The Marine Corps Marathon celebrated its 40th anniversary this year and I’ll be celebrating (indifferently ignoring?) my own 30th anniversary next month. So, without further ado, I bring you: Scenes from My 30 Years.
The health classroom was located next to the school entrance. So close to freedom and yet so far. Normally, staying after school is not something one chooses to engage in of their own free will but I was there under the duress of looming college applications and the pervasive need to appear “well rounded”. The fall was when I put in my time doing Model UN after a successful audition essay got me a spot on the team. I would go on to unsuccessfully audition for Mock Trial that year as well, feeling the soul crushing blow of rejection. Even after I hadn’t succeeded at mock trial, though, as a freshman I still hadn’t learned that most valuable of high school lessons yet: stop fucking trying.
That lesson would be learned as a result of my trip to this health classroom at 2:30 in the afternoon.
Despite repeated failures at running the mile in gym class, I had grown up watching my more athletic cousins play a bevy of sports. Field hockey, ice hockey, and in the spring, lacrosse. My public high school, compared to their private all girls’ school, had basically three sports: soccer, tennis, and golf. Miraculously, though, a year before I started high school in an effort to become That Affluent White School in All the 2000s Teen Movies, we got two new sports: football and lacrosse. Word on the street was that the lacrosse team was so bad, they’d take anyone. Anyone. They’d never even won a game and I already brought my sick** stick handling skills to the table after playing while watching my cousins’ games. The golf team, by contrast, were undefeated state champions.
And so, that fateful day, I had reported to the health classroom to learn about trying out for the lacrosse team. Traditionally, the people like me joined the tennis team because that team never really competed, took everyone, and still gave you that “well rounded” air. This classroom on this particular day, though, was full of the jock girls. The girls who played on the soccer team and got really angry at you when you weren’t good enough to be on their team in gym. I’m sorry, Renee, when you kick a ball at my head my instinct is to duck and dodge, but you probably weren’t paying attention that day in science class when we discussed the reason for that. I didn’t quite have the competitive, cut throat, overt physical aggression that these girls possessed in spades. I was competitive, yeah, but I was more a behind-the-scenes scheming, mind competitor as opposed to hitting things as hard as possible or running so hard I threw up at the end.
But I was a freshman, I thought the world was full of limitless possibilities and dammit I wanted a sports uniform with a plaid skirt and though they were aggressive, these girls also appeared to have a bond, a community. As a high schooler, I wanted nothing more than to be part of a team and feel inclusion so despite fear and trepidation I remained focused on achieving my goal.
Tryouts for the lacrosse team were to last 2 solid weeks, Monday through Friday, starting in March. I remember trying to jog ahead of time. This was before cell phones and when the internet still required YOUR MOM TO GET OFF THE DAMN PHONE FOR FIVE MINUTES, so I basically went out, jogged for 2 minutes, felt like I was going to die, then decided my sick** stick handling skills would just win out the day. I showed up to the first day wearing six layers of clothing because it was freezing out. I can still hear the swish of my Old Navy practice pants, feel the freezing cold wind on my face, and the insane burning of my lungs.
The running portion started off each practice. Each time I was dead last. By like 10 minutes. The Coach in fact would ask me after each run what was wrong with me. “What’s wrong with you? What happened?” she would say and stare at me, expecting me to say I fell and broke my ankle but bounced back and kept running. The answer: My parents emphasized academics over sports and my mom was convinced that going on the grass would result of debilitating Lyme disease so you know, cross country running in a field was never going to be my greatest strength. And had I been able to breath my petulant high school self might’ve responded with a “fuck you” to boot, but since I couldn’t breath anyway I just huffed and puffed and thanked God every time it was over.
My redemption came in the form of the fact that I was The Only Person who could pick up a ball, cradle, catch, and throw. The garage door had the dents in it to prove that though I did not run, I was practicing in my own way and I thought this would be it, this would be enough.
Fast forward two weeks and alas, it proved to not be enough. I still remember looking at the list and realizing that I was in fact one of the only people who did not make the team. I can remember walking out of the locker room after gym class that day as my friends, Tara and Sarah who had also tried out, celebrated their acceptance to the team. I can still remember with incredible clarity how 15 year old me felt on that day and every time that season I saw them all walk around school in their uniforms before a game. Isolation is high school is hard, and their matching uniforms seemed to reinforce to me that I was Other, I didn’t belong.
My brief foray into trying to be athletic was thwarted and I felt enough of a shameful sting that I never bothered trying again until I started cautiously trying to run in 2012. Sometimes, I wonder how life could be different had I had the option to join a recreational team that just played for fun or if I’d learn to like, just Be Active or something. But instead I learned to just stop eating the following year and relished the feeling of control I had over myself.