This spun out of a light-hearted Facebook thread about being the odd girl out when we had to partner up in my exercise class yesterday. I didn’t really mind — the other women in the class all had “real” friends there, whereas I’m just the Tall Old Woman With Bad Clothes Who is Nevertheless Formidably Strong.
But then I remembered that the worst thing that ever happened to me, in all those years of being picked for teams and gym class square dance lessons, was being picked _first_. We had an influx of new kids in my fifth-grade class and one of the boys, deceived by my height, picked me for his handball* team. He really felt like he had gotten a pig in the poke when I acquitted myself in the usual way — pokey little hit that didn’t make it out of the infield, easily thrown to first base ahead of me. For some reason, that humiliation still burns in my memory, whereas all my other easy outs were just what were expected of me. Someone else, a stranger, had been convinced that I was athletic and I had dared to hope that he might be right, that he saw something in me that hadn’t been there before.
I was not an athletic kid. I couldn’t climb a tree or run swiftly. I couldn’t throw a ball correctly. I was mediocre at dodgeball. I couldn’t turn a cartwheel. Gym class loomed as the perpetual threat to my 4.0; luckily, the points awarded to written tests and participation edged me into A-minus territory. (It also helped that one semester was swimming, one of the few things I did well. I got my lifeguarding certificate when I was 16 and was a WSI at 17.) Oh, and in addition to swimming, I was actually pretty agile when it came to climbing rocks, of which there were several in our backyard, and I had excellent balance.
Still can’t throw. Still don’t run swiftly. Still can’t turn a cartwheel, although I was working my way toward a headstand in yoga when my arm problems became problematic. I am unusually strong, I think, for a woman my age, or else just flush with a wonderful delusion about my abilities. However, I do notice, in the various classes that I take, that I have more stamina than some much younger women.
Were you picked first, last or somewhere in between?
*In Baltimore, we played handball, not kickball, tossing the large red rubber ball up in the air the way one tosses a baseball during practice, then smacking it with our closed fist. Donald Wilson could send a ball an enormous distance this way, far, far into the outfield. We sometimes played kickball, too, but more often it was handball. I have no idea why.