kickball showdown, or, my mom doesn't really have cancer
The year is 1978. The grade is third. The setting is the Ridge Street School, in Port Chester, New York.
The mood: anxious
Who has the mood: me
What time of day is the mood: afternoon
When were the seeds of this story sown: That morning
That morning, I got dressed in a state of ignorant bliss. There were events coming that day, but my memory had done away with all knowledge of them.
I was 8. I had a fairly new haircut - a NOT DOROTHY HAMILL haircut. A pixie haircut. It behooved me to dress like a girl those days, as my dad had exclaimed when I came home from getting that haircut, "How's my second son??!!" This had traumatized me to the point that my mom kept me home from school the next day to buy me girly things like bobby pins with ribbons on them, dresses, fancy little shoes. We stopped by the school after we'd purchased/I'd donned these things, to pick up my homework for the next day. The boy I had a crush on was there, and I decided to take a positive, pro-active approach to dealing with my untested new look. I said to him:
Hey, look at my hair! And if you don't like my hair, look at my dress! And if you don't like my dress, look at my shoes!
He looked blankly at me. I quickly moved along.
By the way, my shoes were clogs. Fateful clogs.
So, we're back to that morning, the morning of the anxious afternoon, when it all went down. I got dressed in a girly, girly pinafore and my fabulous new burgundy leather clogs. I had tennis shoes, sneakers, what you will. I owned some, I had some. But I didn't wear them. I could have. But I did not.
The morning passes, the early afternoon arrives.
Who was the messenger? Was it Dana Sugarman? Was it Lauren Ponterio? Was it Debra Drimmer? I can't tell you. My memory shot that messenger instantly.
What was the message?
Hey, today is the Third Grade/Fourth Grade Kickball Match.
What? What? It's what? No! No! No, it isn't! Aarrgh, Aarrgh! My shoes, I'm...AAAH!
That was part of my internal monologue. Other parts of my internal monologue were:
*&^Fqv8nw clogs @*@)(#%28 no good! (*&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;H%^&R^&## phys ed bad already me @#((*%$& search search (*&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;YWT^&98%$% saline eyes wet wet it's going now @*(#@(*#
I was crying within seconds of receiving The Message.
You see, I was NO ATHLETE. None, none at all. I made up every excuse possible to sit out of gym class. My gym teachers got so sick of hearing things like, "My doctor said that I'm supposed to sit down and rub my leg all the time" that they stopped challenging me about them. They let me sit down and fakey rub my fake leg problem, they were beyond caring. Once in a while I'd be like, "Oh, the Virginia Reel, I'll do that" or "Today is that giant parachute we all wave around, I am in!" But mostly, physical sportly activity inspired in me a sick terror.
So, I was crying. This wasn't a Phys. Ed. kickball game. This was the for-real, a-whole-grade-versus-another-whole-grade, event-status kickball game. It seemed large and unstoppable and I didn't know where to appeal to get myself out of it.
And I was wearing fricking clogs. I could have been wearing special bionic Harry Potter Space Kickball shoes and I still would have sucked it out there, but I was wearing clogs, which would reduce my already negative level of athleticism to Honest-to-God Black Hole levels.
While I was crying, I had a flash that it was totally uncool to be crying about kickball. Because then I'm not just a non-athletic dork, I'm also a baby.
Somebody asked me what I was crying about. Who was it? A friend? A teacher? I don't know. I was in a panic, scrambling internally for some better reason to be crying.
I found it.
I had it.
I said: My mom has cancer.
As soon as I said it, I knew it was poorly thought out, but it proved to be very immediately effective. This girl's no baby! Hey! Her mom has cancer! Oh, no! Are you all right? Is she all right?
I'm all right, she's all right, it's just, um, that she has cancer.
Let me state for the record that my mom did not have, does not currently have, and has never had cancer. She is perfectly healthy.
But the sympathy flo-o-o-owed that day. Oh yeah! This is stressful, this lie, but not as stressful as kickball!
And you know what? We got phone calls to the house, checking on my mom's health. It is possible that there were flowers. My mom would hang up, puzzled. BUT THERE WAS NO RETRIBUTION. THE COWS DID NOT COME HOME TO ROOST. THE CONSEQUENCES WERE ONLY THAT I DIDN'T HAVE TO PLAY KICKBALL THAT DAY. NO ONE SPOKE OF IT. I WAS NOT BUSTED. I felt weird and nervous for a while, but the other clog did not drop, and soon after that we moved to Seattle.
It's my hope that my psyche has ironed out whatever corrupt curl was left by the total consequencelessness of that day.