Hear me out. In my very loose definition of athletics, I was an "athlete." To me, sports were anything that required movement, so, in my 4th-grade-clouded-with-aeresol-hairspray-and-pubescent-hormones brain, I might as well have been a starter on the varsity team.
In my estimation, I moved… a lot. And I did it all on these rotund legs, the kinds of legs that look like packages of sausage stacked on top of one another. The kind of legs that make a person question you, "Is Jimmy Dean your mom? Or is Bob Evans your dad?" Fan-f*cking-pork-tastic.
These legs trudged a marathon, on the daily. They navigated the suffocating halls of my overcrowded, detention-center-designed middle school. They plodded through the lunchroom, which I not-so-nostalgically look back on and refer to as Dante's Inferno (a parody illustrating the 9th Circle of the Inferno where treachery reigns supreme). These sausage legs, often encased by middle-age-man athletic shorts, squeezed everywhere, attempting to "fit in" as best as a gal can, when she's Bobette Evans in a sea of Slim Jims and Janes.
My mantra has always been, "Complete, not compete," and that lifelong chant has been the wind beneath my flabby wings. But life is always made into this competition by the classmates (I call ASSmates) around us, and here I am, just trying to survive.
Whether life is a race, or it isn't, the quintessential fat kid always comes in last, so a solid the-tortoise-wins-the-race-in-her-own-damn-good-time, feel-good aphorism has become a coping mechanism for me. However, despite being hopeful, my therapist says I do tend to catastrophize things, so here's me being myself and proving Mr. Therapist right again.
While I'm "running" this "marathon," I picture myself in my own reality - getting pushed into the jeering crowd, being taken away by the paramedics while I receive very-dramatic breathing treatments, choking on my own vomit (where is the janitor with the sawdust?) while being filmed by "innocent" bystanders and all the local news stations, contracting a staph infection from the giant wounds, left gaping open, because my pork-thighs made chaffed prime rib out of my creamy thighs, and then there I am, a lost cause, simply left for dead. In my mind, that's how my life-race goes, while Slim Jim saunters on by and definitely steps over me. Karma will never catch up with Slim Jim; he's too fast.
Maybe one day if I'm ever #winning, I'll have a fan, with a homemade poster, cheering me on near the finish line. And God-willing, I'll chug a Gatorade like a real champ before I hide behind a tree and eat a sausage-egg-and-cheese McGriddle. My fat soul craves a little "me" time.
Let's be serious; even as the lovechild of Bobette Evans and Jimmy Dean, I don't suffer from any delusions of grandeur. I am a porkbaby swimming upstream in a sea of molasses. While I have long-lived life as an underdog, the good news is that I've never given up, and I'm forever waiting for the ultimate comeback.
I might be a portly tortoise with a unibrow and a slight mustache, but I still win the race. And I even win it alone… in the most unlikely places.
Picture that portly tortoise in her first weeks of 4th grade. New city. New part of the country, just having moved from Erie, Pennsylvania, to Memphis, Tennessee. Thousands of miles away from home, and here I am with my tweening attitude and a Northern accent. A head full of frizzy long hair topped with radical bangs. Accessorized by a middle-aged-mom blouse, complimented by oversized-too-long-trying-to-cover-my-newly-hairy-legs sport shorts, and lumbering around in wide-width-probably-stark-white dad sneakers. Zero grace. No swag. #survivalmode
Put that all together, and who do you have? The person NO ONE wants to partner with - in gym class, in group work, at the lunch table.
Forever doomed to be a lone, lumbering tortoise.
I guess the other middle schoolers had it all together and couldn't be bothered by my neediness; it appeared as though they were cured, or never even suffered from, the disease of awkwardness. It must have been nice to be so evolved and so ahead-of-the-game at such a young age. #goodforthem #Imissedthevaccineforavoidingawkwardness
While this tortoise would have loved to move along in her own time, we all know the school day doesn't work like that. It's bell to bell, class to class, activity to activity, and it's straight-up strenuous.
Even when I showed up last - to class, to lunch, to gym - it didn't mean I wasn't trying. I wasn't lazy; in fact, I was the opposite of lazy. It might have looked like I was apathetic, strolling in as the bell rang or seconds after, but my nearly asthmatic, labored breathing told a different tale. I'm trying, people; I really am. I'm trying so hard that my scurrying has caused a serious daily chafe, even in these inordinately long shorts. #passthegoldbondmedicatedpowder
Huffing, puffing, chaffing, heart beating - the tortoise finally arrives for gym class. For me, gym class was always dreadful, no matter what the lesson plan was.
"What will today's nightmare be?" I asked myself.
Dodgeball? Picked last but thrown at (and out) first.
Volleyball? Picked last but skidding across the floor to prove my worth.
Laps? Oh God, why do you hate me?
Presidential Fitness Test? Just give me an F; my BMI already fails me before I even try.
Nope. None of the above. Not today.
It gets worse…
Dancing didn't scare me, but square dancing did; after all, it is a partner "sport." WHO WILL BE MY PARTNER?
The nerves steadily crept from my stomach and up my esophagus as I tasted the acid of last night's meatloaf and the recurring reflux of my pathetic life.
Best case scenario, which is literally the worst, is that the teacher might take pity on me and just instinctually choose me as her partner. When being the teacher's partner is your best bet, shit is looking bleak.
This story is already painful enough, so let's cut right to the chase. This teacher was a clueless, terrible woman, and she let me be square… all alone.
After a few demos of how to do-si-do, my fellow classmates started to partner up. I stood off to the side of the dimly lit gym and waited to see if I could blend in with the wall. Maybe it was the outfit I had on that day that made me stand out (surfer-length Hawaiian shorts and a striped, short-sleeved bumble-bee sweatshirt), but the teacher saw me. People always saw me.
I looked at the caged-in wall clock to see how much longer this nightmare would last. Forty more minutes. A blasted eternity. Dammmmmmmnnnnnnnn iiiiiiiiiiiitttttttttttt.
The teacher pushed play on her government-issued boom box, and I expected to hear some canned country music from a tape called "Square Dancing for Middle Schoolers." Wrong again. When she pushed play, the teacher's glance caught my eye, and I knew she saw me, alone, not moving. And I knew that I'd forever remember this moment because it had its own soundtrack.
And the title track of this middle-school bullshit experience was, "Don't Worry, Be Happy" by Bobby McFerrin.
After the first few beats of that song blasted out of those cheap speakers, the teacher stared me down with a get-moving-or-prepare-to-fail look; the look was accompanied by a get-out-on-that-squeaky-gym-floor-now! hand motion.
While all my swaggy classmates, the same ones who had it all figured out, snickered, as they tried to follow the teacher's shouted cues, I do-si-doed alone. The gym was their promenade. They locked arms and swung each other in and out of the circle.
And I swung myself around, one bent arm up in the air, locked with my imaginary partner. When the teacher yelled, "Circle left," I put my arms out and held the air while my classmates joined actual hands with their partners.
All while that asshole Bobby McFartFace sang this stanza:
Now there is this song I wrote
I hope you learned note for note
Like good little children, don't worry, be happy
Now listen to what I said, in your life expect some trouble
When you worry you make it double
But don't worry, be happy, be happy now
We constantly tell young people that school matters, that they will use these skills in the future. The only thing I learned that day in 4th grade gym class is that some people just get taller; they don't actually "grow up," or mature. My gym teacher was a prime example of that. She was just as socially-inept, inappropriate, and unprofessional as you would expect an average 10 year old to be. Let's hope that somewhere, someday, she's forced to square dance alone, as Bobby McFartFace serenades her with his carefree tunes. Karma, please move faster than a tortoise's pace.