July sun shrill on my neck, dirt in my teeth, fresh-cut grass in the air and sweat pooling in the stained-yellow band of my white visor, my French braids coming undone, my uniform shirt coming untucked from my white softball pants that cinch too tight at the calf, everything coming loose, falling apart, and also clamped round my pitcher-body, hotheaded vise of a teenage summer. 3-2 at the bottom of the seventh. Two outs, Katie K. on third, Kristyn N. up to bat, Kristyn who’s all lovely delicate girl, slight and slim and swaying, Kristyn, the will-o-the-wisp with her ice-blond hair and her modeling contract. There in the cool shade of the dugout: Kristyn’s team, pale blue uniforms, cursive white font like a wedding invitation, undefeated in the league. Out here, in the air, heavy and stifling like milk going bad: my team, obnoxious neon yellow on lime green, undefeated except for them. It’s been a battle of the pitchers, me vs. Melissa C., little Melissa with her yielding ribbon of a name, Melissa who’s a year younger but objectively more talented, all the coaches agree and the parents, too, even my own, all of them sitting in the bleachers with their arms crossed against their polos made see-through from sweat, murmuring to each other about the value of control, of grace, Melissa’s artistry and impeccable form. But when Melissa warms up behind the dugouts the kids don’t lace their sticky fingers through the chain-link fence and stare, mouths hanging open, elbows pecking elbows: “Look! Did you see? Did you?” This I blame on my speed, my power, the strength and length of my pitcher-body bones, and not the something in me, visible, apparently, to even a child, that says I’m not like Melissa, not like Kristyn, and not only because this is the last summer I’ll be allowed to play in the community league, having just finished my freshman year of high school and about to age out of eligibility. Eight years of softball, half my life so far, and I don’t know this upcoming year will be my last, that I’ll be pulled up to varsity in the spring when we win state but cut the year after that, replaced, in fact, by Melissa, sugar-and-spice Melissa with her grace and her control and her perfect girl bones. Here I am in this moment, 3-2 at the bottom of the seventh, two outs, Katie K. on third, Kristyn N. up to bat, and I don’t know about that other moment, walking up to that bulletin board and tracing my finger down a piece of paper that doesn’t have my name on it. I don’t know how hard it’ll be to remember later, when I’m sixteen—what it felt like to be fifteen. Or that I’ll remember it even less when I’m seventeen and eighteen, that I’ll hardly remember it at all when I’m twenty, twenty-seven, thirty-two. I won’t remember, when I’m thirty-two, how the world shrinks for queer teenagers growing up in small Wisconsin towns, how close the walls get when you’re not sure you exist, not-girls in girl-bodies who don’t yet know the names for what they are. Here, in this moment, 3-2 at the bottom of the seventh, two outs, Katie K. on third, Kristyn N. up to bat, I’m a not-girl in a pitcher-body, surrounded by chain-link fences, and when this game and this season is over, I’ll still be a not-girl in a pitcher-body, hurling a ball at a mattress in the basement. Which means the stakes are high, here in this moment, speck of a teenage world inside this moment, impossibly high stakes for this dinky plastic-trophy means-nothing championship at the end of the dinky plastic-trophy means-nothing season and me, fifteen years old in my solid pitcher-body, braids and nerves unraveling, two strikes on Kristyn N., the ice-blond will-o-the-wisp, and my catcher flashes two fingers between her thighs for a drop ball. My fingernails, dug into the seams. My tongue, too big for my mouth. The ball leaves my hand and does what it’s supposed to do: lets itself sink. Me fifteen in my pitcher-body at the end of a world and I don’t know how it’ll sink me, the rest of being a teenager, everything crowded and throbbing and everything hurts, everything the end of the world already, here at fifteen, especially that moment in front of the bulletin board, a year and a half from now, the moment this pitcher-body, the pitcher-body that has made this girl-body bearable, is permanently stripped of its pitcher-ness, and some part of me, the solid part, the more-than-this-girl-body part, goes with it, gets lost and stays there, going, going, gone. So stay with me, instead, inside this moment: sun shrieking, drop ball sunk, Kristyn N. swinging at the empty space where the ball promised to be, she swings and she misses and the curdled air erupts. The ump calls the strike with his whole body. Kristyn raises her bat high above her head and smashes it into the dirt. My catcher throws her glove into the air and her helmet too and now she’s running toward me, wild hair wild grin green and yellow teeth flashing. My glove in the air and all our gloves in the air high and higher falling and now sixteen arms around me, sixteen hands on my pitcher-arms and my pitcher-waist and we’re all stinking and screaming you, you, you, us, us, ours, yours, words smearing into other words, bodies into other bodies, the whole world inside these bodies, perfect golden bloat of a moment so full of everything we want and are, sweet simple bliss of yearning and belonging to something, anything, each other, this game, their girl-bodies and our athlete-bodies, pitcher-body, my teenage salvation. It’s the end of the world and everything hurts but here we are, inside it, still, seventeen years later: there I am, so close to myself, almost there, almost.
Jax Connelly (they/she) is an award-winning writer whose creative nonfiction explores the intersections of queer identity, unstable bodies, and mental illness. Their essays have received honors including three Notables in the Best American Essays series, Nowhere Magazine’s Fall 2020 Travel Writing Prize, first place in the 2019 Prairie Schooner Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest, and the 2018 Pinch Literary Award for Creative Nonfiction, among others. You can read more of her work in Fourth Genre, [PANK], The Rumpus, Hunger Mountain, Ruminate, Pleiades, and more.
Photography by: Francisco Gonzalez