It’s almost embarrassing to say it, because I had forgotten that I used to feel this way, but: I used to blame myself for having SSA. I thought, if only I’d hung out more with other guys and learned to be like them; if only I hadn’t quit the street hockey team, and soccer, and little league; if only I hadn’t faked sick on field day. If only I hadn’t been so scared all the time.
My main sports memories from when I was young are memories of complete and total confusion. What position am I? Who’s on my team again, which color are we? Are we offense or defense? WHAT IS A RIGHT WING? Do I have to step on the base before after I catch the ball (if I catch the ball), and what the hell do I do after that? HOW IS IT STILL ONLY THE SECOND INNING?
Go a little bit older and the confusion turns to shame. When I was ten, nobody knew the rules. When I was fifteen, everybody knew them, except me, and not only the rules but the terminology, and the stats of players I had never heard of, and breathtakingly convoluted plays that I had I pretend to understand, except why did I bother because they’d figure it out when I suddenly started running in the wrong direction?
The worst, though, was in high school, on field day. The thought of spending THREE HOURS in a state of constant terror, shame, and confusion, was too much for me, so I spent it in the sick room instead, up on the second floor, watching everyone having a good time and wondering what was wrong with me. What made it worse was that, to get out of it, I had had to tell Mr. Staedtler I was “sick” — Mr. Staedtler, who all the girls wanted to marry and all the boys wanted to be — and he knew.
I’m surprised, remembering it, how little shame I feel about it anymore. Not because it was shameful — rational or not, the things I felt at the thought of going out there would have felled a small horse — but because of how it used to make me wince, for years afterwards.
At the time I blamed myself for feeling that way, because I knew a real man wouldn’t have been scared. And at the same time I knew I was a coward, because the others hadn’t let their fear stop them. I never noticed that the two accusations contradicted each other. I envied them for not being scared, but at the same time I envied them for overcoming their fear.
Well, lies usually do contradict each other. I think I believed the lies until years later, the night I told my older brother Caleb about my SSA. I told him how I had envied him, growing up, watching him on the basketball court down the street and thinking how brave he must be to play with people he didn’t even know, how I could never feel comfortable enough around other guys to do that.
He surprised me by saying: The basketball court is the only place I do feel comfortable around other guys.
That was a new thought. That for some people sports weren’t terrifying, but just natural, the way music and coding are for me. That I wasn’t weaker or more cowardly than my brother, but just constructed differently. That “normal” guys had all the insecurities I had, but showed them in ways that I misunderstood. And that none of the above was my fault; more than that, that none of it was anything wrong.
As much time as I’ve spent working to get into the boys’ club, every once in a while I realize: I’m already there, and everyone inside is just like me. Only different.