Lucky Number Seven

January 24, 2012
The fourth hour bell shocks me from my daydreams, and I sadly remember that I am still sitting in the fourth row of Mrs. LeFleur’s French class. I get up and rush into the hallways, so glad to be finished with her for the day. I stare at the note in my binder, and slowly realize that it’s from Coach Munc. I walk into her office and sit down casually, assuming her impromptu meeting was about the number on my freshman jersey. I had become an official Lady Tiger softball player one week prior and I was still reeling with the newfound joys of being a part of something this big. I had dreamt of being a Westley Lady Tiger since playing club ball for Coach Munc’s dad, Coach Riley when I was eleven. My dreams were finally solidifying into something tangible – my purple and gold jersey with the lucky number seven emblazoned on the back.

Munc’s office is dark and cool – the only splashes of color coming from pennants won during her playing days at Notre Dame . It’s perfect for storing sweaty equipment, worn jerseys and composite bats shattered during tournaments from days past. Our team picture sits on the corner of her old oak desk; Coach Munc, Coach Michaela and twelve bright freshman faces. Assistant Coach Michaela is quiet but her true self is revealed at the plate during practice, when her eyes go away and she slips back into her glory days of playing Florida Gator Softball. Head Coach Munc is her polar opposite, loud, and always ready to give her opinion. Her Notre Dame visor and clipboard accompany her everywhere, just like today. They are normally cheerful and lighthearted, always ready to provide advice. But today something is off. Gone are the smiles and quotes from softball legends, replaced with thin polite lines that spell disappointment.
They seem to appear out of nowhere and surprise me; the mood has instantly changed from casual to tense in a matter of seconds. Munc sits on the edge of her desk, and I can tell she is uncomfortable. Michaela just seems to stare at me, like an exhibit, like she can’t believe her eyes. The only things they have in common are that they are both my sorely disappointed coaches. I open my mouth to question their disappointed faces, when Munc cuts me off and utters the words that will transform my freshman year –
“Darci, you are ineligible to play Lady Tiger softball this year.”
“What?!” I sputter.
“As you can clearly see, you have four failing classes, which makes you ineligible-“
I cut her off and grab the report card from her hands. My rage begins to build as I see that my four failed classes are all from teachers who hate sports. Mrs. LeFleur even dared to write a comment about my poor grade – in French!
“Darci, I am going to have to ask you to return your jersey…”
“What jersey?” I can’t stand the thought of returning my beloved number seven jersey, so I play it off.
“The number seven jersey. I can clearly see it from here. You know, the one sticking out of your bag.”
“Ohhh….That one….”
“Yes. Because you cannot play, I am asking Jamie Steindler to take your place. I need to give your jersey to her for our tournament this weekend. I need it. Now.”
I grudgingly pull my jersey out of my bag and hold it out, forcing her to reach across her desk to retrieve the jersey. She grabs it, but I can’t let go. She stares at me and I slowly release the jersey, letting it fall to the desk.
“Darci, I think you should go and think about what you have done…”
I am too overwhelmed to respond so I storm out. Not caring that it is the middle of the school day, I run to the local batting cages, to try and burn off some of my rage before facing my parents. I quickly swing through twenty dollars worth of balls, trying to get their disappointed faces to fade from my memory. Hours pass and still furious as ever, I run home trying to plan my attack on the teachers and get my parents to understand.
When I arrive, I am winded, red in the face and not prepared at all for what I meet. My dad is on a surprise business trip and for once I am thankful for the chance to deal with my mom alone. My mom has the phone in hand, talking to the principal and working on a crossword puzzle. I am baffled by her sense of calm, so I silently eavesdrop on their conversation through the back porch’s cracked screen door.
“Yes Mr. Lowroski. She will be having an interesting night. I guarantee it.”
I can’t hear Mr. Lowroski’s reply so I busy myself with sorting my softball bag – as if it still matters anymore. I make sure I have pre-wrap, my batting gloves, and I re-align the shoelaces on my cleats. As I repack everything in my bag, I feel myself being studiously watched, and I slowly turn around, expecting the worst. My mom is standing there, flaming red hair like a warning sign that I should just sit down and listen. Being a typical teenager, I do just the opposite. I stand up, slowly gather all my things, and prepare to casually walk inside as if none of today’s events ever took place. I get halfway to the door, and then she starts.
“I am so sad for you Darci. Look at you. You have just started high school and you have friends and were a part of the softball team. Now look what has happened.”
“So?” I question her thoughts with a roll of my eyes.
“Back when I played ball, grades were checked weekly and students were held completely accountable, just as you are going to be. You could be just like me and play four years in a row. But I guess that is just not something you are interested in now is it.”
“No. No, that is not what I am interested in.” I snottily fire back.
Her sarcastic bitter tone slices through my resolve and all of my former fury comes rushing back. I throw my softball bag off the porch and into the yard where my yellow lab Remmy promptly sprawls herself on top of it. I storm off the back porch and through the kitchen slamming the doors, throwing napkins and ranting aimlessly as I trample through. I must have completely lost my mind, as well as my common sense, to think that I could win an argument with my mother.
“You will never understand!” I scream and blindly turn around running straight into the pantry door.
My mom follows my trail of destruction, silent but deadly, waiting for me to pause for breath before launching her counterattack. I hear her chuckle as she sees my debacle with the pantry but as I continue to rant all humor dissipates.
“I am the parent. You are the child and that is that! If you cannot be responsible, then you don’t deserve to be a Westley Lady Tiger.”
Knowing that I have no comeback worthy of rivaling her motherly logic, I storm out, belligerently shoving whoever gets in my way. My brother and my cat, Sophie, pay the price for interfering with my rage.
The humiliation of my clumsiness and newly formed facial flaws only fan the flames, so I continue to rant. Too mad to see where I am going, I stumble off the porch and run into our old oak tree. Planted the year my grandparents were married, the 60 year old tree is starting to show its age. With the branches damaged from our region’s latest fight with Mother Nature, the tree looks condemned for the chain saw. Anyone in their right mind would have the sense not to climb on the tire swing, its fraying rope like a sign that reads death trap in bright red letters.
Wanting to be as far away from here as possible, I abandon all common sense, climb on, and begin to swing back and forth. I rapidly gain speed, soaring through the air, so high I can almost touch the dying leaves of the ancient oak. I swing and swing thinking about my failing grades, the disappointment on my coaches faces, and my pure fury at myself, when all of a sudden I hear a sharp crack and the next thing I know I am staring at a worm that appears to be as big as a basilisk. I flinch backwards and my back begins to throb. I shift, rolling onto the soft, cool, grass, thinning in the cool autumn weather. I turn my head, realize that the basilisk is really a worm, and finally focus on the huge branch laying two feet from me, completely shattered on one end. Shards of what I think is wood lay all around me and are stuck in my ruby red curls. The branch looks dead but I can’t remember it being there before, and I can’t figure out how I got on the ground.
Remmy, my trusty sidekick over the years, is instantly by my side. She is licking my face and barking towards the house. Her barking is making my head pound, so I pick up the closest wood shard and throw it across the yard, conveniently next to her bone. She chases after it, stops barking, and seems perfectly content to mutilate her rawhide treat.
My mind is racing so I close my eyes to try to calm myself and work through all my questions. With multicolored canaries flying around my head, I don’t react to the groans of the porch floorboards and the next thing I know; someone is patting my cheek trying in vain to get me to open my eyes. I lay there for what seems like an eternity, just watching my pet canaries fly around and around until the patting becomes quite irritating. I reluctantly open my eyes, only to be greeted by a blurry image of my mom, but the amused smirk on her face is clear as day. I vaguely remember her helping me to the house and up to my room but the next four hours disappear.
When I wake up, I don’t get up, I don’t go downstairs, I just lay on my bed. Every muscle in my five foot six inch frame aches, so I lay there and think. I think about the day, the conversation with my coaches, and my losing battle with the pantry door, not to mention the tire swing.
I also think about the secret box underneath my bed. I found it at a garage sale a long time ago and have managed to keep it a secret thus far. I slowly rise to keep the canaries at bay and pull out my worn oak box, discolored kool-aid stain on the front and the My Little Pony stickers on the sides, but still mine and still a secret. I slowly lower myself to the floor with my back against my quilted bed spread and pry open the rusty lock. Remmy ate the key years ago and she is the only other soul that knows about my box. I haven’t looked through it in a while, so I slowly pull each item out, one by one; a softball from my first club championship – laces worn smooth from rubbing it for luck during my 8th grade championship game, a picture of Coach Riley and I – the only coach who really understood me, and my cleats - mud still caked on from my very last club game. All of these items were put there by me for me and for only me to see, but I slowly realize that there is more. At the very bottom, wrapped in tissue paper, is my old Flames jersey, red and gold and still smelling like our club championship. I can’t figure out how it got there, but then all my Flames softball memories come flooding back, unstoppable like the heat wave from that unforgettable summer.
We are at Flames tryouts and we are working harder than ever before. Throwing drills, batting drills, and softball suicides cause rivers of sweat to roll off our eleven year old bodies. My hair is plastered to the back of my neck, and all resemblance of its former braid has disappeared. Dust flies in our wake of constant motion as we quickly learn the difference of our way and Coach’s way of doing things. My best friend Molly gives me a Gatorade, but it’s too hot to drink the sweet liquid for fear of seeing it again on first base. We run at the sound of the whistle, impatient to hear Coach’s next instructions. We play catch on our knee, and then rapidly learn that softball suicides are worse than basketball suicides. Molly and I do tweeners with four other girls until finally coach sounds his whistle. We think that we might finally be done, but after four more drills, we know that it’s not over till the final whistle sounds. What seems like hours later Coach Riley sits us down and slowly begins to speak…
“There are 27 amazing girls here today, and it truly pains me to say that after tomorrow only 12 of those amazing girls will remain. Those remaining 12 girls will not only have performed well on the field, but off the field as well. A true softball player is made up of four main things: their attitudes, their respect for everyone - including themselves, responsibility in every aspect of life, and their overall love for the game. Those girls who are cut may have had all of these things except one, but there are only 12 spots on my Flames roster. Just because you don’t make this team, doesn’t mean that you should give up. You should go to every tryout, for every team, and work just as hard, if not even harder than you have worked today. Just don’t ever give up.”
He continues to ramble about fees and upcoming tournaments, while I sit and daydream about those red and gold jerseys, all while keeping in mind that if I wanted one, I would have to work for it, and work harder than anyone else here, harder than ever before.
I slowly remove my old Flames jersey from my box, hold it up to the light and watch as the last rays of daylight catch the golden stitches on the edge of my lucky number seven. An idea hits me and I slowly put it on, and flop on my bed with my head hanging off, my mane of unruly red corkscrews barely grazing the floor, also known as my best thinking position.
Remmy saunters in, bone in her mouth, looking as goofy as ever. She jumps up onto my bed, muddy paws and all, puts her bone on my pillow, and just lays there as if she rules the place. Remmy always seems to come in whenever I have my box out, but I think that’s because she knows that she still has its key.
I think and I think, watching the clock turn, trying to come up with solutions when my light bulb flicks on and I finally understand. I try to jump and yell “Eureka!!” but my head hurts too much so I flop back down. My mom is right, and Coach Riley was right too. I was not responsible. I do not deserve to be a Westley High Lady Tiger. In all my years while playing for Coach Riley, he had a saying “A true softball player is made up of four main things: their attitudes, their respect for everyone including themselves, responsibility in every aspect of life, and their overall love for the game.” He told us that on day one of tryouts, when 27 bright eleven year old faces all wanted the same 12 jerseys. I knew that if Coach Riley was here, he would look at me, shake his head and say:
“You may think you deserve to be on the team because you preformed well at tryouts, but Darci, no matter how good your batting average is, if you are not responsible for every action you make, on and off the field, you do not deserve to be on the team.”
Coach never made any sense at first, but then a situation would arise, you would remember his words, and everything would become just a little clearer.

After my mini epiphany, I continued to think about this year when I slipped and began to daydream about those purple and gold jerseys, the majestic Lady Tiger on the front and my lucky number seven on the back, all while keeping in mind that if I wanted one as a sophomore at Westley High, I would have to work for it, and work harder than anyone else, harder than ever before. I slowly slip the old oak box back into its place under my bed, right between my trumpet and the wall. I’m still thinking about softball, but instead of the fury I felt hours ago, I feel a warm comfort, or maybe it’s just Remmy lying on my feet.
The next day, the sun is out, the sky is blue and everything seems normal, and then I remember yesterday. I calmly remind myself of my plan and walk downstairs. I am greeted by Remmy, bright eyed and bushy tailed even though it is only six in the morning. I grab a cinnamon bagel, and fumble around in the dark for Remmy’s leash. We go for a run, once around the small neighborhood of Willow Grove and silently slip back into the house. No one is awake yet and I have the house to myself. My run has cleared my head and suddenly the day seems a lot easier to face. With my confidence building, I get dressed for school, and get on the bus as if everything is normal.
The bus smells like rotten eggs, gym sneakers and the stench of seventh grade body odor. I try to hold my breakfast down as we carefully make the fifteen minute drive to Westley High. I stride into school and ask for a hall pass. I just can’t stand to sit through another one of Ms. Morrison’s health lessons. She makes everyone sit and listen to her preach about the evils of exercise even though she desperately needs some herself. Thankfully I am granted a pass, and take my time walking to Coach Munc’s office.

I take a deep breath and slowly knock on Munc’s door. I hear the lock click and she lets me inside. She sits carefully behind her desk and beckons for me to sit across from her.
“Do you have something to say for yourself after your outburst yesterday?” She should be mad, and sarcastic, but she sounds sincere. She looks at me, silently searching for an answer.
“Coach Munc, I wanted to come here today and explain myself. I want to explain my actions yesterday and also explain what I plan to do to gain your trust back.”
She simply stares and tells me to proceed.
“Coach Munc, I am truly sorry for exploding yesterday. Over the last twelve hours I have come to my senses and realized some very important things. I was not responsible. I do not deserve to be a Westley High Lady Tiger. In all my years of playing for your dad, he had a saying “A true softball player is made up of four main things: their attitudes, their respect for everyone including themselves, responsibility in every aspect of life, and their overall love for the game.” I learned so much from your dad, and I completely forgot all of it during my outburst yesterday. I would like to apologize to both you and Coach Michaela for all of the trouble I have caused. I would also like to say that on August 1, 2012, I will be at tryouts for the Westley High Lady Tiger Softball Team so that I can try and be a member during my sophomore year and beyond. I know that I will have to work harder than anyone else and harder than ever before to win back your trust and faith in me as a ball player.”
After I finished saying what I wanted to say, I just sat there. I watched Coach Munc’s face for any sort of reaction or emotion. I couldn’t find one until she opened her mouth to speak. Her eyes went misty and in a soft fragile voice she said –
“Darci, you have amazed me from the moment I met you. You remind me of myself in so many ways that I can’t begin to count them all. In the last week I have seen more of myself in you than ever before. Though I still fault you for your actions yesterday and your poor grades, I admire your sense of remorse to this situation and applaud your dedication to the sport of softball. I would like to wish you luck on August 1, 2012 and would like to formally invite you to all junior varsity and varsity softball games for the 2011 – 2012 season. The true measure of any athlete is how well she can cheer her teammates on, even if she is on the bench.”
I am stunned at the conversation that has just taken place. I have regained the respect of my coaches, the same respect I lost a mere twenty four hours ago. I have realized what the game of softball is all about and what it means to be a true player. I stand, give Coach Munc a hug and prepare to leave. On the way out, Coach stops me and slowly says,
“Darci, I just wanted you to know that my dad gave me your old Flames jersey and told me to give it to you. I was going to give it to you after you made the team, but you had already left so I gave it to your mom. I hope she gave it to you by now, and if she hasn’t then I think you should ask her for it. You deserve it.”
I slowly walk into the office, get an excused pass for gym and quietly continue my day. After the final bell rings, I ride the bus home knowing one thing is for sure. I may not be a part of the Westley High Lady Tigers Softball Team this year, but I know that if I work hard enough, I will earn that number seven jersey just in time for my sophomore year.

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