Monday, November 21, 2011

In Which I Embark On a Series of Essays

In another take on a writing/blogging experiment, I've decided, right now, at this very moment, to start an essay series on this blog. Just kidding. I actually put quite a bit of thought into this. 

So, since you're all DYING to know, here's the deal:

Rather than randomly posting my essays here and there as I have previously, I'd like to start using this blog more productively in the hope that I can ultimately piece these writings together as a collection. 

It's tentatively called: A Walking Contradiction.  And here is the first essay. 

A Walking Contradiction

 I. Kickball Days

When I was a kid, my closet was a crazy mishmash of hand-me-downs from my brother and new, “girly” clothes, typically from Kids-R-Us. I loved everything about Kids-R-Us—the shopping carts with colorful balls that slid back and forth across the handle, the “Girls” section, everything.

8th birthday, 1992
Maybe what I loved most about going to that store was that whatever outfit I found, it was all mine—the flowers, prints, purples, or otherwise girly aspects of it marked it as something special and new, that was mine, and only mine.

But this is contradictory, because I loved my hand-me-downs just as much, and wore them like a uniform as I played kickball with my classmates at recess. I played “like a boy” because unlike many of the girls who would sometimes join in, I did not wince as the ball came rolling toward me, nor whiff it and giggle; rather, I would kick it soundly, run as hard and madly as I could, and when on defense, throw it fiercely at a running player. I would do this, with my boy tennis shoes strapped to my feet, as I always favored the blacks and reds of the boy’s shoes over the annoying pinks and glitters marking all the girl’s shoes.

Even then, during those playground days, I was overcome by intense pride and shifting loyalties. When another girl would inadvertently prove the boys supposedly right, that “we,” the girls, weren’t good at sports, thanks to a high-pitched squeal as she missed the ball with a poorly placed kick from a pink-shoelaced foot, I would shudder with embarrassment and annoyance, but also yell at any boy that poked fun. I’d think how I’d dispel their notions with my next kick or great catch. Worse, though—or more confusing, perhaps—was my occasional anger when another girl, more like me, stepped up to the plate. I felt an unmistakable but disconcerting fury, rather than allegiance, to my fellow tomboys.

Damn right, World Cup 94 shirt
These confusing feelings, though nonsensical in many ways, aligned perfectly with the clothes in my closet. I wanted to be both things at once—the girl wearing purple prints with boy’s tennis shoes—and could not understand why no one else seemed to be like me. Instead, there seemed to be definite, concrete lines. Either I was supposed to be a girly girl who whiffed her kicks, or I had to be just like the boys. I felt myself pulled in both directions. By 5th grade, I felt unbearably left out that I was not only unable, but I was completely uninterested in, doing flips on the bars with the other girls, but at the same time, I felt a secret, but immense pride at being the only girl on the basketball court at recess. I missed out on the female bonding, but it was worth it, once I was standing in the line from recess back to class, sweating, beaming, and high-fiving my equally sweaty teammates, the boys.

But then came junior high. I didn’t want to admit that it was no longer simply “okay” to be the tomboy, the only girl on the court with a bunch of boys. Suddenly, everything had changed, and I didn’t like it one bit. The boy who had always been my indoor recess buddy and nemesis in checkers was now calling me the President of the Itty Bitty Titty Committee. And the boy I’d once traded Kirby Puckett cards with and fought viciously against in tetherball tournaments would no longer look me in the eye.

What happened? I thought. When did it all change?

Everyone was “going with” someone but me, and I felt like a freak. I was awkward, with thick hair that earned me the unfortunate nickname of “Bush,” paired with equally thick eyebrows. Suddenly, the boys no longer thought I was cool for having the newest Adidas or a new Umbro t-shirt. In fact, they barely talked to me at all, and usually it was to talk to my pretty, blonde friend instead.

I continued to be the prude of the group who had never made out with a boy or had a boyfriend. I hated how everyone referred to it as "Frenching" and "going with"—how do you French? where was everyone going?— and above all, I dreaded going to slumber parties where the other girls would share all their boy stories. Just as I could never do a roundoff or a backflip, I had no boy stories that didn’t involve tagging along with my older brother and his friends, and therefore nothing to contribute.

I was deemed safe, still just the tomboy kid sister whose boobs hadn’t come in yet, and maybe never would.

But then they came in. And everything was different, yet again. I lost my role as President of the Itty Bitty Titty Committee. (Yeah. Shut it, junior high boys!) The older girls who had once looked at me indifferently now eyed me as if I'd done something wrong. The boys who had once not looked at me at all now looked at me all the time.

I don’t know how I looked back at everyone, but I imagine it was a mishmash of wide-eyed stares and squinty, defensive glares. The only time it didn’t matter was when I was safely in a classroom seat, because though I might suddenly have boobs and yet still be awkward, I was also a smart kid, a straight-A student. But in the hallway, cafeteria, or bathroom, it was a different story, and I was terrified. I think I dreaded passing by the pretty older girls even more than the football players who’d whistle or yell as I walked through the gym. I couldn’t figure it out: Was I supposed to be a pretty girl, a smart girl, or a tomboy? Was I allowed to be all of these things?

All the pretty girls flirted easily with the boys, giggling and joking with them. I was alternately terrified of, and in utter disdain for, the boys though. When they’d whistle, I’d feel my body tense and my face flush, like in the old days on the playground when a girl would miss a kick and the boys would laugh it off as typical girl behavior. It didn’t feel like a compliment. It felt like an insult. So I looked straight ahead, head held high, and ignored them.

Again, the confusion. So I was pretty, then? But I couldn’t be, because the pretty girls felt like a breed I didn’t belong to. I hated and was fascinated by my new breasts and I hated and envied the cheerleaders and I just flat out hated the boys.

Suddenly, like loathing being unable to easily fit in with the other girls yet loving being the lone female on the court, like rocking both my Sambas and a pink flowered bag, my breasts had become both a source of power and my own worst enemy.

Kickball days were over.


Stay tuned for Part II, where I’ll probably talk more about boobs! Actually, I'm probably going to talk a little about boobs, and a lot about high school, and friends, and gossip.


  1. This was my favorite line: "I hated how everyone referred to it as "Frenching" and "going with"—how do you French? where was everyone going?"

  2. ha! Thanks Beth! I actually added that line when I was making revisions...Glad I did. :)

  3. Al, I always thought you were pretty fantastic, and the best locker buddy ever! (don't tell Kelly)

  4. Timmy! Thanks, old locker buddy. And likewise, of course. Hope you're doing great.

  5. I love the photos! And I'm in awe of your World Cup '94 shirt. Sweet!-Eileen

  6. Thanks, Ms. Anonymous/Eileen! You do, of course, realize you're the prettier blonde friend I refer to in the essay? :) I'd still be your sidekick any day!