Pick Me... But Not Last
Photo: Katherine Streeter
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No sad story ever features a protagonist who is always picked second to last for athletic teams. At least the other kids thought I was funny. It kept me from being picked dead last in high school sports. That dishonor was usually saved for someone even fatter and less amusing.
I didn’t always suck at physical activity. I was a little monkey as a kid. OK, so I was visually impaired and a little big for my age, so perhaps I was a half-blind chunky monkey, but nonetheless, I climbed trees and jumped over trash cans with my bike. (I could throw a snowball half a block down the street and hit the kid who’d called me fatty and then run…but not far enough.) I was the stereotypical tomboy lezzy-to-be, even if I looked like I was going to grow up to be a nerd.
Maybe I wasn’t the best at organized sports, but I was good at fighting. Obviously, I had to be. I got plenty of practice until fourth grade, when peer pressure forced me to hang up the proverbial gloves. It was recess and Danny Brown was teasing another large-framed female until he got the tears he needed to claim victory. I marched over to him and called him a bad name, and then he called me a bad name, and then we called each other lots of bad names, and then I told him to shut up or I would shut him up. He laughed at me. I saw red. The next thing I knew, my ample 10-year-old frame was straddling his scrawny corduroy-clad carcass, my right fist was positioned about eight inches from his nose and he was crying. Ha, I knew I had him. I expected to hear the roar of the crowd, cheering me on as I taught this bully a lesson he would never forget, but I heard nothing. I knew there were kids standing all around us; there are always other kids around you when you have a fight. Even if you have a fight on the moon at 3-in-the-morning, other kids will jump into their spaceships and show up to get a firsthand account of the action. I knew it was dramatic, but I wanted the crowd behind me as I delivered the final blow.
However, the crowd wasn’t behind me. What was wrong? Was the teacher coming? Didn’t these kids know what a jerk Danny was being? I studied the faces of the boys and girls standing around us. They looked kind of freaked out and disappointed. I couldn’t figure out what was going on, so I just stood up and walked back into the school, though recess wasn’t even over.
It took me a few days to understand why the other kids were avoiding my gaze: Beating up a guy, even a jerky guy, wasn’t cool in the eighth month of fourth grade. If it had been October, I would have been the local hero, but it was April and fifth grade was only a summer away. The time for girl-versus-boy fights was over, even if the girl won. Sure, girl-on-girl fights were still allowed, but I lost my stomach for fighting after Danny.
In eighth grade, some butch girl I hardly knew had one of her friends tell one of my friends that she wanted to fight me, but since she didn’t even know me, it seemed a little odd. I avoided her for a few days but was finally forced into a meeting during lunch—one of my friends was tired of being the go-between. I told Butchy that I had no reason to fight her. She asked me if I was scared. I told her that I was not, which wasn’t entirely true because I thought that any girl who wanted to kick my ass without knowing me was a little scary. She chuckled and proclaimed my statement “cool.” After that, we had nothing further to say to each other, so I left and she and her groupies continued smoking behind the bleachers.
Looking back, I suppose there was some kind of homoerotic thing going on there, but it was a one-way street, sister, because you would have needed a four-wheel drive to navigate her blackhead-infested face.
In my freshman year of high school, I tried out for the basketball team and found out that I sucked. I remembered shooting hoops with the neighborhood kids at my uncle’s house a few years prior and doing pretty well, but fast-forward to the ninth grade and I was stinking up the court. What had puberty wrought upon me? The coach let me on the team, but I pretty much kept the bench from sliding around. I practiced but never seemed to get any better. Come spring, I was all about track and field. Surely there were one or two events I could excel in. You would think, wouldn’t you? I ran, but not fast enough or far enough. I could jump, but not over hurdles. At least I could throw the discus and put the shot. I felt pretty good about my strength and athletic abilities until my first track meet, when the steroid test-dummies from the opposing team were able to flick the zits off their backs farther than I could throw an eight-pound ball of iron. But at least I made the crowd laugh, with my wholehearted, face-contorting but impotent efforts.