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Misery

February 9, 2015

I am fifteen, just admitted to the sacred precincts of my church’s Youth Group.

My first official youth activity? A volleyball game with the Hayward youth–those cool, smart, and with-it peopleย  who live about an hour to the north and are driving down specially to play with us, the inelegant, un-cool Sheldon youth.

We are farm kids who ride to church in our parents’ dust-covered clunkers and rarely play volleyball, because there aren’t enough of us to go round.

But this evening, the night of my first official youth attendance, there will be a volleyball game. I have played volleyball–that time-honored Mennonite tradition–maybe once or twice in my life, and am uneasy now at the thought of playing with strangers. But like a dumb sheep, I go to the game with my sisters–because I am fifteen and the only thing worse than attending and making a fool of myself is not attending at all.

At the game, the line of girls, the line of boys. The numbering off and dividing into teams. The smart smack of volleyball on gym floor, the squeak of someone’s Nikes , the “good tries” and “nices,” the quick high fives, the stepping efficiently from one team position to the next.

And me, trapped in an eerie, place-less world of my mind, ย a world where my identity has drifted from me and settled like a corpse on my shoulders, watching.

It is a world where I don’t know the rules, where the laws of gravity and thermodynamics no longer function properly, where the white ball suspended in the air above me may land anywhere: on my nose, on the top of my head, two feet in front of me, two feet behind me.

A hopeless world, where every self sermon to “try harder” and “pay attention” and “put yourself out there” is interrupted by an unmistakable knowledge that this person standing here–quiet, immobile, her dress hanging from her as plain and milkmaid-ish as cheese–is an idiot who can’t play volleyball to save her life.

They hit the ball to me sometimes, and, blindly, my mind in a whirl, I bat it with my palms. Mostly it hits the top of the net and falls to the floor on our side, but once it goes over.

“Good job,” says the dark-haired guy next to me. He looks older than the others, short, with a pleasant aspect of enjoying-without-getting-too-involved impossible to teens. He smiles at me encouragingly. “What’s your name?”

“Luci,” I say, grinning. Grinning is the only makeup I own, and I wear it almost constantly. “What’s yours?”

“Wendell.”

The thing is above my head again, white and round. I have no idea of its distance or its trajectory, all I know is it is in the air above me. I lift my hands to bat it, and my fingers catch in my glasses. The glasses clatter to the floor.

I pick them up–embarrassed maybe, but not really–because this is only a part of the whole distant, goose-pimpled evening. This strange evening where I am enormously conscious of my body–my feet have become pillars, the covering on my head a tent–but my identity is only a corpse draped over my shoulders.

“Are you okay?” Wendell asks. He looks sympathetic, paternal.

“Yeah,” I say, smiling.

I wonder if he knows how he burned his face and his sympathetic aspect into my mind, how years later, when I have no idea where he is or what has happened to him, I still remember his person with respect.

19 comments

  1. Oh, the all consuming misery we inflict upon ourselves when we are sure everyone is noticing our every breath when, in fact, they are so concerned about their own breaths they never noticed ours once! Thank God for “Wendells” in this world ๐Ÿ™‚

    ~Bethany

  2. “The thing is above my head again, white and round. I have no idea of its distance or its trajectory, all I know is it is in the air above me.” Is it that bad anymore? ๐Ÿ™‚ That line amused me!

  3. Luci! This is me all over (without the glasses). I absolutely despise playing volleyball with people that are good at it. ๐Ÿ™‚ I Love this post! Thanks Luci!
    ~Lavina

  4. Your descriptions are great. Although I now love the game (still aren’t very good at it though!) I’ve been there – in that same sort of “world” that you mentioned. It brought it all back — even the breathless feeling of waiting to see if by some miracle I’d be numbered onto the same team as Packy. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. So cute – and so refreshing to see someone laughing at herself, at all us wannabes! I bet you’re pretty good now though! And Wendell? Gotta be Wendell Martin, as you perfectly described him – still a good, all-around nice guy! He’s married, and living in PA, and works with our son Tom at Landis Computer. A brother to our son-in-law Shannon.

  6. I just love you! You described Luci from Alberta and volleyball to a T in ways I could only feel and never describe. My favorite line was about the milkmaidish dress. Did I mention that your blog is one of my favorites and I’ve sad that I’m behind in reading it.

  7. This brought back a whole rush of emotions from my first youth meetings. Oh, the misery.

    I remember going home, pulling out the encyclopedia, and reading about volleyball. (Does that prove my bookworm status?) If I couldn’t hit the ball, I could at least have a head knowledge of the rules of the game. When I admitted this to my cousin, who was as athletic as I was not, and actually played on a “real” volleyball team, she laughed. But I needed the security of knowing something about this crazy time waster.

    I was blessed to have a youth group that mostly encouraged and eventually I could hold my own spot without messing up too badly. Now, I almost miss those volleyball days. Almost. Definently NOT the drama of “will I be on his team?”

    1. So great to hear that there are more like me out there than I ever suspected. Although I never consulted an encyclopedia. What a brilliant idea! Wish I’d a thought of it.

  8. I remember coming down to Ladysmith one time to play volleyball. I wonder if it was the same night. While I loved to play volleyball, I did not care to play with people I didn’t know. I would say you were quite brave to have given it your best shot.

  9. Luci,
    I received a great e-mail from my wife yesterday with the subject line โ€œyou’re awesomeโ€ and a link to your blog. Definitely a good way to make my day. I debated for a bit in replying to this because sometimes our memories are better left alone in their grandeur. By replying I will deflate your memory since you will realize that there is just an average human behind it. I always enjoyed volleyball but I know the feeling. In life there are times when a decision hangs in the air above me just like the ball you described. After batting blindly in the direction I think I should go, I realize I missed and ruined a relationship or squandered an opportunity. Blinded by fear, pain or self-doubt I feel like a failure. The next time a failure hits me in the face like an errant volleyball, the next time I lose my vision in defeat, Iโ€™ll read this post. It may help me pick up my glasses and move on, realizing that bad at volleyball does not mean bad at life. Thank you for the ego boost.

    Wendell – formerly from Hayward WI. now from Lancaster PA.

    1. Wow, what a great parallel. You really made my little volleyball story into a great analogy of life in general. Don’t worry, you haven’t at all deflated my memory; you’ve added to it. I would say we are all of us average–but none of us quite. Glad I could make your day. Thanks for helping out mine way back then.

  10. Wow! How con you describe me (Besides the glasses) so perfectly when I’ve tried my hardest not to let anybosy see that side of me!!!!! haha!

    1. ๐Ÿ™‚ You surprise me, Tiana. Always so calm and collected, I thought. Nice to know I’m not the only one who feels like me.

  11. I love your story! It’s great that you could ‘meet’ Wendell again through this! ๐Ÿ™‚
    I enjoy vball, but at the same time dread it! Thankfully now I laugh at all my mess-ups instead of feeling inferior (and make nasty/wise comments to myself about those wonderful players and their great moves, how they must play too much, and not work enough! ๐Ÿ˜› –No offense to the good players, just makes me feel better! ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

  12. I missed this post before somehow. I know the feeling exactly. And I live in Hayward with those cool people. I hardly ever go to a volleyball game. When I haven’t forgotten about the Fri night game I don’t feel like going to the bother of going to it. ๐Ÿ™‚

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