To Be Woman
by kelsey metzger
Published on December 20, 2019 9:05 PM
DG Mag Issue 2
Donna and I weren’t just on the same team; we were a team. When I was younger, softball dominated my Spring and Summer, and so did Donna. When we weren’t on the field playing softball, we were swimming in my pool or she was spending the night yet again. We would play on the swing set and tell scary stories, but never played board games because Donna declared you only play those when you are bored. Donna was at my house so much throughout the softball season that she had her own toothbrush sitting in our cupboard. She played shortstop, I was the first baseman.
My parents adored her even more than I did. I remember one time we were riding our bikes up and down my driveway and Donna fell off and scraped her knee. The loose limestone of our driveway was still stuck to the cut, but we had all seen worse. She didn’t cry or anything, and my Dad was sure to point this out when he applied a band aid to her cut. He smoothed out the band aid over the cut and gently patted her knee. My sister, Molly, and I were still sitting on our bikes, watching. “Donna is so tough,” he said to us. “You guys should be like her.”
It felt like a movie, the way the phrase echoed in my head, the way it would come back anytime I struck out or went to go tell mom about a scary dream I had. My dad had never been one to express emotions, and before I started playing softball, one of the few moments I counted as quality dad-and-daughter time was when he was stuck with me on the spinning tea cups at Six Flags. But as I continued to play softball, as I got better and better—among the top three hitters on our team, the best fielder, a quick runner, Dad seemed to talk to me more. He would tell me how proud he was after a game or review a good play I made. But no matter how good that made me feel, every time a throw went over my head, and every base I didn’t reach fast enough became a threat. You should be more like Donna. It felt like I had a clock screaming over my head. At the time, I was an equal player to Donna. But I couldn’t help but wonder what my relationship with my dad would be like if I wasn’t, and what would happen to it if I decided to devote my summers to swimming instead of softball.
On the softball field, Donna and I may have been equal, but out of uniform, I never seemed to be able to keep up with her. Donna seemed to think this too, because she would often get mad at me for not being up to speed. One time, we were playing in a park in New Lex. It was my favorite place to play softball because it had such a cool playground, but the other kids that played there were always so mean. Two older boys were picking on Donna and I, bothering us with stupid questions and taunting phrases. Donna told me that they were attracted to her, and that is why they were bothering us. With that in mind, the next time they said something directed toward Donna, I snapped at them. I said that Donna already had a boyfriend, so they could leave us alone. It sounded witty and powerful in my head, but in reality, I had stuttered and mixed up the words. They called me a dork. Donna didn’t disagree.
I didn’t have as many friends as Donna did; I wasn’t as socially adept or as confident. Donna seemed to exude likability. She was the magazine definition of pretty; thin with tan skin and blue eyes and she always cared about her appearance. My hair was always uncombed, my pale skin littered with loitering freckles, my eyes a shade of un-special brown. I never noticed any of this until the summer before sixth grade.
This was the summer when in front of my other cousins and sister, Donna turned to me and said, “You need to start acting more lady-like.” I believe just prior to that I had exclaimed “Boo-yah!” very loudly after a car hit a piece of fruit I had thrown onto the road. I shrugged her comment off, though I did feel embarrassed that she said that in front of our peers.
It wasn’t the last time she told me to be more “lady-like”. The phrase was scattered all over the summer; ladies don’t cannon ball into the pool or pump their fist with excitement. Ladies don’t let their hair get so frizzy or think farts are funny. I would always just laugh at her when she said those things, but I didn’t think it was funny at all. I thought maybe she was right.
While I trusted that she was right—because Donna always asserted that she was, I wasn’t sure what she was talking about. What did “lady-like” even mean? I knew I was a girl, but at that point in my life, that only meant that I was assigned to dry dishes instead of taking out the trash like my brother did. Besides, my Mom didn’t act like Donna, so was she unlady- like too? Or had I just been missing something? I didn’t quite act like my other sisters, I was more adventurous and less refined, but we weren’t drastically different. I was surrounded by many women, all different from the average mold Donna was selling. My sister Tiffany hated all house work and was into all the same comic book stuff my Dad was. My sister Stephanie would spend a decent amount of time on her appearance, but she also spent a lot of time beating up our brother. Mom cooked and cleaned the house, but she had also helped build it. Molly, my favorite person in the whole world, always preferred pretending she was Jack Sparrow rather than Elizabeth Swan. The observation just brought me confusion rather than solace. Donna became my model of what a girl should be, and what it seemed I would never be.
Donna and I were on the same team, but we were enemies. This was not apparent to anyone until the day in the dugout when Donna had accused me of being “unlady-like” just one too many times. “Wow, Donna, that’s shallow. Would you like to sit out the next inning, so you don’t chip your nails?” I said it loud, so the whole team could hear. They laughed. I don’t remember what Donna did, I probably didn’t look at her because I was too concerned with the fact that that very day I had painted my nails for the very first time. I dug my nails into my palm, blending the rosy red polish with the new red marks left on my palms. Now that painted nails had taken a seat in the hall of shame next to wearing bows in your hair, I committed myself to hiding my hands for the rest of the game.
The dugout used to be filled with excitement and an impressively large chewed gum collection, but after that I sat in the stale air my confrontation had made. For once, I was happy when the opposing team earned their third out, and my team could take the field. I ran from the awkward atmosphere of the dugout and towards the open air of the softball field. My mom, who was the team’s book keeper, stopped me.
“What was that about?”
“What was what about?” I asked.
“What were you yelling at Donna for?”
The dirt on the softball diamond was still settling. It gathered in the air like a cloud, floating slowly to the ground. I paused, watching everyone on the team take their places, and in that moment, I decided that my mom must have been on Donna’s side. If Mom was making Donna out to be the victim, then she didn’t, and wouldn’t, understand what was going on. I shrugged her off.
“We were just playing around,” I replied before taking my first base position.
Donna and I continued to be friends despite the constant reminder that I should be more lady-like and my new rebuttal that she should stop being prissy. I didn’t tell anyone that her words were bothering me. I did ask my mom if I could start shaving my legs and if she could put a curl in my pony tail. She always had, but up to this point I would shake it out immediately after. I started laying out in the sun to tan, applying baby oil to my skin—like Donna recommended.
Donna and I were on the same team, but she was my competition.
I quit softball in seventh grade. I told my parents that I just wanted to focus on other things, but really it just felt like the only way I could get away from Donna and her suffocating shadow. As I got older, I grew past my insecurities and tried to embrace them. I tried to focus on positive influences rather than negative ones, and I hope Donna can say the same. While I crowned her the antagonist of my youth, we were just two sides of a die. Two different types of girls among the endless possibilities of the what it means to be a woman.
Kelsey Metzger is a recent graduate of Youngstown State University, where she earned a
Bachelors of Arts. When she is not busy being a slave to capitalism, Kelsey enjoys spending time
with her sister, her two rabbits, Cas and Miguel, and Peridot, her cat. She enjoys watching TV
(send recs), reading and writing.