The failure that changed my life

As the final name was called, I felt my throat tighten and my eyes well up. It wasn’t mine. I walked out of the room, out the doors and down the stairs. I waited until I was safely in my house, nestled in my bedroom before I cried. I wasn’t going to let anyone see my devastation.

April 29, 1988. Thirty years ago. And I still remember how disappointed and embarrassed I was.

My sophomore year at Hazlewood High was a turning point for me. I no longer cared if girls in my class made fun of my clothes because they weren’t from Parisian or Castner Knott. I shopped at Kmart, and I dressed the way I wanted, whether it was a flannel skirt, leggings and cowboy boots, or tight jeans and my dad’s old Army shirt.

My thoughts then, “You want to mock me? Feel free. I’ve got better things to do, like make straight A’s, flirt with freshmen boys, and play softball, than worry about you.”

It was the year I started thinking maybe I could really be a writer and the year I joined the yearbook staff. (That also got me out of P.E.). It was the year I turned 16 and got my driver’s license on the first try and I could finally cruise around Town Creek
in Daddy’s red Ford F-150. It was the year we finally had a school softball team.

It was the year I got glasses and could finally see that trees actually had leaves and weren’t just green blobs with brown trunks. It was the year that The Jets’ “Crush On You” played out in real life as my best friend and cousin, Stephanie, told one of the aforementioned freshman boys that I liked him.

It was the year I went to D.C. with my gifted class, saw Jackie O at the National Gallery of Art and developed a love for travel. On the train back to Birmingham we met some Maryland guys headed to basic training at Fort McClellan. Arturo Framarini, a girl could get lost in those brown eyes.

It was the year I spent two weeks in Jacksonville, Fla., hanging out with my aunt and uncle and cousins: Vicki and Jimmy Ray Tidwell and Vashon and Justin. We went to the mall, the beach and baseball games. We slept on the floor and ate baloney and cheese sandwiches. And, according to my diary, I LOVED IT!

It was also the year I learned that you can’t always get what you want. Even if you work hard, do well, and you really, really desire it.

April 22, 1988 diary entry (yes, diary — nobody called them journals in 1988). Picking out classes for my junior year and prepping for cheerleader tryouts. My mom and all my aunts had been cheerleaders at Hazlewood and I wanted to keep up the tradition. I had been a PeeWee and Junior Varsity cheerleader, so making Varsity was the next thing to check off.

Friday, April 29, 1988 was the big day. They called us into the gym in groups and individually to do the cheers and the dance. I hit my herky, my cartwheel and round-off and splits, no problem. “Two Bits” was easy – I’d been doing that cheer for as long as I could remember. Then after it was all over we waited in the Teachers’ Lounge for the results.

As the final name was called, I felt my throat tighten and my eyes well up. It wasn’t mine. I walked out of the room, out the doors and down the stairs. I got in the car with Momma. I waited until I was safely in my house, nestled in my bedroom before I cried. I wasn’t going to let anyone see my devastation.

Momma said when I got home I read my Bible, specifically Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” When I talked to her tonight, she said she remembers that day clearly.

Daddy was upset, too. He said he probably felt like “going down there to beat the hell out of somebody.” Of course, he didn’t.

What we did do was go over to the ball park to watch my 13-year-old brother, Michael, play baseball.

“You held your head high and didn’t let anybody see your disappointment,” Momma told me.

The No. 1 song that weekend? “Where Do Broken Hearts Go” by Whitney Houston. No. 15 was “Shattered Dreams” by Johnny Hates Jazz. Pretty appropriate for the circumstances.

Here’s my diary entry that night:

Ugh! I can still taste the bitterness and feel the sting of embarrassment. It was the first time that I didn’t get something I so desperately wanted. I mean, other than a boyfriend (shout out to always-just-friends Brian) or marrying Jon Bon Jovi or living in NYC.

I also want to point out that I went right back to talking about softball. And as far as I can tell, in reading all my high school diaries, I never wrote about cheerleading again. Though it took me more than two weeks to write another entry, that entry was about winning the softball County Tournament and finishing second in Sectionals.

The following year, my junior year, I played volleyball for the first time. I absolutely loved it, and I was good at it. I made the All-County and All-Area teams and was named team MVP. Not bad for my rookie season. That winter I played Junior Olympic volleyball with a bunch of girls from Florence to hone my skills. Senior year, I made All-County and All-Area again.

My junior year of softball I moved from catcher to third base; my senior year, I pitched and made All-County and All-Area.

And I was good enough in both sports to earn scholarships to Brewer State Junior College. I opted to play only softball. While at Brewer, I wrote a few softball and baseball game stories for the local weekly paper and started writing some creative nonfiction. (I earned a journalism scholarship – tuition and books – to Alabama my freshman year, but it would’ve been a huge struggle to pay for the rest, so I went to BSJC and saved some money.)

After my two years at Brewer, I transferred to North Alabama and majored in Journalism and minored in Radio-TV-Film. I wrote for the yearbook and interned at The Times-Daily. After graduation in December 1994, l got a job at an advertising agency, then moved on to The Moulton Advertiser, where I won a writing award for covering the Lawrence County Commission.

In 1997 I was hired as a sports writer at The Times-Daily, where I won another writing award (right, for a series on Huntsville Stars Minor League Baseball) and eventually worked my way up to assistant sports editor. In 1999, I landed a job as a sports copy editor at the Dallas Morning News. A year later I moved back to Alabama to become a copy editor at The Huntsville Times. During all this time, I was a freelance writer for various regional magazines and newspapers, and won more recognition for my writing. Tomorrow, I’m submitting my latest freelance piece to my editor.

If I hadn’t faced the biggest disappointment of my life (at the time) as a 16-year-old, I truly don’t believe I would have been as involved in sports. And I certainly wouldn’t have made a career out of it.

Now, 30 years later, I see it. Cheerleading was never for me. While I had the skills and the school spirit, what I was best at was playing sports. Playing led me to college, my career, an abiding love for sports, and being an athlete. And now others cheer me on.

Failing at something you reallyreallyreally want sucks. It’s OK to wallow in the pain. Feel it. Get mad about it. Cry. Yell. Get it out. Then get past it. The biggest failure is when you let disappointment keep you from moving on to better things.

2 thoughts on “The failure that changed my life

  1. Beautifully written, as always, and thoughtfully crafted from your memories- both painful and joyous ❤️
    Thank you for sharing these bits of your journey with us, T. I’m immensely proud.

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