About the Author
K. M. Walton is the author of Cracked and Empty. A former middle school language arts teacher and teaching coach, she is passionate about education and ending peer bullying. She lives in Pennsylvania with her family. Visit her online at KMWalton.com and follow her on Twitter at @KMWalton1.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Empty Maybe I Have Disappeared
I LIKE THE IDEA OF MAKING THINGS DISAPPEAR. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.
It’s the dead of night, the murky time that’s thick with shadows and mystery, and I’m watching David Blaine and Criss Angel YouTube videos on my phone. As usual, I’m completely blown away. It all looks so real. I stare at the ceiling for a while, and my phone goes dark. In the blackness I listen to the steady hum of traffic. I lie still as stone and think.
The people’s reactions to the magic are the best. They’re always freaked out—questioning, smiling, looking to their friends for explanations that never come. It’s one of my favorite moments.
My little sister coughs from her crib across the room and startles me. I close my eyes and start fantasizing about making out with David or Criss. They’re both delicious.
I roll my eyes in the dark. Neither of them would touch me, not since I’ve put all of this weight on. Fantasy ruined. I put my phone on my nightstand. I toss and turn, trying to get comfortable. There are things I’d like to vanish from my life—maybe even a person or two. I’m not talking about killing anyone, but having them gone would be sweet.
I fluff my pillow and pull the blankets up around my face. I’ve already watched (and rewatched) a ton of videos tonight. I need to fall asleep. My opening game is tomorrow.
· · ·
I’m in the locker room, yawning as I get into my jersey. It took some concentrated online searching to get one in my size. You try Googling “plus-size softball uniform” and see what you come up with. Answer? Nothing. The company that made the rest of my team’s uniforms only went up to a sixteen, which was fine for me last season, but I’ve managed to gain seventy pounds since last summer. And the royal blue on my uniform is a slightly brighter blue than the rest of the team’s.
Should make for an interesting season.
I know the only reason coach kept me this year is because I’m a hitter. Even as I gained weight all last season I was still the best hitter on the team.
“Listen up!” Coach booms. Everyone takes a seat. “East has Forman pitching today, so watch her slider.” Coach Douglas goes on and gives her pep talk, and we end it with our chant. I don’t feel like chanting because I’m so damn tired.
Our hands are all stacked on top of one another. Everyone’s hyping themselves up, and I’m wincing as I evaluate the thickness of my forearm compared to my thin teammates’. Mine is easily double the width.
“Come on, Dell! Let’s hear it!” Coach shouts.
I snap out of it and join in. My stomach clenches after each word, but I lay it on thick. I turn my head slowly from side to side—I want them all to know how psyched I am—and I chant like a banshee. Our shortstop, Amy, shoves me with her shoulder, her face curled in a snarl. “I’m gonna need to hear out there. Could you not scream in my ear? Thanks.”
I smile and nod. “Sorry, lost my damn mind there for a second.” I growl a few times to get her to smile. “I’m pumped, Amy! Rawr!”
Amy smirks. “Ha-ha,” she deadpans.
I look around as the huddle breaks apart, and no one catches my eye. They’re all talking and bantering among themselves as they make their way out of the locker room. Not one girl looks back to see if I’m coming or where I am. I’m by myself. Maybe I have disappeared.
Coach’s head is suddenly in the doorway. “Let’s go, Dell! Wake up.”
I snap out of my stupid thoughts and grab my hat and glove. As my feet hit the grass, I hear the tail end of the crowd cheering. I squint into the blazing sun and pull my hat down onto my forehead so I can see. Both sets of bleachers are full, since it’s our first game. I make my way to the dugout and notice people lining the fence along the first- and third-base lines. Lots of kids are here today, which is unusual. Typically it’s just some parents and a few teachers who love to watch softball.
I take my seat on the bench and immediately spot Cara—top row, left corner, like always. My gaze drifts a few rows down to my father’s usual spot. I know he’s not there. I still hoped he would be. Even though my father has been a jerk, I always liked when he showed up for my games. He hasn’t been to a game in a long time. His girlfriend, Donna, doesn’t like the sun.
Before my father cheated on my mom and blew up our lives, I was proud of him. Proud of his brainiac job, and proud of the kind of dad he was. He’s the one who got me into softball. He told me I was a natural. He even coached my team when I was little. The man documented every team I played on and every big moment with pictures and videos. Before each season he and I would sit and watch some of my best hits or slides or catches, and he’d give me pointers. He didn’t take the photos and videos when he moved out. Instead he leapt off the diving board and landed in the selfish pool.
Then he tried to drown the rest of us in it.
As Coach gives her last-minute pointers, I zone out, staring at the cluster of guys standing next to the bleachers on our side.
I spot Brandon Levitt right away.
I’ve been crushing on him hard since middle school. Whenever I see his smile and the way he bites his lower lip, it makes my knees buckle.
It takes me just a split second to realize that Brandon’s group is actually our baseball team with their coaches. Our teams try and support each other as much as we can throughout the season. A group of wandering girls suddenly grabs the attention of the baseball team. There’s lots of movement as boys high-five each other and girls fling their hair, jumping, hugging. And then there’s a kiss.
Brandon and his girlfriend, Taryn, lock lips. A surge of nervous energy goes directly to my heart.
I want to be kissing Brandon, which, as with the Criss Angel/David Blaine scenarios, I understand is a complete impossibility, given the fact that I am not popular, not pretty, and fat. Not the combination to attract the gorgeous star baseball pitcher with the hot body and big blue eyes. I may be a dreamer, but I am not an idiot.
Luckily, the game starts, and I refocus my attention. I play right-center field, and I think I’ve used my sleeve to mop off my face eight hundred times out here. We’re in the top of the seventh. As of yet I haven’t had a hit, which is unlike me. I think it’s this heat.
We’re losing, one–nothing.
East doesn’t score, and now it’s our turn to bat. I head off the field into the dugout. To shade. Glorious, glorious shade. The baseball team and their girl-crew have planted themselves along the first-base-line fence. They’re lined up twenty long. I’m going to have to run by them if I get a hit. My face crumples into a squinty scowl as I register this hideous fact.
Amy catches my expression and says, “You can’t give up, Dell. We can win. Just stop making faces and hit the ball.”
I give her an over-the-top salute and a goofy grin. She shakes her head and then says, “It’s not funny,” over her shoulder as she walks away.
I can’t win with her today. I don’t have any more energy to try to break the tension with my comedic genius. If Amy only knew how close I am to passing out, she’d be up my ass even more.
By the time I guzzle two water bottles, we’ve managed to get two outs. I grab my batting helmet. I’m on deck. I do a few practice swings and watch our current hitter get a single. I am now the winning run.
Please, please, please don’t let me look stupid running the baseline. Please.
I take a few deep breaths. I should be able to do this. I’ve done it a bunch of times. I used to be so sure of myself as I stepped into the batter’s box. Not anymore—each pound I’ve gained has jabbed at my confidence. The 286th pound must’ve been particularly pointy and sharp, because I feel deflated. And to make matters worse, I got zero sleep last night.
I step into the batter’s box and get into position.
“Hit it over the fence, Dell!” comes from my right. I don’t look over, but I’m pretty sure it was Brandon. I swallow hard and lick my lips. At least he’s not mooing.
The ball is released and I make contact. I toss my bat and run.
First base suddenly zooms away from me like in a cartoon. I feel like I’m running underwater. With bricks tied to my ankles.
The shortstop picks up the hop and throws it to first base.
I still run through the bag. My heart is pounding when I come to a stop. I desperately want to put my hands on my knees and catch my breath, but I can’t because it’d be too obvious that I’m about to pass out. I don’t want Brandon to see me panting—actually, I don’t want anyone to see me heaving. I put my hands on my lower back and raise my eyes to the sky, hoping to open up my throat and let air in.
“Why are you even out here?” East’s first-base player shouts over her shoulder as she runs off the field.
I haven’t caught my breath yet so I can’t answer her. What do you care, I think to myself, wiping off my face. The East team has left the field. My team has left the dugout. I am alone out here. I drop my eyes and shake my head.
What was that, Adele? Huh? What the hell was that?
Right now would be the perfect time to be zapped invisible, because I can’t stand here forever. I have to walk off the field, but I’m trapped—the only way off is past everyone leaning on the fence. They’re all still there, goofing around.
I shout, “Hey!” The group turns my way. I form a pistol with my hand and pretend to shoot myself in the temple. I go big with an exaggerated head snap and stagger. “Right?!”
I hear some light laughter roll through the crowd, and then everyone breaks apart. Kids walk away in twos and threes. Taryn’s laugh slices the air. She’s still surrounded by a few people—Sydney, Melissa, Emma, Brandon, and his buddy Chase.
I hadn’t seen her over there when I did my little fake-suicide-funny-ha-ha show.
Taryn looks over their heads, right at me, and says loudly, “She’s too freaking huge to hustle! She should not be running. Anywhere.”
My breath catches in my lungs and I gasp for air. I may pass out right there on first base, in front of them all. I don’t have a funny retort for Taryn. In fact, I am mortified into silence. Taryn turns on her heels and walks away. Her groupies all follow, except for Cara. She waves, points to where we always meet, and then scurries away. Why is Cara with those girls?
I somehow get myself together and walk off the field as fast as I can. My thighs rub together with each step. By the time I reach the locker-room door, my skin stings so badly I swear there should be blood seeping through my stupid polyester uniform.
I lean against the wall and inhale the smell of sweat. I don’t want to go in there. My teammates are quiet. I close my eyes and picture them all moping around.
I toy with the idea of just leaving, walking home and not looking back. I don’t care about my T-shirt and jeans in my locker. Then I remember my backpack. I have homework.
Shit. I have to go in there.
Coach is addressing the team with her back to me as I enter the locker room. Everyone watches as I waddle toward the back wall, trying not to let my thighs touch in any way. I’m sure I look like I’ve just crapped my pants. I catch two eye rolls and one sneer. Thanks, bitches.
“Everyone has a bad game, ladies. Even the pros. We let this one get away. Let’s remind ourselves how badly we want States this year,” Coach says. She drops her voice down an octave. “Don’t ever stop wanting it.” Her eyes match the passion in her voice. “When we stop wanting it, we lose. It’s that simple. Is everyone with me?”
My team gives her a weak “Yeah.” I don’t even open my mouth.
“Do you want to win?” Coach shouts.
“Yeah!” the girls shout. The energy in the room lifts.
“Do you want to win States?” Coach asks again.
Coach’s passion is contagious. Something feels awakened inside of me. My organs quiver. They’ve been switched from off to on. I’m alive again. I join in this time. “Yeah!”
I want to win a state championship. I always have. Coach’s words have done their job. I’m officially inspired. My guilt from today’s shitty performance slowly melts away as I pack up my stuff. Winning matters to me again. I want to feel the surge of pride that comes with hard work and success. How could I have let myself fall apart like this?
My hands work with silent enthusiasm, changing clothes and packing up. I’m done before everyone else. I sit back and watch my team in various stages of undress and marvel at their smallness. Don’t get me wrong—they’re definitely not a girly-girl group. Our best pitcher could probably level half the baseball team with her eyes closed, and she’s less than half my size. Some girls have their legs up on the bench, untying their cleats. I couldn’t get my leg up on this bench anymore with a crane.
But not for long. Good-bye pizza, ice cream, and cheese fries. I want to win.
Coach suddenly materializes in front of me and tells me we need to talk. I know what’s coming. Diet talk. But I’m ready to hear it this time. I leave my stuff and follow her back to her office. She closes the door, walks behind her desk, and sits down. I give her a little smile, just to let her know I’m on her side. She’s stone-faced and motions for me to sit down with her head.
“You looked awful out there today, Dell.”
I tighten my mouth and nod.
“I wanted to give you a shot this year because of your past performances. You’ve always been our best hitter.”
I squint. This isn’t heading where I thought it would. Exercise, eating right, blah, blah, blah. Why am I sweating again? My face, if wrung out, could fill a juice glass.
She reaches across her desk and hands me a towel. “I should’ve done this preseason. I’m sorry, but this isn’t going to work.” She exhales. “You’re not in shape, and that’s not fair to the rest of the team. Do you understand?”
I look through her as I lie and say, “Yeah.” I think I’m about to get cut.
“I wish I didn’t have to do this, Dell. But, Christ, I can’t have you blowing our chances at winning state. I have to cut you. Take the weight off, and we’ll talk next season.”
“Yeah,” I repeat. I look away and stare at the Phillies calendar thumbtacked to the otherwise blank white wall.
Softball scholarship to college—poof.
Degree in communications—poof.
ESPN sportscaster job—poof.
The only things connecting me to my shithead father—poof.
Now that’s some fucking magic.
Coach doesn’t say another word, and neither do I. Like a lost kid at the mall, I wander into the locker room with wide eyes and terror in my heart. The rest of the team is gone. I lean against the cinder block wall and smack the back of my head against it a few times. Despite my size, it never occurred to me that I could get cut from the team. I walk over to my stuff, grab my bat, and grip it until my knuckles turn white. I want to smash it into the wall again and again, until I’ve reduced it to a pile of dust.
“Turn off the lights on your way out, Dell!” Coach shouts from her office.
My hands release a little, and I start nodding for some reason. With shaking hands and a bobbing head, I somehow get the bat into my bag. Now I can’t bash up the locker room. I just want to get out of here. Far away.
I know Cara is outside waiting for me, yet I walk around the front of the buil...
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