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Disclaimer: Due to holiday frazzlement, this story/post/visit-to-the-heart-of-darkness will be broken up into parts. You may not actually gain any insight from this story/post/visit-to-the-heart-of-darkness — the insight gained could very well be all mine, and I’m not in the habit of sharing.
…continued from yesterday (“gaining weight, part 4”)…
I was extremely relieved as well. My friendship with Kwik-E-Mart had become recently strained because of the constant fog of competition that surrounded us. It had become difficult as the pressure from the community to see who was better steadily increased. With this win, I thought the question would be settled for at least a little while. Life was so good, and it could only get better…
I was wrong.
The next twelve months would nearly kill me.
Kwik-E-Mart was nice enough about my win but told me my actions were “irresponsible”. I was first amused and said indeed, I was irresponsible, but that was because I was a single girl with no responsibilities. Sure, I didn’t wash the dishes before I left and maybe I didn’t fold all the laundry, but hey — no one was hurt by that, least of all me. I had set aside enough food for the cat, locked my door, and got on a bus — that’s all. No, she said. I was irresponsible because I went on the trip by myself. The correct thing to do was to wait until she was ready to go as well. Now I was confused. She reiterated that I was irresponsible and what I did was not the actions of a sane person. Rather than argue, I dropped the subject.
Soon, I lost the congratulations from my win. When people spoke to me of it, it was no longer in admiration of my drive or resourcefulness. Instead, I was told I was crazy. My first reaction was to be defensive and adamantly state I was not crazy — I was simply very dedicated to my hobby. I was told by several people I was “irresponsible”, which piqued my interest as that was not a common word in pool halls. I was also told the only reason I won the tournament was because Kwik-E-Mart did not play. If she had, she would have won — I merely got lucky. I conceded I may have got a good draw or a lucky roll here and there, but I could not have lucked my way into defeating the entire field. Eventually, I gave up. I no longer took pride in my win and just wanted people to stop berating me.
I began experiencing increasing hostility from people, including my own friends, and I did not know why. In the beginning, the jabs were based mostly on my perceived insanity and how I was very “unladylike”. I was simpleminded, direct to the point of bluntness, and naive. I said what I meant and meant what I said. If I did not like you, you knew it. If I liked you and you needed one of my kidneys, then it was yours. But, I had been this way for years and so, I did not understand why it became such an explosive issue now. Once again, I responded to these jabs with defensiveness, because I did not know the reasoning behind them. During matches, opponents or spectators would try to goad me into losing my temper with taunts. I felt like I was losing my mind.
I mentioned this to Kwik-E-Mart and she said people were mean to me because they hated me. She told me I should be more like her and people would like me more. Okay. That made sense. So, I began to change my behavior. I took everyone’s criticisms with a smile. I tried to be agreeable to everyone and all they said, even when they told me I was a terrible person, a terrible player, or insane. When I was taunted or goaded in a tournament, I no longer fought back and tried very hard to laugh along with the insulters.
And yet, none of this made a difference.
If anything, my complacency made things worse.
Sensing that I would no longer fight back, people began to truly turn the screws. Anything I did was subject to scrutiny and criticism. Here are some examples of what began to happen:
- I missed a shot in a match and let out a quiet “dammit!” My opponent told me not to throw a tantrum. I said I was not throwing a tantrum, I was just annoyed I missed the shot. He told me to stop being argumentative. I said I was not arguing with him. He turned to the crowd and told them I was being a bitch.
- A person I did not know came up to Kwik-E-Mart and me at a tournament (we were sitting next to each other). He praised her effusively. Then he turned to me scolded me effusively for not being more like her.
- People actively rooted for me to lose in my matches.
- An opponent destroyed me in a match and then taunted me for losing. I forced myself to smile as I shook his hand. He told me he knew I was being fake and that nothing I did could hide the fact that I was a horrible person. He also told me I was a terrible player and would never play well.
- I was told I was fat, unlike Kwik-E-Mart. Really.
These are a fraction of the things I went through almost every day of every week. I wanted to be the nice person. I wanted to please everyone. And yet, no matter what I did, it only seemed to make people more angry. More than once, people said things about my personality that I had heard before from Kwik-E-Mart herself. There was a small voice in my head that wondered if she was the one telling them I how terrible I was and they were merely repeating it. But, I did not want to seem paranoid and so, I pushed that possibility into the darkest trenches of my mind. Kwik-E-Mart, a psychology major, told me I had “borderline antisocial personality disorder”. I thought it meant that I was on the verge of not being social, so I said that sounded about right. I found out later that was the diagnosis for being psychotic.
I began to lose confidence in myself. I dreaded going to tournaments, going to practice — really I dreaded anything that had to do with pool. I was running the tournaments for one of the bigger pool rooms in the area but was not allowed to play in them. I enjoyed seeing the success of the tournaments, but I knew I was holding back the advancement of my own game by not competing.
One day, during one of the bigger tournaments, a friend sat down next to me and said I did not look well. I said I was fine. Everything was fine. We sat in silence for a bit. I finally said I was under a lot of stress because everyone hated me and I did not know how to deal with it. The scolding and taunts that were originally directed toward my personality were now directed toward my game. Increasingly, people were telling me how I would never be a good player, that I would never make it on the professional tour, that my game was worsening and that I deserved all of it. Unsettled by this, my friend said maybe I was overreacting — things couldn’t be that bad. Right on cue, a player swaggered up and told me (and I will never, ever forget this), “Ha! You play like sh#t now, huh? My friend stared, open-mouthed.
I sat up stiffly and said, “I don’t get to play tournaments very often any more so, yes, I’m not playing that well these days.”
“Oh you so far behind now, you never gonna play good!”
Recovering from his initial surprise, my friend said to the player, “Why, <player>! That’s a terrible thing to say!”
“Why? Is true! She got no stroke, no game. No heart! The other girl, Kwik-E-Mart, she so much better. She kick her ass.”
This had been the kind of feedback I had been getting lately. Instead of comparing how inferior I was as a person to Kwik-E-Mart, I was now being told regularly that I was also an inferior player. This player taunted me some more and I tried to bear it all with good grace. After he left, my friend could only say, “I am so, so sorry.”
One by one, I began losing my friends. No matter what I said or tried to do, I was just not good enough for them. Former friends became my harshest critics and denounced everything I was or did. Again, I heard traces of Kwik-E-Mart’s opinions in their words. She was now the queen bee and everyone flocked to her. I wanted to confront her, to ask if she was the one saying things about me behind my back, but I was afraid. I was afraid that if I angered her, she would stop being my friend and then I would lose everyone for sure. I also held a vague hope that if I perhaps changed enough to meet her standards, that she could vouch for me and tell my former friends that yes, I was a good person now — and everything could go back to the way it was.
The last straw came when once again, I was being insulted while running a tournament. I was so wound up and I missed playing so much that I was inwardly near hysterical. I had been told that as long as I represented the pool room as a tournament director, I was not allowed to be impolite. I had to bear any bad treatment from the tournament players with a smile. Recently, a regular had taken to treating me like a waitress and maid, demanding that I get his drinks for him, get him sets of balls, clean his table, etc. I set the first round of matches in motion and asked for a set of balls to the bar tables nearby. I thought hitting balls would relieve some of the stress.
I began hitting a few balls and tried to calm down. The next thing I knew, I was being scolded by my one of my longtime friends in pool, probably the person I respected most in the game. This was a person who had supported me from the beginning and had always been a source of encouragement. He was one of the few who didn’t laugh at my goals and genuinely wished for me to succeed. And now, he was asking me what my problem was. Did I not want to be here? I said I was stressed and just wanted to hit some balls. He told me I had an attitude problem. I really needed to be more like Kwik-E-Mart or else I should just get the hell out of pool. I was stunned and very saddened, but went back to my post.
Shortly thereafter, Kwik-E-Mart told me it looked like I wasn’t enjoying pool and I should quit. I did not want to quit, but I did not know how much longer I could live life the way it was going. The one thing I loved best and the community around it was now my greatest source of fear, anger, confusion, and depression.
I played my last tournament in October. At that tournament, I drew Kwik-E-Mart and she forfeited to me, saying she was tired. When we returned to Los Angeles, I was scolded by a friend because Kwik-E-Mart had told him she forfeited to me because she knew I would be mad when she beat me. I was told I needed to curb my temper, that I was scaring her, and unjustly holding her back from playing the game. I was dead inside as I listened to this. When he was done talking, I raised the possibility that she had forfeited because she did not want to lose. Oh, he said. He hadn’t thought of that.
I was so done with this shit.
I quit running the tournaments and began to withdraw from society. Lately, I had been in a lot of pain and fatigued, but I figured it was just due to the flu and maybe the stress of work. Finally, on New Year’s Day, I called someone to take me to the hospital.
I was very close to dying, but had made it in time to the hospital. When they admitted me to the hospital room, I was told they would have to take my cell phone away as the signal would interfere with medical equipment. I had 10 minutes to make my phone calls. I made two phone calls and when I look back on them, I can’t help but laugh.
I had received an invitation to a prestigious amateur tournament. I had not responded yet and so, I called one of the players I knew was going and left a voice message to have her tell them that I was not dissing the honor, I was very sick and would not be able to make the tournament.
I called Kwik-E-Mart. We were to be teammates for BCAPL Championship tournament in May. We had a practice session scheduled with our other teammates. I left a message to have her tell them I was not skipping out on practice — I was in the hospital with a serious illness.
And then, I gave them the phone.
While in the hospital, I had three visitors. My APA league operator (he successfully tracked down where I was) and two childhood friends. I knew a lot of people in pool, but no one came to visit. My mother demanded to know where all these “friends” I had told her about were. She said if they were my friends, they would come see me. I said I guess I didn’t have any friends. I knew then that no one in pool cared if I lived or died. I had been abandoned by the game and community I loved best. I did not care if I lived or died, either. I felt my life was worth nothing and the absence of my friends confirmed it. But, as my brother so eloquently said, “Why should you die? You’re not the one that sucks.”
And he was right. I went through an incredible amount of pain, including surgery with no anesthesia, but in the end, I did not die. I did have ample time to reflect on the events of the past year and I determined: laugh, and the whole world laughs at you; die and you die alone. The world had given me a big “F#CK YOU” and guess what, I got the message.
When I returned to pool, there was only mild surprise at my return. I did not bring up where I had been. I actually felt much better now, mentally, than I did before my illness because I did not have to worry about which people hated me — I knew it was universal. Everyone hated me. The feeling was mutual. I played pool first as a sort of physical therapy, but eventually, I got back into playing because I enjoyed it. Now, when people were rude to me, I was rude back. I knew no one would show up to my funeral and I no longer gave a sh#t. I was still friends with Kwik-E-Mart because she would be my teammate and I was still unsure of myself.
One day, I was talking to a mutual friend and it came up in conversation that I had been ill. I did not elaborate on the seriousness of it, just that I had been gone for a long time because I was sick. To my surprise, he told me he had known I was in the hospital and had wanted to visit me, but Kwik-E-Mart told him not to, because I had specifically said I did not want visitors.
I ran into a future teammate shortly after and she said she had wondered where I was. I told her I had been in the hospital — that’s why I did not come to practice. She said Kwik-E-Mart had only told her that I had decided to quit pool. My teammate said she told Kwik-E-Mart that didn’t sound right, and continued to press her for information as to my whereabouts but Kwik-E-Mark stuck to her story that I had quit pool.
Oh, double wow.
I confronted Kwik-E-Mart about this and she merely said she did the right thing. I said, “I almost died. I would have loved to have seen some friends, to know that people cared.”
She just shrugged.
I never spoke to her again.
Press and zoom back to where we were, in bar, with me asking for weight…
…to be continued in part 6