So far, I’ve somehow managed to escape the yearly student-faculty kickball game. One year I was pregnant; one year they had enough players and nobody asked me. One year I jokingly said I would act as “cheerleader,” which I figured was slightly less odious than actually being on the team. But this year, they’ve been bothering me. I thought about not going to school that day, but everyone knows I don’t want to play, and if I get a sub, they’ll know I’m staying home on purpose. Then I’ll seem weird. And I’ve been trying very hard during my eight years of working there not to appear as weird as I actually am.
I don’t think I’ve been particularly successful. If the conversation stays work-related, I’m fine. But as soon as things get personal, I start to panic. After eight years, I’m much better than I was at the beginning, when I’d sit silent in the lunchroom or at happy hour while everyone discussed the latest football game or basketball pool or where the best place is to get one’s nails done. If this went on longer than an hour I’d go all “Tell-Tale Heart”–get pale and sweaty and imagine that the co-workers who were chatting pleasantly were actually mocking me. Then I would leave, or if leaving would make me seem too weird, drink more. This is all to say that I’m sure I would function much better socially if I had a permanent vodka drip, but no medical professional seems willing to prescribe this. I say if teachers are allowed to drink coffee at school, there shouldn’t be anything wrong with my using alcohol. Medicinally.
I always thought I’d do better once I got married and had kids, because I figured the reason I felt like such a freak was that I was the oldest single person in the group, and I didn’t have anything to add to the conversation when people talked about their spouses and children. After getting engaged, I remember feeling that I could finally join the Married Chicks Club. I’d mused in my journal, “I wonder if once the talk of flowers and cakes is over, I’ll realize that I’m just as freaky and antisocial as I always was.” Three years later, I can confirm: Yep. I’m just as freaky and antisocial as I always was.
It’s not that I don’t KNOW the acceptable responses; it’s just that I can’t seem to do them. They feel unnatural, like a false identity. My teaching partner gets the brunt of it, and I can’t bring myself to apologize to him without seeming even weirder. Even though I know I’m supposed to say that something Joe Flacco did was really amazing, these are the kinds of things I say (and have actually said) to this poor man:
- “You shouldn’t eat anything that says ‘carmine coloring’ on the label because it comes from South American beetles that are immersed in boiling water and ground up into a powder.”
- “When it comes to Pokemon, Pikachu, Bulbasaur, Squirtle, Charmander, and Jigglypuff are definitely the top five.”
- “I don’t metabolize caffeine properly. I know this because in college my roommate made me drink a 20-ounce Coke and then tested my urine.”
One of our conversations went like so:
Me: “There’s something not right about these nuts.”
Him: “What, did you leave them here over the summer?”
Me: “No… I bought them in Seattle and then took them home on the plane, so I think something about the air pressure compromised the structural integrity of the nut.”
Compromised the structural integrity of the nut.
One might ask why I object to participating in a kickball game. I should appreciate an activity that doesn’t give me an opportunity to say something socially awkward. But I don’t, because having to play a team sport is hands-down the WORST possible social scenario. It’s totally exhausting for an introvert to keep track of all the information necessary to be successful in a game. It’s worse than happy hour. You have to know what everyone else on the field is doing, what they might do in the next few moments, what you should do in response to whatever they’re going to do, and how you’re going to react when you inevitably do the wrong thing and they laugh at you. Plus there’s this thing known as “trash talk” which I think involves both maligning someone’s mother and making threats. I’ve never done this and probably wouldn’t be good at it because the only time I ever feel comfortable threatening people is in my own head. Even then, the threats never involve anything physical; they’re usually just a challenge to a “spell-off” in which I would triumph over my opponent and reap all of the glory one naturally reaps after winning a spelling contest.
“Um, I’m planning on being pregnant that day,” I said when the date of the kickball game was announced. “So I can’t play.”
“You’re not pregnant,” sneered one of the science teachers.
I rolled my eyes. “OK, do you think we could at least review?” I said, ignoring him.
The whole team stared at me. “Review what?” asked my teaching partner, who was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and flip-flops and drinking out of a mug that said “Margaritaville” and obviously never had an anxiety attack in gym class.
“The rules,” I said. And then, a little quieter, “You know. Just…the rules.”
No one said anything, so I added, “It’s OK. I’ll watch a video tutorial.”
In the back of my head, I was still thinking I might be able to get out of playing. The alternative—standing on the field with the ball coming at me—seemed too much to bear. It would surely lead to the latest in a long line of sports-related humiliations, like the seventh-grade long jump debacle, which still haunts my dreams. The teacher made very clear to us that day, as we lined up for the running long jump, that we could not step over the foul line. If we did, we would “scratch” and then we would have to jump again. I did NOT want to jump twice, not to mention have the entire class laugh at me if I “scratched,” so as I ran up to the sand pit, I swore to myself that I would not step over that line. But then I started to panic. How could I be sure I wouldn’t? The whole thing was happening so fast, how could I control what my feet were doing? Which foot would be the last to leave the ground? I had to plan for this. I had to plan ahead. I had to… I was interrupted by the hoots of my classmates, who found it hilarious that I hadn’t jumped at all but had continued running right through the pit. Guess who had to jump twice.
While I don’t have the highest kinesthetic intelligence, I’m not completely unathletic; I just think too much and get in my own way. I can’t get out of my own head, can’t trust my body. Whenever I go hiking, I’m always seized by the fear that a neuron will misfire and I’ll leap off a cliff to my own death. Just like I ran right through that sand pit.
G. told me he’ll give me a few kickball lessons. I asked him to help me after determining that I was at the wrong time in my menstrual cycle to get pregnant by next Monday.