Essay: Baseball with my grandma

BY ABBY BITTERMAN, JMC3023

My team was hot and I was homesick.

The Cubs had a chance to do something they hadn’t in over a century: Win the World Series.

In the fall of 2015, I was a freshman in college and more than 800 miles from my Chicago home, and while some in Norman, Oklahoma, cared about the Cubs, none cared as much as my grandma. So, one night after the Cubs won the National League Wild Card game I called my grandma, an old Irish Catholic mother of seven sons, who is strong, smiling and sassy.

We talked about the game. We talked about school. We talked about life.

Sports have been an important part of my family for as long as I can remember. My entire extended family plays sports. We watch sports at holidays and play each other when we get together for celebrations.   

Three nights later, in the next series and after another victory, I called again and told her I’d do so after every win the rest of that postseason. Lucky for us, the Cubs won a couple more and advanced to the National League Championship Series. There, our loveable losers promptly got swept. Every night they played that series I cheered for a win — not just for the Cubs, but for me. So I could talk to my grandma.

My grandma can be heard yelling at the Cubs through the TV all throughout her house regularly from Opening Day in April to whenever their season ends in the fall.

It happened when I was a kid, spending time there in her always-tidy one story house after school while my parents worked. It happened in high school when I’d drive the less than two miles to hang out and get food. It happens today when I’m back to visit or make one of my calls.

She was one of my biggest influences when it came to my love for sports. Driving me to my games — softball, volleyball and more — when my parents couldn’t. Playing catch when I was just starting to play and was terrible. Best of all, playing wiffle ball with me, my brother, the other girls she watched and our friends from her block.

Those games took place in her backyard where the pitcher’s mound was a hole worn, home plate was next to the vegetable garden and we were always the Cubs vs. anyone else. When we were younger, she would bat and be the all-time pitcher. As we aged, she’d sit and ump — making calls of a different sort.

A year after our victory calls began, we resumed the tradition.

I called my grandma as the Cubs progressed through the 2016 postseason.

Three wins over San Francisco in the National League Division Series. Four wins over Los Angeles in the National League Championship Series. After wins over Cleveland in Games 2, 5 and 6 of the World Series.  

Each time, we talked about the game. We talked about school. We talked about life.

And then — finally, miraculously, in extra innings of Game 7, for the first time since 1908, 34 years before my grandma was born — it happened. Those loveable losers weren’t losers anymore.

The Cubs won the World Series.

Without even a pause for celebration, minutes before midnight, I immediately dialed my grandma’s phone number — one of few I know by heart.

My grandma gets excited. She yells and screams and cheers, but, when a big moment happens, she’s not one to go crazy or cry. And she didn’t do that when I talked to her, but I could tell in her voice how happy she was.

I knew she was proud of this ball club she’d watched for so long, proud they’d finally done it. And I was proud too. And I was so happy. Happy for my city, Chicago, a place I missed. And for my grandma, that she’d lived to see this moment and been healthy enough to appreciate it.

I couldn’t see her, but I knew she was smiling from ear to ear.

—  

A few months after the joy of the World Series, my grandma had a stumble in a parking lot that scared her and the family. It also scared me, in particular. When I’m back over winter break, I’m a relief pitcher of sorts. In the late innings of my grandma’s life, it’s my time to help take care of the woman who for so long took care of me.

I took her to an urgent care and a specialist. A cyst in the back of her knee had popped. Nothing, the specialist said, could be done to prevent it from possibly happening again. So my grandma stopped going on regular walks, soon fell out shape and now has trouble walking short distances without becoming winded.

Not only are her wiffle ball days done, she’s got to save her breath for yelling at the Cubs.  

She’s still got her arm, though. Recently, we gathered to celebrate our matriarch’s 75th birthday.

There, at a park in Wisconsin, I got to do something I hadn’t in awhile — play catch with my grandma. And she didn’t miss a beat.

She caught every thing I threw.

She returned them better than most grandmas ever could.

And as the ball whipped back and forth, I thought of the calls I hope to make to her back in Elmwood Park late in many Octobers to come.

Essay: A different type of celebration

BY HALEY DOBSON, JMC3023

By the time my sisters and I arrived at the hospital late that Friday morning, my family took up half of the spacious waiting room on the fifth floor at St. Anthony Hospital.

We were used to celebrations in waiting rooms, tending to fill them with extended family when babies are born. We joked about the coolers with a few bottles of wine my aunt always sneaks past nurses to celebrate a new baby joining the family.

So waiting for my dad to get out of surgery was different.

We fell silent when the doctor came in…

—–

Days before, my phone rang during an hour between classes while I killed time in the Union. I had made it through the first week of my senior year of college, and without much to work on yet I mindlessly scrolled through Facebook.

It was the time of day my mom usually calls to check in on me, and I answered expecting the usual conversation.

She asked about my day, and I told her I was almost done with my classes for the week.

Her tone changed, and she told me I might need to go home to Oklahoma City that night.

“What’s the occasion?” I asked, figuring it might be a family dinner with my two sisters and their children, who all live within a few miles of my parents.

She explained how three days earlier my dad went into the doctor with a sore throat.

That he had come out with news that he kept to himself for two days.

That he did so because he did not know how to tell anyone.

“A spot on his tonsils lit up on the CT scan,” she said. “He will have surgery next week and radiation after that.”

We talked for about 10 minutes and the word cancer was never said, but it was stuck in my head for the rest of the day. I slowly walked to class with an anxious feeling in my chest. Part of me wanted to tell everyone. Maybe talking about it would make it feel more normal.

I ended up talking about it with only my family because I thought maybe it would go away if no one else talked about it.

—–

My 58-year-old dad is a busy businessman with a very healthy lifestyle. A private man, not a sick man. So people talking about him at all, much less his health in the days that followed, was strange to me.

When my grandfather died of an aggressive form of skin cancer four years ago, the rest of the family saw my dad as the new patriarch of the family. He had already taken over the family business decades before, and he goes to the office almost every day. Those who know him love hearing him talk to a crowd. Some said his speech was the best part of my sister’s wedding.

Everyone praised him for his speech at his dad’s funeral and how strong he was for holding the family together during that hard time. I did not see him cry until two months later around Christmas.

—–

I thought about these things all week and went home the day before his surgery, where doctors would remove his tonsils along with any surrounding mass or tumors they might find.

We have always been close and it seems like we often travel in one large group wherever we go. My dad’s mom even came back from her summer home in Colorado to be with all of us.

While we waited, in the days after learning the news and even while sitting in the waiting room, it’s not uncommon to re-evaluate your life choices. We are all a little reckless in our own selfish ways. My dad had quit using chewing tobacco when he first heard it might be cancer, which was something none of us thought he would ever do.

This process — wherever it was leading us — had been a wake up call for him. My Mema went as far to say it could have been a sign from God for him to quit.

—–

Back in the waiting room, the doctor took a seat next to my fearful mother.

“Surgery went well,” he said, “the tumor was benign.”

We could be loud and celebrate again. Tears filled all of our eyes.

No cancer.

No radiation needed.

Just a week long recovery from the tonsillectomy. Still, the anxiety remained in my chest knowing it would be a difficult recovery, not only for my dad, but also for my mom as his caretaker.

My dad is a quiet person at times, but he will not hesitate to let you know if something is bothering him. He and my mom would be spending more time together in a week than they have possibly spent in their entire 33 years of marriage.

He would go without solid foods, spoken words or a trip to the office to do work for the week. All were things I was pessimistic about, until I saw my dad in the recovery room with tears on his face as he gave me two thumbs up. This was the first time I had seen him cry since his dad died, but I knew seeing him that there was nothing but optimism on his mind.  

Then I knew everything was going to be OK.

Essay: Connecting the dots

BY CARLY ROBINSON, JMC3023

Pools of blue-gray bleed into rich cardinal red and ivory, combining to form a cropped view of the American flag, billowing in the breeze. A 23-year-old Clyde Sharp gazes into the distance, just escaping eye contact with his viewer. He appears strong, handsome and peaceful. He shows no signs of fear as a soldier preparing for war. His perfectly chiseled features separate him from the remaining 49 pieces surrounding him.

As I stood back viewing the painting of my grandfather hanging at the United States Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., I couldn’t help but pinch myself. It was as if the whole world stopped as I admired my work. In a single word, I would describe the moment as joy. Happiness is external, but this feeling came from deep inside my soul. For the first time, I had received public recognition for my passion in arguably one of the highest regards possible as a junior in high school.

Winning the Congressional Art Competition in 2014 strengthened my artistic confidence like never before. My painting brought tears to the eyes of friends, family and even Congressman Bridenstine, the judge of the annual contest. I had achieved what great artists strive for: I had evoked emotion.

Still, the most fulfilling praise was from my parents. As an only child, I wanted then, and still want now, nothing more than to please them and make them proud. My mom is the source of my creative inclinations. Grace, compassion and inspiration flow from her like a thundering waterfall. My dad exudes a gentle, kind-hearted nature. He is someone I can always count on for an honest opinion or simply as an ear to listen, but falls more toward left-brained tendencies. As different as my parents may be, they came together despite divorce to celebrate my accomplishment. It is moments like these that make me feel the most content.

Despite all the excitement, I stood in the tunnel system of the U.S. Capitol critiquing my work. I honed in on a section of thick, red acrylic paint that I hadn’t watered down enough. In my eyes, it stood out like a sore thumb. You could clearly see the ridges my paintbrush had dug, whereas the rest of the painting was smooth and seemed to blend into itself. The pocket on my grandfather’s uniform looked as though it was painted by a kindergartener.

My trip to Washington D.C. still stands as one of the greatest trips I have ever taken; however, I was still able to convince myself that a career in the arts ultimately would not bring me success. I eventually accepted my creativity as a hobby, not a feasible profession. It wasn’t realistic or dependable.

. . . . .

About a year after that trip to Washington, D.C., I shook the hand of the headmaster at my private Christian high school and received my diploma. As I walked across the stage, friends and family members of the class of 2015 were informed by the emcee that I would attend the University of Oklahoma in the fall, pursuing a major that had yet to be decided. College was such a wonderful mystery, and in that moment, peering out onto my class of 96 students, I couldn’t wait to embark on a new adventure.

The day finally came to depart Tulsa yet again; however, this time lacked the excitement of my previous trip. All of the anticipation of finally gaining independence materialized in the most unexpected of ways. As my mom finished making my bed, my dad took me outside into the cramped hallway of my dorm. Before he could even begin his pep-talk, I burst into tears and embraced him like it was the last time I would ever see him. He told me in that hallway that he was proud of me, and that he knew I would be great. He held me for what seemed like an eternity and I never wanted it to end. My mom emerged from my tiny room next and the tears continued. She gave me her signature advice, “You got this!” Finally, I hugged both of my parents simultaneously. Those few seconds of unity with my mom and dad are some of the most precious.

Before I knew it, all traces of family members were old news and college life had officially begun. After battling for some time over what my major should be, I decided on business. I was tired of telling friends and family members I was “undecided” when they asked. Undecided essentially translated to “I have no idea what I’m doing with my life.” My dad majored in business and even got his masters in it. He was so successful. Business was a safe bet, and as a confused, lonely freshman just trying to figure life out on my own, safe sounded good.

I enrolled in all the necessary business courses and felt content for the first time in a while. I would be getting a degree in something my parents would be proud of. My dad would be able to impress all of his friends by telling them that his one and only daughter was in the Price College of Business at the University of Oklahoma. That had a nice ring to it, and it made me feel like I was doing something practical with my life.

Unfortunately, this feeling of peace and belonging did not last long. My first macroeconomics test rolled around and I studied as hard as I ever had. I needed to prove to myself and to everyone around me that this was the right path for me. Long story short, I bombed it. This was a feeling I had never experienced before, being a 4.0 student throughout high school. This was my moment of realization. I’m not going to be the best anymore. It’s impossible.

Despite this heart-breaking failure, I decided to chin up and give it another go. I would study even harder for the next test. I would hire a tutor and put in as many hours as it took. I wasn’t going to be knocked down that easily. A few weeks later, as I sat in my dorm room at 5 a.m. vigorously studying flashcard for the test I would be taking in a matter of hours, it clicked. I jolted up from my slouched position. I shouldn’t be living my life for others. My dad is going to be proud of me no matter what I do. I should be living my life for me, myself and I, doing something I love.

. . . . .

I couldn’t have been more excited to meet with my adviser the next day. I sat with her for nearly an hour. That appointment was more comparable to a therapy session than is was an advising appointment.

I had decided on journalism as my major. My whole complex of not finding success through creativity was shattered. Journalism was a way to incorporate both my love of writing and being artistic with a more practical basis.

In Vogue: The Illustrated History of the World’s Most Famous Fashion Magazine sat on my shelf, staring me down. It was reminding me of who I was and who I wanted to be. My obsession with the publication grew so strong that I even ventured to make it the subject of my senior art portfolio. Its pages are full of some of the 20th century’s most respected artists, cover illustrators and photographers. These inspirational individuals embody characteristics that I want to exercise in my future career. They are bold and tenacious. They follow their dreams. They believe in the power of their vision and its potential impact on the world. That’s who I want to be. That’s what I want to accomplish.

Fast-forward a year and I’m sitting awe-struck on my twin bed at my sorority house. Completely dumbfounded. I had received an internship position at The Brides of Oklahoma Magazine. Tears of joy escaped my eyes as I realized yet again that my passions and skills hold value. I was flooded with self-confidence and excitement for the future. My inner Anna Wintour came out and I can only hope she sticks around. Who knows, maybe one day that will be me, overlooking the New York City skyline from my corner office, making the final call on a cover design.

“In today’s world, you have to interact. You can’t be some difficult shy person who is not able to look somebody in the face; you have to present yourself. You have to know how to talk about your vision, your focus and what you believe in.” –Anna Wintour

Essay: Change is growth

BY EMMA KEITH, JMC3023

I am 7 years old, sitting at my kitchen table in Houston with my family, crying.

My mother asks why I’m crying and I’m furious she doesn’t know. Not long after, my family packs up our home of two years and moves to another city.

Though this is the first of my family’s moves I remember, I’ve already moved three times by this point, thanks to my father’s job.

But I adjust. I’m a kid still, resilient and outgoing. My family finds a new home, new friends, a new way of life, and we grow comfortable in Dallas, a city we grow to call ours. I wasn’t born a Texan, but by the time I’m a teenager, I call myself one. My friends, my family, my life is there.

I am 17 years old, sitting in our home office in Dallas with my family, sobbing.

This time, my family is sobbing with me; this is the first time I will see my father cry. I am a senior in high school, full of hope for the future that now feels far away.      

I had a plan: To spend the next four years at the University of Oklahoma, only three hours from my home in Dallas. Three hours is a comfortable distance; not so close your parents and brother can visit every weekend, not so far you can’t go home when you miss them.

Suddenly, I have no plan: My family is moving to Atlanta the week after I graduate from high school. I will spend the summer there, and I will spend the next few years 900 miles from the three people I love the most.

I will spend the next few months descending into a deep darkness in a hot, oppressive, lonely city; my family is with me, but I know no one else in Atlanta. No, home is still Dallas, the city where I left so much and had staked my future.

I still don’t have friends my age in Atlanta today. I’m a college student who sometimes lives there for brief stints, too short to befriend anyone. Three summers in, Atlanta is horribly lonely still.

Then and now I think how different life might be if not for that time. I would not be writing this now; I would not have experienced the horrible lows of depression and anger and self-pity. I would not be me.

I realized something talking — and yes, crying — to my best friend on the phone the other day.

She and I, like all my most cherished relationships, apparently, are long distance — she called me from Manhattan, the island she now calls home.

She listened as I bemoaned spending Labor Day without my family while all my friends went home. She’s been with me through the past eight years — through plenty of high school drama, through that one terrible summer, through the uncertainties and newness of college. I talk to her about home and family regularly since she’s an honorary family member by now.

We talk about Atlanta a lot. My feelings have changed throughout the years and she’s seen it all. She heard my tears when I called her from Atlanta one night this summer, sobbing out of loneliness; she heard my joy when she called me as I walked through Midtown Atlanta by myself, content in the sunshine and the city. She knows I want to move to the city when I graduate and she knows despite the pain I feel there, I am drawn to the place.

“Do you tell people you’re from Atlanta?” she asked.

“Sometimes,” I said, admitting it makes me feel like a fraud to say I’m from a city where I didn’t even go to high school.

“You know, I think all this has made you grow up faster than everyone else around you,” she told me. You don’t have the luxuries a lot of your friends have related to home, she said.

She’s right — I can’t run to my family when something goes wrong; I can’t even call my mom sometimes because the hour time difference means she’ll be asleep. I see my parents twice a semester, my brother once every four months; we never spend our birthdays together.

My roommates’ parents come to stay every two weeks. I long to be able to do that.

I am 19 years old, sitting on my porch in Atlanta with my family, trying to hide angry tears.

I barely hear as my parents tell my brother and me we will lose the home I thought we had, the one I was finally comfortable with. My parents tell us as soon as they find out, sitting us down for what they always call a “family meeting.” At first I think they’re playing a cruel joke. They’re not.

My family will move back to Dallas next year, in summer 2018, the week after my brother graduates high school. Atlanta is a city full of music and festivals and art and beauty, a city I was excited to know more of. Dallas has nothing left for me.

My initial reaction to the news is terrible, then my mother reminds me of my reaction to the same news two years ago. She reminds me how terrible I was to everyone then, how she thought I’d grown, how she thought I would be able to react better this time. And I should be able to, so I pull myself together by the end of the weekend.

And I savor my summer with my family and in my city. I go camping with my brother along the Appalachian Trail and floating down the Chattahoochee River two miles from our house; I go to every single weekend art fair in the city with my parents. I go to the art museum and walk around Midtown and visit coffee shops by myself, soaking in the city.

This is my last summer here, and I am making the most of my love for a city that will soon slip away from me.

I am 20 years old, hoping home feels closer soon.

That place has always been hazy in my mind, so I’ve formed my own.

Some people have strong ties to the place they’re from, the state or the city or the tiny town that raised them like a family member.

Places change. Two decades and six cities in, I’ve come to understand my home is the people I love and who love me.

One part of my home moved to New York City a few weeks ago; three members of my home are, for now, in a suburb of Atlanta. Dozens of pieces of my home roam my campus every day, drawing me back to the things that matter.

Am I always content with home? No. When I’m in Norman, I want to be in Atlanta; when I’m in Atlanta, I want to be in Dallas. I am just a fickle human, changing daily.

Two years ago, when I went to college, I wanted nothing more than to get away from my family after spending an entire summer with no one but them.

Now, change and time have made me grow into my love for my family. The ones I love are home in that they anchor me, give me something constant to turn back to, give me love to run to.

Essay: The pool of confusion

BY EMILY NICHOLS, JMC3023

I had just left another excruciating audition utterly humiliated.

Reliving the moment, I was sick to my stomach.  A weakening anxiety consumed me.  I could barely remember the combinations taught.  I could barely look at myself in the mirror.  I was disgusted by what I saw.

I felt unqualified to even attempt to get a pre-professional spot in a prestigious company like Houston Ballet.  I felt my sole worth was being determined by a number on my leotard as I desperately tried to stand out in a sea of talented dancers.  I felt like my 15 years of training were for nothing.

“I should just quit,” I kept telling myself as I drove back in tears, wrestling with the one real passion in my life not only controlling me, but often eating me alive and now making me feel worthless when I didn’t live up to my own expectations.

As a college freshman, I knew I wanted to be somewhere other than home.  I needed a change desperately.  I needed to feel like I had opportunities beyond South Florida. Most of my friends had left for universities or companies away from home and seemed so happy.  I don’t even think I knew what happiness was at that point in life.  Everyone’s life seemed to be leading somewhere while mine felt frozen in time.

I was almost finished with my associate’s degree at a small state college that didn’t offer four-year degrees in any field I wanted to go into.  Truthfully, I think I only wanted to be in college to feel like less of a failure as a dancer.  The ballet company I danced with made me miserable, and the thought of continuing there made me want to quit dancing altogether.  I needed to prove my worth to myself and my parents who always encouraged me to quit when I would complain about dancing.  Having parents with careers in science- my mom in computer science, my dad in biology- I felt I couldn’t live up to who they wanted me to be academically.  They told me to quit and be a brain surgeon.  This was a complement in their eyes, but in mine it was an insult to my purpose, and by default my very existence.

If I quit, they would win.  So I continued.

Confusion is the word to describe my life during that time.   For years, I had given up my chance at a normal life.  I sacrificed my social life, my family time, my school work and even my body.  For years, I quenched the urge of perfection through a relentless eating disorder.  My body was no longer my own.  It was a slave to my art.  I felt betrayed by my craft.  The thing I’d poured blood, sweat and tears into was controlling me and leading me down a demeaning path to nowhere.

Confusion drowned me, and I lacked the energy to fight it.

After receiving rejections from companies that in truth were far beyond my level of skill, I turned to my director and ballet mistress.  In March 2015, they were meeting with all company members to renew contracts and dole out promotions.  I was embarrassed to tell them my audition efforts resulted in nothing and I was at a complete loss of where to go. But I had no choice but to tell them I needed a change.

In the past, I always said I wouldn’t go to college for dance.  It seemed unprofessional to me, and I thought serious dancers should join companies straight out of high school if they wanted to have a career.  So when my ballet mistress suggested the University of Oklahoma’s school of dance, I would have written her off if I hadn’t been so desperate for a new opportunity.

Somehow in that moment — when she mentioned her sister worked as the director of OU’s school of dance, and that it was ranked top third in the nation for college dance programs — I knew that was where I was going to end up.  I had missed the audition deadlines at all the other universities I had been uninterestedly looking at for dance.  This felt like my last shot at moving forward with my life.

I frantically applied and sent in a video audition to the dance program.

It was seven months since the Houston Ballet audition.  I stepped foot on campus for the first time a couple days before school started in August. As my parents left after moving me in, I wondered if I had just made a huge mistake coming to a school I barely knew anything about. In the coming weeks, I wrestled with my decision. Anxiety and depression were often my only friends, and sometimes I began to cope through starving myself again.

I began to love the school but also felt the sting of loneliness. Over time, that sting slowly went away.  I found family away from home who made life seem worth the struggle. I found a renewed passion for dance I never would’ve found back home.

Not everything was easy or fun or straight forward, but the struggle was worth it.

As a senior, I find myself recounting how I even got here in the first place. My life looks so different than I thought it would in 2015.  I learned a great deal about myself through the ups and downs.  Now, I have to prepare for my next step of life: Auditioning for professional ballet companies all over again. Self-doubt, fear and uncertainty seem to be creeping back into my life.

The pool of confusion awaits my return.