It was a pretty rough year for Carol. This time a year ago she had no idea what was in store for her, and it was a long while before she ready to crawl out from underneath the rubble of her old life and start again.
Surely no one could have predicted she would be named the "Baltimore Bitch" and literally run out of town after she refused her boyfriend's marriage proposal, shown on the jumbotron during the third quarter of the Ravens' AFC wild card playoff match. It was ridiculous to think that just because she got flustered and left when Steve suddenly pulled a ring on her, that she was the only reason the Ravens were not able to come back from a 14-3 score and keep the season going. But within minutes of the game's end, sports radio hosts and belligerent fans were calling for blood. Her blood, which she otherwise liked to remain inside her body.
She was especially bitter about the whole situation as she spent a good chunk of her annual bonus on the tickets for her then boyfriend and did not even like football all that much anyway. Not that anyone in Baltimore let her forget what had happened. The dirty looks and the name calling whenever she went to the grocery store or stopped for gas. The kids who egged her car, which then froze over in the Baltimore winter.
The local newspaper put the picture of her making a disgusted face at Steve's proposal on the front page of Monday's paper. It must have been a ridiculously slow news day or they just took joy in making her the person everyone in the city could blame to get over the Ravens' elimination from the playoffs.
When school started back up in January, the kids in her class all stopped listening to her instructions because their parents told them she was a bad lady. First graders being taught by their parents to scream "Baltimore Bitch" at her! She put up with it, because teaching jobs are hard to come by and she was close to getting tenure but once the death threats started to accumulate on her voice mail she knew she had to go.
So one night after midnight, she packed all of the things she could not live without into her car and left Baltimore behind. Frozen pieces of egg shell flew off her car as she crossed the border out of Baltimore.
She did not tell anyone, not even her parents, who were still not happy that she turned down Steve's proposal, I mean did she not realize she is 33 and still not married with her eggs drying up and now no man in sight?
She stayed at her sister's house in Alexandria even though her brother-in-law, a Baltimore ex-pat and Ravens lifer, was not too happy about it. As she tried to sleep on the couch she could hear them arguing about her through the paper-thin wall. How there was no way he could have the Baltimore Bitch sleeping in his house, how no self-respecting Ravens fan could tolerate the sight of her. But she was family and that was more important than any sports team her sister argued.
After three days her sister came to her and said she had to go, that her presence was seriously threatening her sister's marriage and they had two kids and were barely scraping by with both their incomes she could not think what a divorce would do and why did she have to come in and break up another relationship because her own did not work out and...
So after midnight, again, Carol got in her car and drove. With nowhere to go, she drove aimlessly until it struck her that there was only one place where she could maybe find some solace.
She headed east on I-68 and then north on I-79 until she got to Pittsburgh, home to the Steelers who had beaten the Ravens for the wild-card spot in the AFC playoff match and were on their way to the Super Bowl. Surely the woman who, according to seemingly everyone, had handed the Steelers a playoff berth on a silver platter would be welcome in their home town.
It took her a month to find an apartment and while she applied for teaching positions for the fall. Pittsburgh's school system was in even worse shape than Baltimore's and she had no luck. The only job she could find was teaching literacy to ESL students at a low-rent night school.
Within time her life started to fall back into place. She made friends with some of the other teachers at school, an eclectic group of weird-ohs, and started to go out and have fun again. Here she was no longer the Baltimore Bitch, she was just Ms. Stevens from EN-1101.
In September she met Paul while out drinking with her new friends. He was tall, quick with a joke and had a stable job as a trial lawyer. Things seemed perfect. Too perfect in fact. So it was nothing but devastating when, on Christmas morning, Paul opened the gift his sister had sent him: tickets to the upcoming Ravens-Steelers AFC Wildcard rematch.
Carol collapsed into a quivering mess on the floor, leaving Paul completely confused. Once she stopped sobbing hysterically, she managed to explain why the sight of the tickets gave her a massive panic attack.
Paul was a football fan but only a casual one, enough to make small talk with the boys at work, but he liked Carol more than that so he ripped up the tickets in front of her, which only caused her to cry harder. Maybe he could take up Baseball instead.
Only then did Carol believe she could leave the past behind. It was a new year.