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High School Gym Class is Forever

August 15, 2011

We know my history with athletics.  It is a short history.  It has been documented in Soccer and Space CampThe Football Player and the Thespian and even in My Family Goes Golfing and I Return to a Personal Hell.  My brief and somewhat pathetic history with sports is not one I’m ashamed of, as I feel I have worked hard to redeem myself in adulthood.  I work out and run, and do my very best to be the fittest poetry-loving theater geek I can be.  Most days I am no longer self-conscious about my lack of athleticism, and given that I live 2,000 miles away from my sports-freak family, I do not feel the need to compare my abilities to others anymore.  I am quite content with the stretch of road and trail I run several times a week, however recently, that contentedness has been disturbed.  Who has disturbed this inner confidence and sense of self, you may ask?  None other than the return of the adolescent jock.

Enter the lifted red truck.

There is a red truck, a lifted red truck, that drives by me at approximately the same time during my afternoon runs.  The red truck honks.  At first I thought it was a nice honk of encouragement.   At first I thought the red truck run-ins were coincidental.  Perhaps someone was mistaking me for someone else.  But the same red truck has honked at me 3 days in a row, and today I saw something come out of the red truck that was an immediate game changer. Today, the arm of an adolescent boy leaned out of the passenger window and fist pumped me.  He flexed his ridiculous protein-shake arm muscles at me and fist pumped.  What does that even mean?  Obscene gesture?  Perhaps.  Boys being immature? Sure.  Reminder of why I know longer teach high school?  Absolutely.  Do I now feel like I am back in high school gym class and, with paranoia, being forced to decipher the codes of gestures of teenage boys?  Yes, yes I do.  The red truck fist-pumper has thrust me back in time.  And I do not like it one bit.

There are moments when I feel like I’m having that reoccurring dream where I find myself naked in the hallways of school and can’t wake up, except for me I’m just walking into freshman gym over and over and over again.  I see the jocks together on one side of the rubber room, and I feel their eyes on me as I pass by.  I know the drill – look down at my shoes, make no eye contact, and continue to stare at the ground until I am safely in the circle of the slightly overweight artist-academic-awkward-in-our-own-skin crew.  We will fondly be referred to as “the B Team” from that moment on.  I feel the eyes of the jocks sizing me up.  They probably point and laugh at my chicken legs, but I don’t dare turn around.  They smile and talk with each other, taking sick pleasure in their “strength of the pack” mentality.  I sit down with the B Teamers.  My all-American sister is sitting with the jocks and she wiggles her fingers at me.  Kill me.  Just kill me now.

I thought I was done reliving this scene.  I thought the part of me that would forever recoil in self-consciousness at the sight of Protein-Boys was gone.  But it’s amazing what one red truck will do to you.  It’s amazing how the inappropriate gestures of high school boys will suddenly send a grown woman back into her adolescence.  I’m definitely not on the B Team anymore, but the feelings of inadequacy are not all that hard to conjure up.

Unlike the me in high school, I have vowed to not let the Protein-Boys shake me.  I will keep running, and I will stand proud.  I will adjust the time of my runs, but should the red truck return I will be ready.  I might wave at them.  I might smile happily.  I might run with The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver and force them to be a listening audience on the side of the road.  I might flash my wedding band and convince them I’m in the Junior League with their mothers – they better watch it.  Regardless of what I do or don’t do, I will refuse to be sucked back into the feelings of high school gym.  I may not have known it back then, but I was far too good for those Protein-Boys.  I know it now.  Red truck beware.

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