re gonna die,” the man screamed, his meaty paw around the butt of her pistol.
Now and then, snippets of this harsh memory intermingled with the soft, balmy Gulf breeze that blew strands of long blonde hair into her eyes. The images were still vivid enough, sometimes, that a tingle started at the back of her neck and press her shoulder blades together.
As she stretched out on a fabric beach chair, with warm and reassuring sugar-white sand underfoot, the reincarnate feelings of violation subsided. A rejuvenating, balmy summer sun soaked into her skin as though she had solar panels and her whole body was a battery. Canvas and steel creaked and groaned, her lean six-foot frame searching for just the right position.
  She'd reacted as she was taught, tying up her attacker’s arms and driving her knee into him once, twice…half a dozen times, until he vomited all over her and let go. She threw him to the ground and handcuffed him before she called for paramedics. For both of them.
Her eye still had a bit of black and yellow beneath it, hidden under her sun glasses. At least it was open again. Her attacker laid in the hospital, guarded by grim sheriff’s deputies, his surgically-repaired internal injuries healing slowly.
It wasn't the first time she’d fought for her life, or injured someone who had assaulted her. That fact only helped her to understand the healing process, not avoid it. The emotions of the event would linger, but eventually dissipate into nothing. She would ultimately extinguish the residual feelings of fear, anger and invasion, of battling a man, alone, who was intent on murdering her. Only cold recollections would remain.
But, the injuries she had sustained paled in comparison to the cruel wound of a peer, passed on innocently by a friend. Women cops let people get too close – that was the locker room talk from one of her male colleagues. Chicks didn’t realize the danger they were in until it was upon them. They are soft-skill oriented, talking and reasoning with people. Guys played contact sports – guys knew when it was game on.
“A guy wouldn’t have let him get that close,” the male cop in the locker room had commented to her friend.
            Now, ten days after the attack, she skimmed a brain-candy romance novel, while her husband Adam sat nearby, deep in contemplation. A work-related binder was open in his hands, to a section about flaps or wings or something. His semi-annual Federal Aviation Administration exam was just weeks away. If he failed it, the regional airline that employed him as a captain would let him go. Every once in a while, he sighed or groaned, perhaps reminded of some arcane tidbit of aviation trivia he would need to have at the tip of his tongue.
            Between them, their four month-old daughter slept in a baby carrier, shaded by a kid thing she bought online. It was a sort of tent, shielding tiny Alicia from the direct rays of the Florida sun. The child slept peacefully, tiny lips pouting from time to time.
            “Honey, is today a metaphor for who I am?” she asked, setting her book aside for a moment and looking across Alie’s gazebo at Adam. “I’m a mommy reading a romance novel, and you’re reading about airplanes and stuff. I’m such a girl.”
            “Yeah, you’re a girl. I think that’s pretty obvious.” Adam barely peeked above the binder.
            “Maybe I should…. I dunno, maybe I should be reading street-survival stuff or something. You know, some kind of rough-edged cop book. Do you think it would help me with my hard skills?”
            Adam set his book in his lap and stared at the Gulf for a moment. Then, he peeked into the beach tent at his daughter.
            “Why?” Adam said as he sat back in his beach chair. “I think you’re just fine.”
            “You’re supposed to think I’m fine. Husbands are supposed to be supportive.”
            “What’s the matter, Kit? What happened?”
            She held out her hand to him, to give him a chance to touch her. The diamond of her wedding set sparkled in the morning sun as he reached to grasp her. He momentarily rolled her fingers in his strong, masculine hand and let her go.
            “A guy at work…” The words caught in her throat.
She’d had no trouble telling Adam what had occurred, when he sat with her in the emergency room while the doctor fussed over one last stitch in her eyebrow. As the adrenaline faded, replaced with the realization that losing the fight would have meant death, strong emotions had begun the healing process. Adam lovingly absorbed them on his solid shoulder. The sleepless night that followed was memorable only because he had stayed up with her, celebrating the dawn with orange juice and pancakes.
“What guy?” Adam’s eyes galloped from questioning to alert…to provoked.
“Oh, a guy. Another cop. My friend Vinnie said a guy in the locker room thought I let the suspect get too close.”
“Was the cop there?” 
“No.”
“Then how would he know?” Adam snapped off the rhetorical question as though her accuser was standing in front of him – accessible, available…vulnerable.
“I don’t know.”
“You’re a talented professional. When stuff happens, you take care of business. That’s what you did.” 
The way Adam said stuff – he wanted to say shit. She had to smile at that. But, it was never too early to shield Alie from a prematurely salty vocabulary.
“Yeah. It’s one of the dangers of solo bike patrol, riding around all quiet and stealthy. I surprised him. He was wanted, had a serious felony warrant. He thought he could take me.”
“Well, he was wrong.” Adam wrinkled his nose and went back to reading, having delivered his verdict on the subject of her work encounter. “He picked the wrong California girl to mess with.”
“Why do you think—“
            “You throw like a girl,” a voice behind her growled.
            Twenty yards away, a ten or twelve or so year old boy stood in the sand, wearing a baseball glove. Slender to the point of skinny, he had on blue swim trunks, but no shirt. After he’d received the ball again, he threw purposefully.
Across the beach, an older man stood awaiting the throw. A Tampa Bay Rays baseball hat perched on his head, an oversized purple short-sleeved dress shirt covering a significant belly and jean shorts that extended below his knees. In another era, the pants would have been called clam diggers. On him, they just looked stupid. White socks and black basketball-style shoes completed his wardrobe. Or, whatever the outfit might be called. There was just enough resemblance with the boy to conclude that this was Dad.
“Girl,” Dad repeated as the ball arrived in his mitt. “Total girl.”
“Kit, take a few deep breaths,” Adam said as he checked on their daughter. “At least he’s playing catch with his kid.”
“He’s telling his kid that girls are weak.”
“You aren’t. Don’t worry about it.”
“But, it’s the kind of crap women have to put up with all of our lives, and this is where it starts. To get a little boy to throw a stupid baseball harder, his dad has to tell him he’s throwing like a girl? Why not just say throw harder?”
“’Cause that’s not the way the dad was brought up.”
“Ugh – my point?”
“Uh oh. When you lapse into Valley Girl speak….  It’s the beach, it’s the weekend. Relax, unwind. Fight this battle another day. Do you want anything from the cooler?”
“No.”
“Come on, girly girl,” the man implored. “You ain’t gonna hurt nobody. Wing it in here.”
“That does it,” she said as she slammed her book closed.
“Honey, don’t.”
“I hear this all of the time. The guy’s were yelling at Megan the other day that she fired a shotgun like a girl. Then they said I…  Have you ever told someone that they fly like a girl?”
“No.”
“You know the difference between right and wrong.”
“Karen, is this about--?”
“Save my seat.”
She got up and walked toward the beachside snack bar. It would look, to anyone else, like she was going for a drink, or maybe a bag of chips.
“Babe,” Adam called after her. “Get me something, please?”
She ignored him as she walked up to the young man with the glove. Her timing was perfect, the ball sailing through the air to the kid just as she approached.
“’Scuse us, darlin’” the older man called out. “You almost wandered right into one of my heaters.”
“May I?” she asked the boy.
The young man’s eyes grew wide in comprehension. He looked downrange at his dad, and then a thin, sinister smile took over. He flipped the ball to her.
“Please don’t hurt him too much, lady,” the son said under his breath.
She turned and looked at the father. On the one hand, his face said he thought it a treat that an attractive blonde woman in a skimpy bikini was going to throw a ball to him. Maybe there was a part of him that wanted to say something suggestive. That would figure. There was also a bit of impatience in his expression, too, as though she had waded into the deep end of athleticism, and might drown.
No matter. She took a quick step toward the guy and snapped the ball at him.
The man’s survival instincts were just sharp enough. His glove arrived in front of his chest at the same moment as the ball. A loud crack signaled that it had found mitt, not midsection.
“Ouch,” the guy exclaimed as he pulled his hand out of the glove and shook it.
“Nice,” the kid said. “You play?”
“My dad had me in little league as soon as I could hold a baseball. I played softball on my high school team. First base, ‘cause I’m left handed, and tall.”
“You throw hard.”
“Thanks,” she replied. “Next time he says you throw like a girl, don’t forget – it’s a good thing.”
She returned to her beach chair and looked under the tent. Alicia was stirring, signaling the next round of changing and feeding and burping. It wouldn’t be long – next spring at the latest - before she was running around the beach, picking up tiny treasures and clutching them as she stood on little legs at the water’s edge. Eventually, she would spend beautiful beach mornings playing catch with her mom and dad. If Alicia was so inclined, there was little league in her future.
But, she would never let anyone compliment her daughter by saying she threw like a boy.
“Better?” her husband asked.
“Yeah.”
“Everything?”
“Uh huh. Alicia won’t do anything like a boy or a girl. She’ll just do it.”
“She’ll grow up to be just like her mom – doing what has to be done. Doing what’s right.”
As if on cue, her daughter snorted her way into the conversation. Translated into mommy-language, Alie said that she was ready to eat.
She slid into the tent and picked her up. Discreetly, she covered Alie’s head with a blanket, undid the strap on her bikini top and felt the magic, her three month old suckling contentedly at her breast. A maternal glow sprung up from deep within her, feeding her soul just as surely as she now fed her daughter.
What a miracle, to have a strong, gentle, adoring man like Adam with whom to fall in love. They’d had a baby, a tiny spirit that made them laugh and cry and feel things for her – and each other – that seemed theirs alone.
The physical pain and mental anguish her attacker had visited upon her subsided. The betrayal of a peer was forgotten. In their place, the beauty of her life with this man, and this child, washed rhythmically over her in harmony with the waves nearby. No matter what she did for a living, and what it did to her, in her heart she was a mom, and had a wonderful husband.
Being a girl was okay.


2 comments: