LJ Idol Season Six Week 11: Run, Don’t Walk
January 23, 2010 § 40 Comments
Gym Class is of the devil. Especially if you are an overweight kid with asthma.
Then it is anathema.
I have plenty of horrible memories from this travesty they call “education”, such as the “1.5”, a device of torture implemented while I was in school which entailed forcing children to run a mile and a half in under… what like 16 minutes? Psh. I think I did 22. Walking the whole way with the coach yelling, “Come on, Brooks, can you at least try to run?”
But I absolutely refused to run in high school, and looking back, I think I can find the psychological trigger in middle school.
My middle school, to put it bluntly, was a hell-hole. A more virulent race of sadistic little brutes I cannot imagine. These are the kinds of schooling experiences that trigger off Columbine level retaliation.
I moved to Pennsylvania from Texas in the sixth grade. It was an interesting transition, and culture-shock to say the least, as I went from an elementary school in which I was a minority, to a middle school where there were NO children of color. As I sit here today and try to remember, I can think of no one who wasn’t white. And racism and bigotry were out in the open for all to see. I heard the “N” word more there than I had my entire upbringing in Texas.
At this new school, there appeared to be very little tolerance for anything new or different, and since I was both I made very few friends in the time I spent there, from sixth grade to the middle of 10th grade. The reasons I left in the middle of tenth grade are traumatic and worthy of their own telling, but I won’t go into that today.
No, today we turn the spotlight of bitter nostalgia on a day in eighth grade gym when the class had been divided across several fields to play various games. My group was in the farthest field playing kickball, which I didn’t mind because it was essentially the same as baseball, and I had been in Little League as a kid, so it had an air of familiarity about it.
It was a beautiful day, as I recall. Springtime, blue skies, green grass, cool breeze. Despite the temperate weather, I was wearing sweat pants instead of the requisite gym shorts. I always wore sweatpants and an extra baggy t-shirt– the uniform of the chubby girl.
I was relegated to outfield– the lowly position of the chubby girl– and then it happened: the ball shot past me and went far afield, inducing me to run off after it.
I hated running. Not because it hurt or gave me a stitch in my side or could induce an asthma attack, but out of that tender self-consciousness that is present in young teenage girls– I didn’t want to be a spectacle.
Do you remember what it was like to do any physical activity with someone (or a group of someone’s) watching? It’s like you can’t think of how to move in a natural way. You become conscious of how your arms move, and you start to imagine how you must look to others, and then you begin to think you are moving in an odd, awkward way (which, by now, you probably are.)
Now imagine if folks begin to point out in reality the imagined fears you’ve built up in your mind.
My nightmare was realized that day as I scurried off to retrieve that ball.
As I picked it up and turned to run back to our field, one of my classmates hollered, “Run, Cellulite, run!!”
I froze in my tracks and stared at a boy, who, till that day had never joined the others in tormenting me. I never thought of him as a friend, but had certainly considered him safe until that moment.
He yelled it again, this time inspiring the age old hit of children around the world: the School Yard Chant.
Y’know in movies when they do that camera thing where they zoom in on the individual, and every thing else seems to disappear? Yeah, that happened to me. I took one painful look at the ringleader’s face, chucked the ball at his stupid red-head as hard as I could and then stormed off the field. A couple of boys from a field or so over tried to stop me to find out what was wrong, why was I crying. But I didn’t stop, I just went back to the locker room, changed my clothes and waited for the bell.
Apparently, those two boys found out what had happened, because as I made my way to our next class, I saw the two of them talking to our teacher, and all three cut their eyes at me as I approached.
When we had all taken our seats, Mr D stood at his podium and looked over our class, pursing his lips and glowering threateningly. Heck, I was afraid of what he was about to say or do. He proceeded to launch into a tirade about how disgusted he was with my classmates and how disappointed he was in the way that they treated one another. Without naming names or specifics ( there was no need at that point) he made it clear in no uncertain terms that bullying would not be tolerated in his class.
It was the first time in that school that a teacher had defended me from my daily tortures: most of it happened right under their noses to which they turned a blind eye. I looked to the boys who had told Mr D about it; one was someone who teased me from time to time, the other was new to our school that year, but had somehow become quickly popular.
“How does Mr D know what happened?” I whispered to the new kid who sat near me.
He shrugged nonchalantly, ” I told him.”
I’ve never forgotten the humiliation of that day, and never ran in gym class again. But I also have never forgotten the one time when someone went to my defense and became a hero to me.
Thanks, Mr D, Jason, and Joe.