The name of the game was dodge ball.
I recall the sense of dread that would come over me as one by one they would call out names. It wasn't of importance to me what team I was on. I had only one concern. "Please don't let me be last pick."
I usually wasn't. But I was rarely first pick, either.
This was in part due to the fact that I wasn’t allowed to wear pants in elementary school. A little girl in a dress isn’t as agile as the rest but I still managed to dodge the ball well. So I typically got picked somewhere near the rear.
At least it wasn't dead last.
Eventually I was allowed to wear shorts under my skirts on physical education days. This made me a more desirable choice, not to mention the added bonus that kids could no longer look up my dress when we had to rope climb.
I was able to put more of myself into the game and take more risks. This increased the likelihood of getting on a team faster and also gave my ego a bit of a boost.
It’s the little things when you are small.
Third grade went by, fourth grade, fifth grade--by then I was actually good not only at dodging balls but at most things related to sports.
By sixth grade I had "arrived." Well, nearly. I was a top pick for almost anything team related. Although never the captain I no longer lived in fear of being chosen last and the humiliation that accompanied it.
But that changed one fateful day.
It's interesting how certain memories are etched in the mind. Some experiences are burned into our brain like a brand of some kind. The fine details have blurred a bit with time but overall I have a strong recollection.
Our class had recess in the gym. I don't recall if the weather was inclement or this was our teacher's choice. What I do remember is that we were playing dodge ball and I was all in.
You see, I had something up my sleeve.
My sixth grade teacher had three pet students. This was obvious to everyone. Somehow it had become my goal to become the fourth.
Slowly I'd been inching my way toward this objective. I was being called on more often. I’d been left in charge for a brief moment--once or twice. My reputation was about to be elevated to an unforgettable level of importance.
How could I not be stoked?
Everyone has the desire to be chosen. We want to be remembered for being good at something. We enjoy being elevated and adored by our peers or deemed special by others.
I wanted all of this and did all that I could to reach the invisible bar which would allow me to rise to the top like the cream of the crop which I so desired to be.
With new found confidence I approached an afternoon game of dodge ball with more zeal than ever before.
As team member and opponents toppled one after another, I managed to remain safe. In fact, when it all boiled down to the nitty-gritty it was one-on-one. All that remained was me and the vicious opponent staring me down.
Resolving to win, I hurled the ball as hard as I could. Dodging it was much more difficult without others to hide behind. The game went on and on. Sweat was flying as we both defended our positions.
And then it happened.
As I was running backwards to prevent being hit with the ball I ran smack into the teacher who, for reasons I'll never understand, decided to step out onto the court unannounced.
I managed to escape being hit but not without trampling forcefully on my teacher's foot. Of course this was not done intentionally. Without eyes in the back of my head, I had no way of knowing she was behind me.
Her screech followed by a hard yank, which left my arm throbbing, ended the game that day. "As far as I'm concerned, you just lost young lady." I can still hear the anger in her voice and recall the strange sensation of color and heat rising fast up my cheeks.
She was in pain and I was deeply embarrassed.
Needless to say I lost my place in the running for "teacher's pet" that day. I have a feeling that she was angry with me long after the bruises healed. They were pretty significant. The next day she was sure to call me to the front of the class to show me the damage that I'd done to her foot.
I genuinely felt bad both for her and for me.
In the end I'd gotten what I wanted. It was something to be remembered for with an accompanying reputation, elevated status and plenty of attention. I was taunted for the rest of the school year for nearly breaking the teacher's foot.
Yes, the clumsy ox. I was now "that girl."
That pretty much ended my desire to get ahead of others in life. Or perhaps I should say any compulsion to climb the ladder at other people's expense.
I learned that what goes up must come down. It is easier to take those tumbles without everyone's eyes locked on you.
I also discovered that people are very fickle. You are at the top of their list one day and off the paper the next.
Mostly I realized that there is something about trying to schmooze my way to a place of elevation that is just not natural to me.
Who knew that a game of dodge ball could teach so much?