My first Superbowl party ever occurred my junior year in high school. 11th grade was the year my parents went back to the Solomons, taking my two younger siblings, so that they could finish up their work there. Nathan and I stayed in Austin with foster families from our church.
That winter our church's youth group had all gone on a ski trip together, my first time to ever experience snow. Pretty much everyone else in the youth group had been going skiing with their families from the time they could walk. I spent the first day on the bunny slope in a borrowed, banana yellow ski suit. Determined come hell or high water to catch up with my peers, by the third day of the trip I was doing low jumps on the blue diamond runs.
Our youth pastor, about half way through the trip, set himself up with a camcorder at the bottom of one such jump, and filmed us as we all shot by, one after the other. Goaded by the fact that everyone else was conquering it, I threw caution to the wind and when it was my turn, hurtled myself towards the jump. It was steeper than I had anticipated. And the drop off went much further down. Knees bent, I shot from the end of the jump in perfect form. Ever watched the old Roadrunner cartoons where Wile E. Coyote runs off a cliff and doesn't realize it until he's in mid-air? That was me. I looked down and screamed, "Oh, SHOOOT!"
Only, in my high pitched, fear induced voice, it didn't sound like "Oh shoot." It sounded like, "Oh shit." At least, that's how it sounded when the film was played back that night. Some of the boys from the group thought it was hilarious that Danica had been 'caught' cussing on tape, and razzed me about it all night. Annoyed, I just ignored them. They always needed someone to make fun of. Tonight, it was lucky me.
A few months later, the entire youth group had gathered at some one's house to watch the Superbowl. I was at a loss about why everyone was getting so worked up about a football game. I went and hung out awkwardly in the back of the room with a few friends. I think Green Bay was playing that year.
I had a little knot in my stomach that night. The house that was hosting the event stood in the neighborhood of our old family home. The one on my dad built little by little, the one we always came home to, the one that was always waiting for us on Devereux Street, with its smell of plywood and dusty memories. Right now, renters occupied the house. It felt a little like sacrilege, that strangers could live in the one place we had always called 'home', no matter where in the world we were. Here I was, 5 minutes away and shut out.
The party was OK. I faked having a good time pretty well. Then half time came around, and everyone got bored of what they had been doing - watching the game, flirting, eating, gossiping, and watching everyone else watch the game, flirt, eat and gossip. People were searching for a diversion. Then, someone had the brilliant idea to pull out old tapes from past youth group events. It caught on like wildfire.
Three or four boys led the charge, searching through piles of old VHS tapes. I watched them idly, wondering why they didn't just pick one, already. Then, slowly, I became aware that they were searching with purpose. They were looking for one specific tape. A dawning feeling of horror started to creep over me as I caught one boy glance sideways at me, snicker, and continue his search. Sure enough, they found the 'Danica cussing' tape, popped it in, and fast forwarded to my specific moment of glory. And played it over. And over. Again.
I looked in desperation at the adults in the room, but they either weren't paying attention, or were watching the scene unfold with isn't-it-great-that-teens-can-have-good-clean-fun smirks on their self-satisfied faces. Determined not to let the boys win, I kept my chin up and a 'you guys are soooo juvenile' look firmly plastered on my face. It wasn't until we were ten minutes into the second half that I slipped surreptitiously away.
Sitting in my car, alone, both hands gripping the steering wheel, I drove. I drove unthinking. On auto pilot. Like a homing pigeon, my car took me back to Devereux Street. I pulled to a stop in the street right outside our house. Our house that should have had my mom and dad waiting inside for me, and our loved, worn furniture, and the perennial basket of fruit on the kitchen counter. Great, huge, ugly tears welled up inside me, and suddenly I was snotting and sobbing and struggling to breathe, gripping my steering wheel like it was the only stable, real thing in this entire world.
The tears, and the emotion behind them, was less about the hurtful boys, and more about not having a safe place to go when the boys hurt me. Looking back, it's really laughable that they would make such a big deal out of such a little word. A word which I didn't even SAY, but even if I HAD said it, would not negate the fact that they were intolerant, hypocritical pricks. There, I said it.