This is part seven of a seven-part series.
To go back to WT or not to go back to WT? That was the question that Mercedes was facing in the summer of 2012. From Texas, Alyssa would talk to Mercedes just when she was thinking about her and she would always keep up with the anniversaries of Marchelle’s passing. Mercedes had more bad days over the summer than good days. She felt she was largely on her own, fighting to keep her head above water.
“I was living trying to forget about it,” Mercedes said. “So I was living in so much anger that I wouldn’t think about it. I didn’t want to think it was real to me. It was like I was living an entirely different life. I have my life of pain.Then I had this life that I was trying to convince myself that nothing was wrong, that nothing happened.”
Mercedes had gone from being a “momma’s girl” to not having a mother at all. She lived in the house for about two weeks after her mom’s passing before she moved in with her brother and her nephew. She had to do things alone; she had to figure out how to get on her dad’s health insurance, how she was going to pay rent or how was she going to pay for her cell phone. When Marchelle passed, Mercedes feels she lost her home and she hasn’t found it again.
It was too soon to return to school. Her life had changed so quickly that she was nervous. She was terrified of failing at school or on the softball field. Fear kept her in Tucson for the summer. She didn’t think she was strong enough to come back and handle school while grieving.
“I tried to talk her into coming back as much as possible,” said Alyssa. “I was like, ‘come back to school, come back to softball. Finish what you started. You know this is what your mom wanted you to do.’ You can’t sit at home and waste away your life because once you get in that stage, you’re not gonna be able to get out of it.”
Mercedes did, eventually, decide to return to WT for her senior softball season. The dream of graduating and playing softball was a dream of her mother’s and if she didn’t fulfill that dream, she was going to be letting her mother down. For Alyssa, the decision was a big step in the right direction. Alyssa knew that everything at WT reminded Mercedes of losing her mother, the same way that everything in Grapevine reminds her of losing Roni. Mercedes decided to go back to WT and look the remnants of her hell in the eye.
When school started, she found it hard to focus. Mercedes, would go to class and often cry, walking out of because of her tears. The fall semester was the first time she picked up a softball since that loss in the conference tournament, several months earlier. Mercedes wants desperately to have the best softball season she’s ever had.
“I’ve never experienced being so scared of failure until now,” Mercedes said. “I’m scared that people are going to look at my story…and judge me on my season. I don’t want people to think I’m weak and if I have a bad season to blame it on the passing of my mom.”
Her focus this season is to use her strength, through her mom, to get a championship for her team.
“Softball’s everything I have and so far.” Mercedes said. “I only have a semester left so everything I have is everything I’m going to give to softball, because, without it, who knows where I’d be.”
“She’s different this year,” Kevin said. “She’s a leader, she’s vocal. There’s still that emotional side of her, but I see the smile more than I’ve seen it when she’s on the field. I’m really, really pulling for her to have that special senior year. My faith says she will, I have to believe that.”
But walking off the field for Mercedes, and even Alyssa, won’t end their struggles to adapt to life without their moms. Their challenge will turn into letting their moms live through them.
“By the way I live my life, I think it can reflect on her [Roni] and how she raised me,” Alyssa said. “I live my life trying to keep her proud and I think, with becoming a doctor, and having gone through that, I can share that story with my patients and make sure that every patient that I see doesn’t become a statistic.”
“I want people to understand that things people complain about in life, the little things, [are] the things you shouldn’t even care about,” reflects Mercedes. “I want girls to know, especially girls that don’t get along with their moms, to fix it. To fix it, because when it’s gone, you don’t have that anymore. You don’t have that mom anymore [and] you’re going to have so many regrets. I want somebody to look at our story and love life more, to see what they have in their life that they should be grateful for because it could be taken in a matter of days.”
You only need to look for the pain hidden behind her blue eyes to figure out what drives her: her mother and her mother’s dreams.
“I think that when you look into Mercedes’ eyes, you can see the determination that she has to be successful,” Kevin said. “I see it in her. I can see that there’s a passion there for what she’s doing.”
But, in the grand scheme of things, softball and careers matter little. Both of these women want to have a family someday. Alyssa laments her future children missing out on Roni spoiling them with cookies and milkshakes. For Mercedes, she wants to get her life together before she thinks about it.
“I just want to care about my child as much as my mom cared about us; to devote my entire world to making them happy before I’m even close to being happy,” Mercedes said. “The fact of getting married and having a child without my mom being there breaks my heart more than anything.”
As she continues to look towards the future, Mercedes knows that life without her mother will be tough and the regrets are many. But, when softball, WT and Alyssa are all distant memories for Mercedes, there is one thing that she wants to remember about her challenge: she got through it.
“From this, I see life differently,” she says. “So out of something so negative, I finally want to get my positive out of it, even if there is a positive. My positive out of this is gonna be making a difference in someone else’s life, maybe open somebody else’s eyes to see that they need to change and that they can push themselves to find the strength within them to better their relationship with their parents so they don’t have any regrets.”
For a softball player, like any other athlete in any sport, she is measured on things she does on the field. Is she tall enough? Is she fast enough? Can she hit .300 for the team on a regular basis? All of those skills allow for coaches and scouts to differentiate between a skilled player and a player whose time on the diamond may be limited. It can also lead to coaches believing that player is just that, a player.
Like each individual batter, each athlete is inherently different. . She’s got her own baggage, good and bad, that define her as a person. She will always bring intangibles to the table, things that can’t be measured She may have a very high softball I.Q. or she may read the game very well. Her shoulder could be on fire and all signs of her body tell her to stop, but she keeps throwing strikes. Each player is different, but combining all of those players and putting the best nine athletes and people on the field is when you have success.
Kevin feels he is lucky to have his job. He gets to walk around the meeting room in the clubhouse and look at all the pictures that are hanging on the cinder block walls. He can tell stories of each one, what the situation in the game was, the year it was from, who the team was playing, but he can also give the hidden intangibles of each player.
There is one picture in that room that he is particularly fond of: she’s wearing a black, gray and white camouflage jersey with her long brown hair tied back with a ribbon and she is ready to field a ground ball that is hit her way. He almost looks up to this picture of Mercedes.
“That’s a tough kid,” he says, starting to choke up. “She’s quiet, she’s soft-spoken at times, but she’s a tough kid. She’s determined. She made it through last year. I don’t know if I could have done that. But, when she steps out on that field, she plays for her mom. She doesn’t play for herself, she’s not selfish.
“I think that if her teammates take the time to look at her and realize that she has to be a model of strength for them,” he continues. “What’s a slump? What’s going three or four games without getting a hit, when you’ve got a teammate who battled through the loss of her mother ten hours away from home to be here and play softball, to be a part of this program? Really? What’s the sacrifice? Coming out and putting some extra time in to take bp [batting practice] or take ground balls? She did that. She still does that. She’s a role model.
“A lot of times, I think we think of girls being soft and lady-like and we have to protect them and protect their emotions. She’s a lady. She’s a beautiful lady, going to be a beautiful lady when she leaves here, but she’s tough. I don’t know how to describe those intangibles other than that’s Mercedes.”
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