I have all these great ideas in mind for blog posts, and I even have a couple of half-completed ones in my draft folder, but they all require research and looking things up and citing stuff, and maybe it’s because Mercury is in retrograde or maybe it’s because I’m feeling a bit sad because my husband is out of town, but I don’t really feel like looking things up and citing stuff.
See, I had this great plan to deal with my husband being out of town, in which I would take advantage of my solitude to do things like fill zine distro orders and write letters and work on zines and maybe even my sad book manuscript, which has gone untouched for about five months at this point. I was like, I shall be productive and amazing and everything will be great, yay!
But instead, I moped and drank beer and ate Chinese food and watched “How I Met Your Mother” and read Hyperbole and a Half and in general was the exact opposite of productive and amazing and great. I’ve managed to do the bare minimum of what is required of me as a human being – eating and work and personal hygiene and animal care – but beyond that, I’ve got nothing.
So in honor of the stench of failure that has permeated the last few days, I’m going to tell you a story.
When I was a sophomore in high school, I saw a flier announcing tryouts for the basketball team the next day, so I borrowed my older brother’s Nikes and showed up in the gym after school. I’m not sure what compelled me to do this, as I had never played on anything more challenging that a church intramural league and never exhibited anything that could be remotely construed as athletic ability. In fact, my athletic abilities were so pitiful that I was often the last person chosen in elementary school for games of kickball and soccer, and the team that ended up with me usually groaned and rolled their eyes in disgust.
I joined the group of girls in the gym and lined up for drills. We shot free throws and did lay-ups and ran grapevines and suicides. When it was time to show our backpedaling skills, I sped as fast as I could down the court. I was nearly three-quarters of the way there when I slipped, flew into the air and landed, palms first, on the parquet. I got up, shook it off and ran back. The second time I came down the court, I ran across the exact same spot, and once again, slipped, flew into the air and landed on the heels of my palms. This time, I actually hurt myself. By the time I finished the drill, my wrists had swelled up to the approximate size and shape of fire hoses.
When the coaches posted the roster after the tryout, I was stunned to see my name toward the bottom of the list of sophomores. Granted, only nineteen girls had tried out for fifteen spots, but still! I was on the team!
Later, after the glow of acceptance and accomplishment wore off, I realized the coaches must have had a bit of a quandary on their hands with me, and I envisioned the back-and-forth.
“Well, she’s really tall.” “Did you see her try to make a lay-up? Drunk three-legged hippos have more grace.” “And did you see her repeatedly bite it on the court? She’s a total klutz.” “But she got up and kept running even though her wrists were like the size of tree trunks. She may be clumsy but she’s dementedly stubborn. And hey! She’s really tall! Like a Sasquatch!” “You’re right. She’ll look intimidating on the bench and the other team might actually be frightened of her. Let’s pick her.”
But like I said, I was just grateful to not be one of the four girls who didn’t make the team. So I showed up for every single practice and I worked as hard as I possibly could to muster some kind of ability from the tangle of bones and skin I called my body. I didn’t really care that I wasn’t all that good. I was delighted that I was good enough to Be on a Team. I wore my Lady Vikings sweatsuit to school with pride. When we finally got our uniforms, I put it on and practiced posing in front of the mirror with a basketball.
And then the day of the first home game arrived. I carefully packed my white home uniform in my Lady Vikings bag, making sure to bring a pair of white underwear so I wouldn’t have to deal with the embarrassment of visible panties while on the court. Little did I know that wearing visible panties would have been a stubbed toe compared to the compound fracture of humiliation that awaited me on the court.
My parents weren’t able to make it to the game, but my older sister and brother were, and they marshaled several of their friends to join them. As a result, I had a whole cheering section in the bleachers, waiting to watch me in my moment of glory.
The game tipped off and I sat on the court, paying rapt attention to the skill with which the starting sophomores handled the basketball. Almost all of them were destined for the junior varsity team at the least, although I suspected that at least one of them would be varsity before the month was over. I particularly admired one girl named Julie, who was two inches taller and about fifty pounds heavier than me, and clearly knew how to use her body to her advantage.
The first quarter ended, and the second quarter began. After a few minutes, the ball went out of bounds. My coach pointed at me and said, “Caitlin, get in there.”
My moment of truth. My chance to shine. I was going to show the world, or at the very least, the twenty people in the bleachers, that I was no longer the clumsy dork who flinched whenever a ball was thrown her way. As I trotted out to my spot on the court, I began envisioning my brilliant athletic future: dressed in a varsity letter jacket, getting a scholarship to UCLA, playing in the Olympics, making best friends with Rebecca Lobo. I was going to be amazing at this. I just knew it.
The ref blew the whistle, and the guard passed the ball inbounds. I stood by the hoop, waiting to swat basketballs down like a ponytailed King Kong. An opportunity soon presented itself in the form of a pint-sized guard who tried to shoot from just inside the three-point line. Her shot ricocheted like a brick off the front of the hoop, and it landed right in my hands.
Holy crap, I thought. I have the ball! Wait….I have the ball? What am I supposed to do with it?
My little brain short-circuited as I tried to remember what exactly I was supposed to do with this big, round thing in my hands.
Oh, that’s right.
I turned around, aimed for the hoop and took my shot.
And I missed.
I got my rebound and took another shot.
It was at this moment that the shouts of “Caitlin! Caitlin!” began to penetrate the adrenalized fog that had consumed my brain. I looked at the bench. My coach was waving frantically.
“Caitlin! You’re shooting at the wrong basket!” She pointed down the court. Every other player was standing there, watching, jaws agape at the colossal exhibition of fail they had just witnessed.
I grabbed the ball after my third attempt at making a basket – mind you, I am standing four feet away from the hoop, with no one around me for at least a hundred feet, and I still could not make the shot – and passed it down the court.
A few sweet, merciful seconds later, the ball went out of bounds. We ran to the sidelines and Coach pointed at me, then the bench.
I glanced at my cheering section. They were besides themselves with laughter. Their faces were crimson, and had they not had one another to lean on for support, they probably would have fallen off the bleachers and cracked their heads on the floor. I slunk down to my end of the bench and sat there quietly for the rest of the quarter. I hoped that if I became still enough, I would blend into the surroundings and no one would see me or remember what I had done.
That was too much to ask of the universe, because if anyone remembered, it was my siblings and their friends. They found me after the game – which we lost, by the way – and started teasing me immediately. “Those are some nice skills you got there, Caitlin! You and your mad basketball skills. She’s got skills!”
The teasing continued for days, weeks. Soon, I had a new nickname.
“What up, Skills?”
They kept coming to my home games, and they’d start yelling when I stepped onto the court. “Go Skills! Give me an S! Give me a KILLS! What’s that spell? SKILLS!”
It’s been sixteen years since that game took place, and still, when I call my brother or my sister, the first thing they say is “What up, Skills?” My sister once sent me a keychain she found of Napoleon Dynamite with the word “Skills” on it. When I die, my tombstone could very well read “Here lies Skills.”
I have been Skills longer than I have not been Skills, is what I am saying. I will probably be Skills when I am ninety and in a nursing home somewhere.
And I’m fine with this. I’m not the best basketball player, and I never have been. I’m not actually all that good at any sport that involves a ball or hand-eye coordination or flailing arms and legs. I’m good at running, but I think that a big part of that is because of that demented stubbornness to keep on despite pain, and also because all you have to do is lurch forward. I am good at lurching.
I kept playing despite my humiliating showing on the court. I kept showing up to all of my practices. I tried hard to get better, and I did improve, a little bit. I managed to score a few points during the season, and I became a decent rebounder. And I never lost my enthusiasm for being part of a team. At the end of the season, when we had our awards banquet, my coach gave me an award. She said I was always the happiest to be there.
And it’s true. I was.