Five years ago, I was at Iguana Grill in the afternoon on a sunny, windy day to watch two girls play live music. Iguana Grill was a restaurant that overlooked Lake Travis on the brink of Austin, Texas. Lake Travis is a waterfront beauty that serpentines through the Texas Hill Country for about 66 miles. The restaurant had beautiful views. Sadly, the Iguana Grill is long gone and has now been replaced by Lucy’s, which seems to be a hotspot.
Years ago, as I was sitting with the friends and family members of the two girls on stage. A friend of mine, Kelly Gruber, was at the show, too. Gruber was sitting with his girlfriend and his best friend, Eugene, and his wife, Stephanie. Gruber is a former MLB player from Texas who played third base for the Toronto Blue Jays and won the World Series in 1992. One time when his team was playing the Texas Rangers, Nolan Ryan threw a curveball at 90 mph and hit Gruber’s head by accident. Ryan walked over to shake Gruber’s hand and say sorry to his fellow Texan for the hit, something he was told never to do,
“I came up in the first inning and he hit me in the head with a curveball, thank God it was curveball. The guys in the press box told me they were so surprised because Ryan came over and asked me if I was okay. Usually Ryan would just ignore you or tell you to get first base. I guess it was because we are both from Texas.”
Sitting at Iguana Grill, after eating at my table, I ordered a margarita with salt. When I was 24, and it was no secret amongst Eugene and Kelly that I struggled with ovarian issues, it was painful. I had met Gruber on a plane, and we spoke for hours about random stuff; light and dark, funny and serious. Over time, I went to many Merry Go Round shows, everyone hanging out in a group, and over time we got to know each other better: Kelly, Eugene, the girls and I. Honestly, I’m not sure if the ladies knew about my health problems, or not. I grew up with mostly all boys and lots of military men, bonding with men has always been easier than bonding with women, even if sisterhood and females are essential to my life and my heart, too.
A third of the way through my margarita. Suddenly I felt eyes glaring at me and I start to look over my shoulder. And I see Kelly give me this look of irritation and concern from his table. Standing up, he walked over to me in his blue jeans, boots and black leather jacket—picked up my margarita with his right hand— drank it all in one gulp and then put the empty glass of ice back down gently in front of me and walked away. I can still see his jacket in memory as he walked away and recall the intense glare his blue eyes shot my way. Both my friend and I are Year of the Tiger, even if there’s an age difference. There was a sudden intensity in the room. Claws out, if you will. Part of me was impressed by his brazen behavior because I adore boldness in men. But another part of me that’s been controlled by the wrong men who didn’t have my best interests, that part of me was not pleased. It set off bad triggers. Plus, in my mind, the Latina in me was thinking, “Oh no, he didn’t!” And so I sat still, didn’t say a word, and ordered another drink to prove a point. I wasn’t trying to be a bitch. I just didn’t respond well to his concern for personal reasons related to my past. I know my icy response was unsettling.
However, I recall that I didn’t finish the second drink and only sipped it and stirred the ice. He was right: I did not need alcohol that day with ovarian issues because alcohol is an irritant to hormones and the reproductive area. When everyone hugged each other goodbye after Merry Go Round finished their set, I could tell both my friend and me kind of felt bad for our responses to the situation. We didn’t talk about it and just pretended it didn’t happen. Frankly, I had forgotten about all this, but for some reason, that memory came to mind yesterday for the first time in years, and it resonated in memory. Part of me wanted to write to him and say ‘thank you,’ but I knew there was no sense in bringing up years ago. Plus, I haven’t spoken to him in a year or so, and I’d rather talk about something lighter.
About two years later, after the music show and the margarita at Iguana Grill, I wrote a story about baseball, the Texas Rangers, Nolan Ryan, and how meeting Kelly Gruber on an airplane, a local Texan from Austin, brought back memories of happy days in the ’90s. It was a cheerful, bittersweet story about the love of the game and how baseball brought my family together for a few hours each spring during baseball season. Sports always brought my family, my friends and I closer together. I am a former competitive athlete and a former Master’s swimmer, and I love watching various sports to this day. It’s good for the blood. Le sangre es la vida!
As a kid, my dad was so busy with work, and my older brother was not interested in his pesky little sister. Watching baseball with my brother and my dad—the feelings of togetherness—was something I had forgotten and am grateful to remember and to relive those good memories, holding them close to my heart. After I finished writing the story, I sent it to Gruber, and he liked it, said it was a touching and moving story. And I recall he replied specifically, “I didn’t know tigers could be so sweet.”
When I was younger, in my personal life, I could often be so stubborn and hard-headed that, at times, I didn’t listen, even when someone was trying to help. It was a self-destructive trait. The funny part is that I am very open, reasonable, and patient in my professional life. I never hesitated to ask for help at work or in my academic life. But I guess we all have flaws in our personal lives, and like many young, 20-something-year-olds: I didn’t want to be told what to do. But it wasn’t just the rebel in me. It was a wounded heart because I had been told what to do, one too many times, by abusive people that abused their power over me in my past. So I had been abused to the point of distrust. Now that I am older and have eaten a slice of humble pie dealt with me by the cards of Life. Now that I can decipher between someone with malicious intent versus someone with honorable intentions. I know when to listen and give someone the chance to guide me.
In hindsight, I don’t think my friend realized I would get so moody, defensive, and fiery about it. I just didn’t know how to accept kindness, and maybe that someone was trying to stop me from making an unhealthy choice. For me, it wasn’t the first or last time a male friend tried to take control of my higher good. And it wasn’t the first or last time I didn’t respond well to it because of abuse of power in the past by other men. But it was the last time Mr. Gruber ever tried to tell me what to do.
Years later, I have a much easier time accepting kindness from men. I have a much easier time communicating. And it’s become almost effortless for me to accept love—whether it’s coming from a friend, family member, or a lover—solely because I have developed self-love. And I want to give myself the proper love and respect I deserve.
Thank you to my friend for trying to do right by my health. And I hope you are well wherever you are in life and always think of you fondly and wish the best for you and your family! It is my mission to get that story about baseball published this year.