Sunday, September 12, 2010
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 entrée 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.