Yanking the Lasagna

I have a personal relationship with the Boston Red Sox, the team that is seemingly on the verge of winning its second World Series in four years after having gone without for the previous 86 years. This relationship has endured for more than two decades now, ever since I first made New England home. Lest you think me delusional or psychotic, please rest assured that I do not hear the voice of Yaz or Papi in my head and have not been seeing ballplayers in my shower or toaster oven. I would like to think I have a beautiful mind but not that beautiful.

In any regard, my relationship with the Boston Red Sox is strictly as a baseball fan. I have been enamored of our national pastime since the age of 10 or so, when I used to listen to broadcasts of Atlanta Braves games on my radio and root for my favorite player, Henry Aaron. Back then, in the suburbs of Miami where I grew up in the 1960s and ’70s, the Braves were the nearest home team. And I was their fan, which was more than a little challenging given their chronic lack of success in those days. Still, I cheered the team on and grew somewhat accustomed to their inability to contend. Although it was disappointing, it was also predictable. The Braves rarely tormented me with near-success.

I cannot say the same for the Boston Red Sox. Ever since the 1986 World Series, when they were one strike away from winning the championship and then collapsed, the BoSox have annually tantalized and tortured me. The disappointment that I have felt at their hands (or mitts) is nothing compared to what I felt as a youth rooting for the Braves. It is one thing to go hungry. It is quite another to go hungry but have someone put a plate of steaming lasagna before you and then, just as you are prepared to sample a cheesy morsel, yank it all away, leaving you with nothing more than the promise of its rich, garlicky scent. It is painful.

Even after the Red Sox improbably came from behind to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat against the hated Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series and then went on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, I still expect them to yank the lasagna from me. I find it difficult to trust them. The memory of their many near misses over the years and my subsequent heartache remains more powerful than the positive regard engendered by their more recent successes. My beloved BoSox have scarred me.

In the grand scheme of things, of course, such scars are ever so modest. But I am nonetheless aware of them and the ways in which they shape my attitude and behavior. Last night, for instance, I sat before the television watching Game 3 of the 2007 World Series. In the top of the third inning, the Red Sox scored the first 6 runs of the ballgame and seemed well on their way to victory. However, in the bottom of the seventh inning, the Colorado Rockies rallied. With nobody out, Matt Holliday hit a three-run home run, the third straight hit of the inning, and the score was suddenly 6 to 5. After the BoSox reliever gave up a single to the next batter, I shut the television off and scooted to bed. I could not watch anymore. I could not bear witness to the team I loved letting me down once again. I preferred to push away from the dinner table before the lasagna could be yanked from me. I felt sick and slept fitfully.

When trust has been breached repeatedly and one has been helpless to prevent such occurrence, when certain meaningful assumptions have been turned upside down and no longer seem safe to hold, it is psychologically damaging. It compels adaptation, healthy or not, to preserve the battered psyche. Early and chronic violations of trust and safety invariably color or distort in some measure all future actions and interactions. This is what happens to children who are raised in environments in which abuse, neglect, family violence, substance abuse, or mental illness are prevalent. They learn not to trust or to trust warily. They learn not to rely on their needs and wants being met with any consistency. They learn to resist the temptation to believe in others or believe in their own self-worth. They learn to associate love and trust with disappointment and pain.

In my career as a clinical social worker, I have regularly seen the damage wreaked upon the most vulnerable members of our society. I have borne witness to their struggles and suffering, which often persists even after their environment has improved or stabilized. It is ever a shame—one that makes my own disappointment and pain over a baseball team’s performance pale vastly by comparison. For, in truth, my relationship with the Boston Red Sox is very different from a child’s relationship with their parents or caregivers. I am not (or should not be) dependent upon these ballplayers for anything of substance. Their successes are, at best, a proffered side dish. The real lasagna is the trust and safety that should be every child’s birthright.

By the way, last night, the Red Sox defeated the Rockies 10 to 5.

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2 thoughts on “Yanking the Lasagna

  1. Wow, not being an avid sports fan, this experience is somewhat foreign to me. I can relate it somewhat to feeling invested in sports for my daughter, which can be difficult to endure, but also very rewarding. You make interesting comparisons to growing up in an abusive environment. Perhaps you are now on the emotional roller coaster between jubilation over the win and anxiety about the last game. Just remember to wear your emotional seatbelt (whatever that is).

  2. ps You do have a beautiful mind. I don’t know who else would be able to make this comparison and get me thinking about sports in a whole new and much more meaningful way. It’s a safe emotional life.

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