Author’s note: This piece is a first and very rough draft. Constructive criticism and kind thoughts welcome.
Once upon a time, there were three kids. My sister, Thea, was the oldest by fair and by far. She liked to draw, paint, sketch, write poetry- very artistic, that one.
Next in line was my brother, Luke. He loved to read and pick his nose while doing so. He and his friends played pranks and were smart, witty, and fun. He lost the majority of a lung in high school and went on to be the President of a college.
Then, almost a decade later, I jumped onto the scene. Mom went into labor with me in the middle of Thea’s eleventh birthday party, held her composure throughout the party, then went to the hospital and had me. I was “the life of the party.” Chuck chuck chuck…
I was dad’s last hope at having a sporto in the family and, he didn’t hide his enthusiasm and wishful thinking. I played basketball (hated it), soccer (hold a junior high record-no, it’s for wimps), softball (really, really hated it), then I tried track and field(bingo! Eureka! We hit oil.) I loved the discus; it’s form when being thrown, when arch streamlined up through the air, when landing flat on the dirt…the perfect throw. If you participated in field, however, you had to run at least one track event. I was a stupid freshman; I chose the 440 (now called the 400…I mean how do they expect us to brag to the younger generation if they keep changing everything?)
Make no mistake, the 440 isn’t a stride with a last minute sprint; it IS a sprint from beginning to end. I would put a sliver of duct tape on my shoe, go to the starting line, have dad fire the starting pistol ( I wanted to get used to the sound and not be startled. Oh, and, we owned the community sporting goods store and supplied the starting pistols and blanks every year.) , then run like Mrs. Heathman, my knuckle whipping piano teacher, was chasing me! When I wore out and was not sprinting anymore, I took the duct tape from my shoe and put it on the track. Every day, I made sure I went past that line from the the day before. In this way, I learned two things: how to know if I had done my personal best and that I was my only competition.
Dad (and at the beginning of a sentence is the only time you will see his name capitalized) used to be the football coach and the track and field coach. So, when the football team got a grant to open a “Community Gym” with football players’ lockers, a football player only shower, and a football coach’s office, dad decided to call in a favor and in no time, I was lifting weights with my friend May. Up every morning at 6a to pick up May at 6:30a, be lifting by 6:40a, be running on the track by 8a. It felt good— taking my aggression out on the weights, running until I couldn’t breathe because May cracked a joke. Two of the ten thousand assistant coaches constantly bothered May and me. They were good Christians; what were we? What made us want to lift weights? Why on Earth did we want to get sweaty? Obviously, we were lesbian heretics who liked to shimmer and shine. Just kidding.
Summer practice was fun. I got to escape my other three jobs and dad for awhile. When school came back after Christmas that’s when you could see if all that hard work paid off. Morning practice was optional, but I was there. After school practice was mandatory; no note to the Coach with a darn good reason for an absence, and you were off the team. Then, dad would take me back up to the track after dinner to throw the disc. I had my own…a shot put, too, but I sucked at that. Dad’s disc thrower’s from when he was head coach still held all of the records. I was determined to beat them in or out of competition. A throw is a throw, I always felt.
After dinner, dad and I would head to the mound. He wanted me to learn the spin and only the spin from the get go. In team practice, I had to use the standard method- good if you want to throw from brute strength, bad if you want technique for distance… unless you were either a farm girl (brute strength) or a tall teen with long arms (centrifugal force).
Ninety-nine percent of all throws are in your head. Ninety-nine percent. If you can see yourself slinging the discus, you can do it. I dreamed, ate, daydreamed, farted, coughed (maybe I should have put coughed before farted…I am almost fifty, you know). I wrote 99% on the margins of my tests. My blood platelets became tiny discs.
So, I was in this very prestigious high faluten high school sorority that my mother, aunt, their mother (Granny), and her mother (Nanny) had been been in. Two of my older sisters were discus throwers, too, not because they wanted to be; all of the track rejects got pitched to shot or disc or both. They didn’t want me to do the spin. “You throw further standing like we do.” It’s farther, but, by all means, plead your case. The truth of the matter was that the baseball team played in the next field and I was embarrassing my “sisters.”
Practice after practice, meet after meet, I tried the spin and failed. My poor- in every way- parents scrounged the money together to buy me discus tennis shoes. Yes, Virginia, they do exist! They didn’t help. The field Coach came up to dad’s practice time with me after supper to videotape my performance. He was a pervert with lines of mucus between his lips, bald, fat, and red. He loved nothing more than to watch us do our stretch routine before practice. You could tell he didn’t quite know where to put his hands during those sessions. We called him the Red Man. When we would get home Mom would look up from her letter to Thea who was at Yale and ask how it went. I would roll my eyes and remark, “The Red Man’s reaction was not satisfaction.”
I remember once when the Red Man was giving me a bunch of crap over every throw. I’m not stupid. I knew what I was doing wrong. I just couldn’t do it right. “She has no control over that disc!” I looked tiredly at dad. This practice was my third of the day; I was too exhausted for this pervert’s bs. Anyway, dad nodded at me. With the next throw, I released early and took the hat off his head. That’s when it hit me like I had a glass jaw: I knew how to do this!
The next day was finals for the Mason-Dixon games. My two sorority sisters took me aside and gave me a pretty rude and harsh talking to about spinning. I wanted to tell them where they could spin off to but shrugged it off and kept my composure. Dad was sitting on the hill; field members didn’t get bleachers. I walked over and sat on the hill alone, so I could think. I pictured the spin only this time it wasn’t some amazing Olympic gold medalist demonstrating it on VHS, it was me like in my dreams.
The practice round began. I didn’t notice much except a girl from a neighboring town did the spin and heaved that thing way out there. My stomach fluttered a bit. I must have drifted to Paradise Island, Wonder Woman’s home and Fortress of Solitude, because my sorority sisters were screaming for me to come to the circle and dad was helping me up saying, “Suz, you’ve got this.” I jumped up and thanked him shaking my head and drinking some water to get back to Kentucky and in the game. I stepped into the circle, slightly spit on my hands and rubbed it on the discus where I was placing my fingers to give me some tack. I faced the hill away from where I would be throwing. I could hear my sorority sisters and then the whole team mocking me for doing the spin. I looked up and saw dad; he gave me the forearm strong and nodded. I took a deep, calming breath and dropped low into my stance. My footing and fingers felt firm yet free. As Kevin Costner says in For the Love of the Game I cleared the element.Then, I was poetry in motion turning on my left leg, dropping my right arm, opening the barn door with my left arm and it was flying up, up, up! Exactly where I aimed it. Out throwing all my competition. I heard dad yelling yes, yes, yes! (I had heard that a million times before.) I heard reluctant clapping (my teammates), but I, also, heard knock your socks off clapping and cheering; it was the baseball team!! They told Coach that I deserved most improved award. They practiced at night when dad and I came back up and had watched me blossom. I loved them.
I beat dad’s girls high school disc throw by two inches. And, you know whose name is on the basketball gym’s wall? Hers. Because I did it in a practice throw, then got nervous and choked on my other throws. I got up to go home with dad and Nat Sanderson cooled up in his ‘69 corvette. He offered to take me home, and I heard dad whisper, “In your pussymobille?” Nat laughed his hardy, welcoming laugh, and off we were.