Sunday, September 12, 2010

Another Lesson



Just one more school story.

When we moved from the West Coast to the Midwest, overnight I changed from a so-so gymnast into Nadia Comaneci.

Two –thousand miles hadn’t altered my accuracy or timing; I still often missed my mark and went SPLAT off the unevens. What had changed was that only I dared to swing at all.

Gymnastics in this instance proved my entrĂ©e to instant acceptance and popularity. Though no one else particularly wanted to perform or ever performed, they loved to watch me. Back in California, I would occasionally ribbon in balance beam or tumbling; in Naperville, I was a middle school version of cirque du soliel. I’d open every school event and assembly on stage with a cartwheel, roundoff, and back walkover.

Regardless of whatever play we put on at school or in community theater, they’d insert some scene to justify a two-minute backflip routine. The Glass Menagerie or the Iceman Commeth, no play was so august that, at some point, the characters couldn’t pause while I performed a series of hand springs.

I didn’t wake up from this dream until the school entered me and only me in the Regionals at Peoria. I had a nasty realization while waiting my turn at the floor ex -- maybe the girls in Naperville didn’t practice gymnastics, but the girls in every other Illinois city did. And they must have practiced a lot because they were really, really good.

Fame and early acclaim had made me lazy. I had forgotten the nicities, such as pointing my toes and clean lines. I rarely worked on the little dance steps -- the glue that held one’s routine together. To make matters worse, I hadn’t vaulted in months. Well, it was too late now.

Fortunately, only my gym teacher witnessed the humiliation (no one ever made a trip to Peoria unless absolutely necessary). I think I excused my performance by saying I strained my ankle. But hell, Miss Shotz wasn’t blind. In the end, Naperville had been Brigadoon -- my talent existing only inside city limits.

Though intellectually I understand relativity, emotionally it has been and will continue to be a cold, hard battle. I should have reconciled myself back on the day I went to the mat in Peoria, Illinois. Acceptance wouldn’t have stopped all my SPLATS over the years, but maybe it would have lessened their velocity and softened the blow.

Or maybe not.

33 comments:

Mister Earl said...

Another wonderful installment of growing up all over America. "I was a middle school version of cirque du soliel."

Coming to terms is a subject we could explore endlessly. Dreams and acceptance. The strange phenomenon of not wanting to paint if you're not Picasso - which I suspect is uniquely American. Faulkner said, "The end of wisdom is to dream high enough to lose the dream in the seeking of it."

But your writing does have what it takes for the big leagues.

Bellis said...

I know just how you must have felt. I have vivid memories of my new school's swimming gala when I was 11. I had just learnt to swim, so I entered the freestyle race, not knowing what it meant. To my horror, all the other girls were doing crawl and I only had breaststroke. Struggling to finish hours after everyone else, the last thing I wanted to hear was my father's encouragement from the poolside. Why had he not warned me? I've never entered a sports match since. Don't know how anyone can bear to take part in something and come last - but I guess someone has to. We should applaud them.

Linda said...

Ha....at least you had a bit of a career...I just had a rear.

pasadenapio said...

Memories are made of this...

Anonymous said...

It's never easy to fall from grace.

Bellis said...

Forgot to say, I cracked up when I read about your roll-on cameos in the school plays! Did you appear in Waiting for Godot?

Cafe Observer said...

At least you learn your lessons. Later or sooner.

Paula said...

I so hope kitty finds a home soon. I love the centerfold look...

altadenahiker said...

I am happy to report I have a niece who points her toes and sails through the air like a bird. She's rightfully admired.

WV: Flowns. She does.

Shell Sherree said...

Still, there's a lot to be said for being a big fish in a little pond. Not many people can boast of performing hand springs during a public performance of The Glass Menagerie. My wv is tullmiss. Damn, I wish it was tumblemiss.

Marjie said...

I don't think many people go to Peoria just for funsies. I didn't find it that much of a hoot, myself, back in the 1990s, when we had business dealings there (nor was it that profitable, making it even less fun).

Jean Spitzer said...

Gotta splat sometimes, or you're not trying enough.

Jean Spitzer said...

And I think this would swim in any size pond.

Susan C said...

I'm just impressed that you could do continuous back flips. I never even mastered a single cartwheel.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

Maybe your gym teacher was equally humiliated (among colleagues) for not going over the finer points with you. Bet that was a silent drive back to Naperville.

Actually, I'm a fan of Peoria.

Many Thanks from me, Laurel, Robin and Bastet

Carolynn said...

I could never do a proper cartwheel, much less a back flip and forget the splits! So, you're still a winner in my books.

Brenda's Arizona said...

I agree with Carolyn. A winner you are! And some memories are just better left in the closet, ya know? SPLAT.

TheChieftess said...

Such a poignant and very real memory that I'm sure we all can relate to!!!

Ken Mac said...

oh nadia!

altadenahiker said...

You guys made me laugh.

Truth in advertising: When I say series of backflips, I mean two in a row; adjust; two more in a row; adjust, etc. A slight hitch in the getalong.

Desiree said...

No, never, "just one more." We want more and more!

dbdubya said...

Coming in last in any competition is nothing to be ashamed of so long as you gave it your best effort. Some of the most dramatic and inspirational stories to come out of sporting events are not about the winner, but rather those who tried their best and failed. The coverage of the Olympics are filled with these stories, and remember the "Thrill of Victory, and Agony of Defeat" from the old Wide World of Sports show on Sunday afternoons.

Somehow I can picture the Hiker being the ski jumper who fell on the ramp as she competed in Peoria.

WV: dense - as in the gymnastics who took Karin to Peoria was dense.

Mister Earl said...

If you haven't heard Laurie's Nadia story, you need to.

MG said...

You are an amazing freak of nature.


Astounded.

altadenahiker said...

Dez and MG are pulling my left leg, the one that doesn't point the toe.

DB, you're my favorite chief in the whole world.

Petrea said...

"No one ever made a trip to Peoria unless absolutely necessary." Reminds me of a joke I once knew referring to Peoria as "Pyorrhea."

I can picture you--so bright and confident. No one wanted to shoot you down.

Susan Campisi said...

You are a woman of many talents. Love the story.

The picture of Nadia was enough to send me down memory lane. We had a great gymnastics team in school and all of my girlfriends were on it. They spent hours after school in various yards doing Nadia style front and back flips across the lawn while I tried to learn how to do a cart wheel. I wonder what's worse: not having any talent whatsoever or being really good but jut not good enough in certain company.

Susan Campisi said...

Oh, forgot to say I was happy to see Bastet in her rocking chair. You've got a big heart.

Miss Janey said...

Oh, how Miss J envied those brave and bouncy gymnast gals back in the day... The Hiker's story reminds Miss J of her audition for "Fiddler on the Roof" her sophomore year. Miss J, a trained singer, decided to audition for a DANCE role. Its still unfathomable to her why. Even all these later recounting her clumsy missteps makes Miss J redden in embarrassment.

Miss Janey said...

Oh, how Miss J envied those brave and bouncy gymnast gals back in the day... The Hiker's story reminds Miss J of her audition for "Fiddler on the Roof" her sophomore year. Miss J, a trained singer, decided to audition for a DANCE role. Its still unfathomable to her why. Even all these later recounting her clumsy missteps makes Miss J redden in embarrassment.

BANJO52 said...

"Just one more school story." ???
I, for one, am not tired of them.

Gymnastics during classic drama--someone should patent that idea. Act 5 of Lear, and here comes Cordelia, cartwheeling lugubriously to tend the downed father-king.

I'm not gonna lie--that was fun to say. And that play's a religious text in my book.

Virginia said...

I love your stories KB. You never fail to make me conjure up my own. I couldn't do Jack, so I admire your whirls and twirls and self confidence. It made you what you are today, a gifted writer and a helluva good friend to us all.

Soilman said...

There are just so many goddamn people in the world these days. If there were fewer, not only would I be right about everything, I'd be a genius.

Relatively speaking.