Me and the Clique Girls (or Why I Am a So-So Swimmer)
I am feeling very work stressy. My work term ends in sixteen days, and I still don't know if it is going to be renewed or if I am going to end up back in my previous department. My work identity is for shit right now. I am also on the verge of getting my period, which never does good things to my brain; I want mine and the Fiery One's anniversary to be a good one, but we haven't made any concrete plans yet, and it's on Thursday; we have secured a spanky new apartment and have to move, and although I love that we're leaving this humble hovel, it makes my chest feel like it's being squeezed tighter and tighter and tighter and tighter.
In an effort to avoid boring you with work-related issues, moving stress, and my menstrual cycles, I am choosing a story from my past to share with you that contains a lot of the similar emotional value as my present situations.
The summer after grade six, I was eleven years old, and my parents enrolled me in swimming lessons. There was a particular level that I had not passed a year or two before, and they thought that I should give it another shot if I wanted to pursue higher levels. I wasn't terribly keen on going to swimming lessons that summer. By the end of grade six, most of the girls in my class were showing at least some sign that their bodies were growing out of childhood androgyny, but mine was definitely not. My family called me a late bloomer and pointed to the numbers of extraordinarily tall people in our family. We're all late bloomers, I was assured. This knowledge did offer some solace, but its power disappeared in the face of eight other girls with little nipply protuberances budding beneath their speedos who were each at least six inches taller than me.
I think I need to mention that they were all a grade behind me, as well. I wasn't just a little small, I was a lot small for my age. In a grade with seventy-six kids in it, I was the last in line on photo day when they lined us up by height. I was not normally at all aware of how small I was, but that summer at the pool it only seemed to highlight how undeveloped I was in other areas as well.
The first day of swim classes, I remember standing on deck after our first few laps, shivering in the sun, and marvelling at the length of the other girls' legs and the straightness of their teeth and the length of their hair. I thought they were at least a year older than me until they talked about how exciting it was to be going into grade six, as though it were a major leap in juvenile maturity. My little heart pruned like my fingers as it dawned on me that these young gazelles with nipply chests were a year younger than me.
This was just the first part of the first class, keep in mind.
I wanted to drop out right then. I had no big drive to excel at swimming, and having failed that class level once before did nothing for my confidence. By the second class, I was sure that my swimming lessons career was going to come to an end that summer.
I was always a little awkward around other girls. My interests were quiet and solitary, and the girls' giggly chatter eluded me. The other girls, save for one chubby and monsterly tall nordic named Elsa, were all from the same elementary school, and judging from their clique-ish whispering at the pool's edge in between laps, they knew who did what and when and with whom, and neither Elsa nor I were on the in. Not that Elsa and I ever traded more than two words either, because having been forced to perform lip-to-lip heavy-breathing exercises on the cement pool deck with each other created too much discomfort for two socially pained misfits to bear. I asked her once if she went to the same school as our classmates, and all she could push out was a closed-mouth mm-hmmm before edging away to concentrate on a drain.
Aside from being socially isolated from even the least of my fellows, my swimming teacher was a freaking drill seargent who treated mid-level swimming lessons as kiddie boot camp. Classes began with treading water in the deep end to within an inch of succumbing to exhaustion, and then whoever was left treading had to perform life-saving maneuvers, which meant that I was dragged away from the deep end every afternoon by cute girls with straight teeth who would not deign to remember my name.
After a short rest, we were ordered to do laps using first one stroke and then another. Due to the excessive water-treading and my diminutive size, I was never able to complete the laps. Actually, that's not entirely true. Another difference between me and the clique was that while they floated atop the water, bouyantly skimming along, my little body was built like a stone, and I would drag myself across the pool a few inches below the waterline. While everyone sat on the edge, waiting for me pull myself through the last few laps, I cursed my instructor, the clique that tittered and called come oooon already, and my burning limbs that just. could. not. go. any. more.
I begged my parents to let me quit. I explained to the best of my ability what was happening and how getting the blue badge at the end of this ordeal meant nothing to me. My parents insisted that if I quit, I would always wonder if I could have succeeded, and that in the end, even if I didn't get my badge, I would always know that I had done the best I could. As it stands now, I still disagree with them.
I, of course, failed the class miserably. The swimming instructor took me aside and assured me that I had done my best and that I should keep trying for that elusive blue badge, and my parents gave me hugs and said that they were proud of me. Me, all I felt was bitterness about wasting valuable summer afternoons dragging myself around a pool, trying to ignore the taunts of a clique who was one year my junior, and having a terrible body awareness slam down on my vulnerable, sixty-five pound self.
On a positive note, though, I did learn a couple of good things from that devil swimming class. I realized after the first couple of classes that those popular girls who got to shoot up like sticks with straight teeth and braided hair did not matter to me all that much. I could suffer their comments and judging eyes for a couple of hours, but their importance did not factor in to the things that I held dear: writing, literature, and long thoughts that surprised grown-ups. I also learned that even though I was lumped in with other outcasts like Elsa, and the clique would have me think that a bad thing, I actually thought Elsa was pretty cool. The clique could be cruel to each other in ways during those lessons that they never visited upon those they would not lower themselves to speak to. The last thing I figured out was that adults, even if they were well-meaning and trying to instill a mature stickwithitness in me, could still be really freaking wrong. I developed a belief in my own understanding of events, and it gave me the confidence to believe my inner voice when it told me I was not wrong in the face of others' opinions.
Don't get me wrong, I was a mass of insecurities for years to come anyway, but those few things helped carry me through. I had to relearn them again and again during the next decade of growing toward adulthood, but I never forgot that I WAS RIGHT, MY PARENTS WERE WRONG, AND THE CLIQUE GIRLS CAN STILL BITE MY ASS.
I apologize for the volume of run-on sentences that I have produced over the course of this entry. I could go back and break some of them up, but then again, it's just not in me to do so.