Girl On Fire

Looks like a girl, but she’s a flame

So bright, she can burn your eyes

Better look the other way

You can try but you’ll never forget her name

She’s on top of the world

Hottest of the hottest girls say

Oh, we got our feet on the ground

And we’re burning it down

Oh, got our head in the clouds

And we’re not coming down 

This girl is on fire

This girl is on fire

She’s walking on fire

This girl is on fire

– Alicia Keys


The other weekend, Mace had a volleyball tournament in Charleston. Over the three-day tournament I noticed some very interesting things, things I felt I should share with you.

It seems as if I have been attending some sort of tournament for the past two decades. Bubba has been in sports since he could walk and Mace picked up volleyball a few years ago. To this day, I still spend my weekends on the sidelines of a football field or a volleyball court.

So, where do the tournaments come in you ask? Well, Bubba began wrestling in the seventh grade. Almost every weekend during the winter months you could find our family in some high school’s sweltering gym playing the waiting game.

Wrestling is the most unnerving sport you will ever have to watch. Since it is an individual sport, most watch the entire match on the edge of their seat. It is the worst concoction of panic and excitement you could ever imagine slinging back in six minutes (… or less).

Bubba was a natural. During his first match, he broke the guy’s arm – Bubba was in the seventh grade. He was the first, and only, person in our high school’s history to ever place twice in North Carolina’s High School state wrestling tournament. He may have been a record setting football player as well, but wrestling was always my favorite sport to watch him play. He was in his element. An image of him hopping around on his toes, rocking his “pow-pow” shirt (an old State Trooper shirt of my Pop’s that he wore before every single match), and headphones covering his ears will forever be engrained in my mind. I will never forget the pounding in my heart as he walked onto the mat for each match. And even though he ended up with 114 total high school career wins (the fourth most career wins in our school’s history), my stomach always knotted up as he shook his opponent’s hand.

Those wrestling tournaments were high intensity. I would yell, and scream, and wave my arms, and clap, and cheer. If Bubba lost, my eyes would well up with tears. Every match was his last match in my mind. Wrestling was dangerous and especially at the tournaments. I knew a kid in college who had broke his neck wrestling in high school. It was amazing this guy lived to see his high school graduation, much less college, and here I was driving down the mountain every chance I could to watch my very own Bubba wrestle boys of the same age.

Anyhow, the boys would keep to their headphones, nodding their heads ever so slightly to the various beats that got their adrenaline going. Each wrestler studied every match before their own. They sat on the sidelines watching for mistakes and contemplating their own plan of attack. A whistle would sound periodically but overall, the gym was quiet on the floor. After each match I would ask Bubba if he could hear what I was yelling from the stands and he would reply, “No. When you are down on the mat you can’t hear anything. I can barely hear my coaches yelling at me from just a few feet away.”

Once they stepped into that circle, all bets were off. I have never seen so many different men get the very same look in their eyes – dedication.

Every week those stands were filled with Mommas, and Dads, and sisters just like our family. People came to the matches wearing homemade shirts, noise filled the bleachers, half-naked teenage boys roamed the gym floor, and stale sweaty air loomed over the basketball goals. That was our life for six years.

For six years we followed big, smelly, boys around the Carolinas… and I loved it.

Then Bubba graduated.

He doesn’t wrestle anymore. Now, he plays football for Lenoir-Rhyne University. Please understand, I am so very grateful that he has been given the opportunity to play collage ball – and especially for a team that has done so well the past two years (Conference champs two years in a row… hellooo ring bling!) – but a team sport just doesn’t give you the same rush as watching your little brother get out there time and time again and kick another boy’s ass… on his own.

Okay, so I told you all of that to tell you this:

Mace has been playing volleyball for a while now. And as ashamed as I am to admit it, I know I am not nearly as supportive of her sporting endeavors as I am of Bubba’s.

There. I said it. Out loud and not at all proud.

I know what you must be thinking, “You aren’t supposed to say that… at least not out loud… and most certainly not on paper. It’s kind of like when your Momma says she loves all of her children equally – even though you know she slips you an extra hundred on Christmas… you just don’t announce that shit to the team.”

Well, before you go all pointing a scolding finger in my face, I have (… or had, rather) very valid reasons why I missed more volleyball games than I did wrestling matches or Friday night football games. You see, girls:

  • Don’t yell or grunt, they shrill. Middle and high school girls especially, have the highest pitched screams you have ever heard. After leaving one of Mace’s volleyball games I will almost always have a migraine. 
  • Always have to hug, and pat, and tap, and “good try” each other after everything. Holy shit man, just get on with it already. If homegirl throws herself on the ground before the ball even comes over the net, my first instinct wouldn’t be to run up and console her, I would be all, “Bitch, get your silly ass up off of the floor and keep your crazy eye on the frackin’ ball next time, fool.” That’s what’s wrong with kids today… too many damn “it’s okay, try harder next time”-s.
  • Giggle. And nothing works my nerves more than a half-assed giggle.
  • Cry, and get their feelings hurt, and are very dramatic, and don’t bounce back easily from error. They take every little thing to heart and it f*&ks with their minds out on the court. Just the other day I watched a girl on Mace’s team completely ruin it for the other girls. After making a couple of mistakes, she was through… she completely checked out of the entire match and it cost the team first place. Granted, men act the same way but women have a harder time not showing every emotion on their face.

So, you could imagine my excitement when Momma told me about Mace’s three-day tournament in Charleston.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy watching my sister play, there is just so much baggage that comes with going to an all-girls sporting event. It’s a different type of anxiety. I was exhausted before we even crossed the South Carolina state line.

Alright, let me set the stage here. Imagine an entire convention center morphed into a volleyball bumpin’ bonanza. There was something like 12 courts, probably hundreds (but it seemed more like thousands…) of teenage girls, and parents galore. I had died and went to sporting event hell. Luckily, I packed the iPad, a new gossip mag, some candy, and a book.

All in all, the weekend went well. Mace balled out, her team won second place, and I made it home with both eardrums fully intact. So, what was my problem? Well, I started to notice some very distinct differences between my sister’s tournaments and my brother’s.

For starters, at the beginning of each volleyball game both teams would stand in a line on their respective sides of the net, walk shoulder-to-shoulder toward the crowd, and pageant wave to their fans. Wait, what? Oh, yeah, you heard me. Those girls paraded around the court before every game like a bunch of beauty queens – the only things missing were a couple of tiaras and some Tootsie Rolls.

I was appalled. These girls were athletes. They bust their asses every day at practice just like the boys on Bubba’s football team, yet, they must parade around like a troop of show ponies before each game? It made no sense to me. Why weren’t there lights, and announcer dudes coming over the loud speaker, and rap songs blaring? I almost started chanting, “Where’s the world peace? Speech, speech, speech!”

And then when Mace’s team won second place – second place out of many teams – there wasn’t even an awards ceremony. They didn’t get the opportunity to show off what they had accomplished as a team. Everyone just grabbed their shit and went home.

What the hell?!

Again, my sister spends every afternoon practicing with these girls (… a team she just joined this year), she busts her ass to get her spikes right and her serves over the net… and you’re telling me she won’t even have the chance to walk up in front of the crowd to show off all of her hard work? What kind of bull shit gig was this?

When Bubba wrestled they had ceremonies for everything. At states, they did the Walk of Champions. At the end of the tournament, after each winner had been recognized, they turned off all of the lights in the coliseum, played the Rocky theme song, and let each boy who placed walk the entire perimeter of the floor wearing his medal.  I got to watch my brother walk with the best wrestlers in our state, not once, but twice. I have pictures of him wearing his medal with his arms around some of his teammates. I have memories of him on that coliseum floor, with those lights flashing, and that Rocky theme song playing in the background. And here, in Charleston, South Carolina, I have memories of my entire family standing around a convention center wondering, “Soooo, will she get her medal now or should we just expect that shit in the mail?”

It was all so anticlimactic.

And then I looked up. Painted big and bold above each restroom was a very gender-specific avatar (Note: I specifically used the word “gender.”). There was the culprit.


Over the men’s restroom sat a normal stick figure. This figure was faceless, it wore no clothing, and at first glance, could have been male or female. However, painted atop the women’s restroom was clearly a feminine stick figure. Although she too was faceless, the dress she wore and her closed legs gave her sex away.

My head jerked from side to side. My mouth dropped open. I had never noticed this before.

First of all, why was the girl avatar wearing a dress? Girls don’t wear dresses. I am just about as girly as it gets and I probably only wear a dress once a month. So what, did we catch the woman’s-restroom-avatar model right before she went out for a night on the town or something? And why does she only have one leg? Was the painter trying to suggest that she was being a proper lady and keeping her legs closed? I’m sorry, but when I stand, I don’t stand feet together. Which brings me to my next point… why does the boy avatar get to stand there with his junk all hanging out? I’m sick of that. I’m sick of society continuing to reinforce the idea that it’s okay for men to take up more room on a couch, or on a bleacher, or on a bus, or in general because their balls need room.

Man, f*&k your balls. What about my vagina? Yeah, what about my who-ha? That bitch needs airing out too. So, close your legs asshole and scoot the eff over –  it ain’t gonna kill ya.

Seeing those avatars really ticked me off but they also helped me bridge the gap between my siblings oh-so-different sports experiences.

Boys are supposed to be competitive, agile, athletic, and sweaty.

Girls are supposed to be sweet, demure, composed, and well-kept.

Well, I’ve got news for you, you archaic-restroom-avatar-painting-fools you, us girls women, in case you haven’t noticed, are a freakin’ force to be reckoned with. We can be every bit as competitive, and agile, and athletic, and sweaty as men can be. We are intelligent,  and cunning, and resourceful, and brave. We raise families. We run companies, stir pots, help with homework, pack a lunch, do a load of laundry, feed the dog, and watch an episode of The Real Housewives – all. at. the. same. time.

And speaking of The Real Housewives, do you want to know the real reason why we are obsessed with mindless television? The reason why we love mindless television so much is because we need a break from the 400,000 other to-dos that are constantly cluttering our minds every other second of the day. It’s our break. Our pause. Our breath-catcher. So, get off of our freakin’ backs, okay.

Forget what they taught you in school about Abe Lincoln, and MLK, and Christopher Columbus, and George Washington, and Plato, and Julius Ceaser, and Alexander the Great, and Isaac Newton, and Ben Franklin, and JFK, and Eisntein, and Elvis (… okay, so don’t forget, forget about them). Why, you ask? Because behind every great man there’s a greater woman. Do you really think Thomas Edison came up with the light bulb on his own? Uhh let’s get real here, Mina (his second wife), was probably sick of having to get her youngins dressed in the dark so she looked at ol’ Tom and said, “Look yo, how about when you run off to your little laboratory today, why don’t you actually invent something useful. Try figuring out something slightly better than these sorry ass candles we’ve got burnin’ all over the place. K, thanks.”

Do I think we are lunatics? Yes. Do I think we do some crazy ass shit sometimes? Sure. But without us, the world wouldn’t be the place it is today. We are a lot bigger, and mightier, and influential, and important than society ever gives us credit for being. We make a difference. I mean, we squeeze whole people out of our f*&king vaginas for God freakin’ sake, give us a flippin’ break.

So, guys: you can keep your silly award ceremonies if you would like, you can continue to parade us around like cute little show dogs if it helps you sleep better at night, and that extra space on the couch – you were right, it was meant for your balls. Just know, these small wins, they will never change the fact that… we run this.


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