I hated middle school gym class more than anything in the world. I was always more of an academic, especially in the awkward years of middle school when I weighed the same at 5’6 that I do now. I was a bit of a butterball with a confidence complex and a complete distaste for anything too physical. More than anything, there was nothing worse about every Monday, Wednesday, and Red Friday (because South-Doyle put an alternating degree of importance on physical education and music) than the idea of going into the boys’ locker room. I wasn’t popular with the guys in elementary school; I always sat at the girls’ table, so I didn’t have a lot of hope for middle school. I wasn’t going to chance it by going into that locker room. Anything could happen in there. Once, I heard someone even got “pantsed.” I couldn’t handle that kind of humiliation. Not then.
Luckily, after voicing the concern to my mom that we had to dress out for each day of gym, Momma and I came to a crafty conclusion. You see, students didn’t have to dress out if they came to gym in athletic shorts or active wear, in general. Thus began my five year stint with windbreakers. Windbreakers are kind of like track suits… not the classy velour ones that old women and mob wives wear, but rather the plasticky ones that make a powerful swishing noise as you walk down the hallway. Obviously, this would remedy the changing in the locker room problem; however, this did nothing for my popularity points. If I had approached Regina George’s table in the lunchroom, I would have been met with a startling, “YOU CAN’T SIT WITH US!”
There was only two defining moments that I would choose to sum up my three years as a middle school athlete. It happened in the eighth grade. I honestly try to block out the first two years because nothing really remarkable happened… or at least nothing that would present me in a positive light. Middle school is a mean place: a mean place that makes you do mean tasks, as if it’s society’s way of testing you to see if you can handle the real world. In my twenty-two years of life, I can’t remember a time when I thought that life was any harder than middle school. In my first two years of gym, the only two things that were determined was that I could run a mile in 14:48 (which was a bold 12 seconds shy of the time you had to meet to pass the class) and that I was allegedly homosexual. In a surprising turn of events, one boy in my class used my high voice and unbridled fear of the locker room against me. Touche, determined sixth grader. Touche. However, my two shining moments were the small glimmers of hope that the South-Doyle Middle School gym offered me: good alphabetical placement and an opportunity to be the men’s volleyball manager/second-string player/water boy.
Finally, after Jimmy King moved to a different school, I got the chance to sit next to Megan Johnson. We had an off and on romance since probably fifth grade, and by “off and on romance,” I mean that I had a giant crush on her and would sometimes stare at her in class when she wasn’t looking. Actually, now that I think back to it, my budding relationship with her was kind of creepy. I really couldn’t help myself though. She was everything I wanted in a girl. Independent. Rebellious. I mean, at 14, she had her hardship license and smoked Clove cigarettes for God’s sake. Megan, if you ever read this, I loved you a lot, and that love was super real. Also, if you could let me know where you got those Clove cigarettes, you’d be a gem. She was my eighth grade gym class thrill.
As far as the volleyball stint, there’s actually not a lot to say. I just tell people that I was part of the men’s volleyball team and ride out that semi-athletic dream boat as far as I can. It was pretty exciting, kind of being on a sport’s team, and it helped me realize that I really, really didn’t like the word “pussy,” which was apparently the team’s favorite word that year. I don’t know why, but I do remember it being said a lot.
Maybe those two shining moments weren’t so shiny after all; maybe I use those moments in the same way that clingy ex-girlfriends do in an attempt to turn a trainwreck of a situation into something kind of okay. Either way, I survived (barely) middle school gym class, though I didn’t officially retire my windbreaker, jacker and pants, until my junior year of high school. Public school is hard, especially when you’re shaped like an eggplant. That’s why the future happens I suppose; once I hit my growth spurt, everything changed. My weight kind of evened out, I went to college where academia meant much more, and the only physical activity I’ve had to do was a class in fly fishing and ballroom dance. Just like the commercial says, it gets better.