Jodi Hills

So this is who I am – a writer that paints, a painter that writes…

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Always with you.

I’m currently reading the third book in the Beartown series by Fredrick Backman — The Winners. All are set in Sweden, but easily could be any town, could be my town. Perched against my Alexandria Girls Hockey t-shirt (the one I bought this trip at Endless Treasures for $3.00) as I read, it IS my hometown.

Their collective identity is based upon the local hockey club. Some fit in. Some try to fit in. Others don’t fit in at all. All with their own struggles – trying to stay in, trying to get it, trying to figure out why they don’t even see the door.

I played on several teams in school. I liked sports. The activity. But maybe most of all, I wanted to wear the red and black. Not to stand out, but to blend into the sea of the town’s colors. To be accepted. Buoyed. To be identified as part of the team.

Because every town needs to label you with something… I could hear it, we all could hear it – whispers of divorce, trouble, “broken” — and I suppose that’s the one that disturbed me the most – this broken. How dare anyone decide how your home is standing. My home wasn’t broken. It changed, of course, but it stood, and I, we, deserved to wear the colors. So I put them on for volleyball, for basketball, for track. I wore them, fragile, scared, and hopeful. Hopeful that one day, I could call this, not just my home, but my hometown, all of it.

Wearing my Cardinal t-shirt in the south of France, that day has come. Not because “they” chose, but because I did. I claim the streets, paved and graveled. The houses grand and small. The neighbors on porches, waving from car windows. All trying their best, sometimes failing, sometimes winning, bobbing up and down in lakes of red and black. I remember everything. And while the struggles were often real, the treasures are indeed endless.

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Being a cardinal.

We never imagined ourselves as the toughest. We were birds. We played other schools that were tigers, bears, bison, wolves, eagles even… And when I say we played, we really did play. We had fun. I’m not certain if that’s why everyone joined, but I think so. And we were proud to be cardinals. Lovely red birds who played in the afternoons. No one was ever really threatened or intimidated by us, the cardinal girls, but still in the song we sang on the bus, we deemed ourselves mighty — “We are the cardinals, mighty, mighty cardinals, everywhere we go – oh, people wanna know- oh, who we are – so we tell ‘em… (and repeat).

And I think mighty be the exact right word here. Sure, we competed. We even won sometimes. But there was so much more. We did everything together. Dressed together. Hoped together. Sang together. Won and lost. Even cried sometimes. All together. And those years in school, when hope was really all I had — to do it together, was everything. And maybe only a couple of girls knew my story, but it didn’t matter. I don’t think we needed details. They didn’t seem to. I was part of something, and I, we, knew it was way more important than being the best – it was about wanting the best for each other. Being a part of something bigger than ourselves — I guess that, by my definition is mighty.

We were on the radio yesterday. Telling our story. What a delight! How did we fit together? How did we fit in this town? It felt like red and black joy. I was, again, a dancing cardinal!

It’s human nature I suppose to want to know all the details. But when you are welcomed, just for being you, brought into the colors without judgement, oh, what a feeling! People who will laugh with you. Ride with you. Win and lose with you, and still find a reason to sing — surround yourself with these people — people filled with hope, friendship and love — this is one mighty team! Everywhere I go-oh, I want people to know-oh, Yes, I am a cardinal…