[Originally published April 11, 2011.]

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Dear Guys Who Kicked the Soccer Ball Over the Fence and Asked Me to Toss It Back to Them, Thus Scarring Me For Life,

I’d like to talk to you about the two minutes of sheer humiliation you subjected me to last night. Let me first refresh your memory: You, a group of fit, young men, were playing soccer on the AstroTurf field across from my apartment building. I, a better-than-average looking young woman (most of me was hidden under various unbecoming winter garments, so you’re just going to have to trust me on that one), was walking along the sidewalk with my groceries, whining silently to myself about the pain the half-gallon of milk was causing my non-existent arm muscles. That’s when your ball came flying over the fence and landed in front of me.

One of you approached and asked politely if I would toss the ball back to you. Fighting the urge to drop my bags and run screaming down the street, I reluctantly agreed.

Before I continue, let me shed light on something that I didn’t have a chance to mention last night: I hate sports. More specifically, I hate sports involving balls (don’t get fresh). Baseball, soccer, ping-pong, Quidditch, whatever; if there’s a ball involved, I want no part of it. This stems from my lack of natural ability when it comes to throwing, catching and hitting. I’m bad at aiming too, and also general hand-eye coordination. So you can understand why I’d be nervous at what I’m sure seemed to you like a laughably simple request.

However, wanting to appear agreeable, and possibly hoping for some sort of post-childhood ball-related redemption, I put my bags down, picked up the ball and, grimacing, eyes half-shut, threw it as hard as I could.

It hit the middle of the fence and bounced back to me.

Trying to act nonchalant, I chuckled and muttered something about being out of practice, then picked up the ball again. If you’ll recall, at your behest, I agreed to try throwing underhand. While outwardly I was smiling, in my head, I was chanting, Oh God, oh please oh please oh please. I thrust the ball upward with all my might, at first thankful that your anticipatory applause stifled my involuntary grunt, then horrified by what happened next.

The ball hit slightly higher up on the fence and bounced back to me.

This is the point where I start to take issue with you. Wouldn’t it have been a better use of your time, and mine, if you had just walked around the fence and retrieved the ball then? I was clearly struggling: my smiles were more and more forced (no, you can’t normally see my wisdom teeth) and I had turned an unhealthy shade of scarlet, which, in your defense, was probably mostly hidden by the aforementioned garments. And yet, you all just stood there, transfixed.

Seeing that you weren’t going to let me off the hook, I became desperate. Memories of middle school softball came flooding back. Being picked last. Always assigned to outfield. Running out to the edge of school property and trying to become one with the shrubbery so as to avoid any participation. And that one time when someone hit the ball out to me and I was forced to run to it and throw it toward first base. Then, when it only landed about eight feet in front of me, having to run to it again and throw it again, this time toward second. And, when it again only went about eight feet, deciding to pick it up and sprint with ball in hand towards third, whilst exasperated thirteen-year-old boys screamed at me that I was ruining their lives. Children are cruel.

Being a big girl now, I pushed those memories aside and picked up the soccer ball for the third time. I forced a good-natured and slightly too high-pitched chortle while crying inside as you patiently lobbed words of support over the fence at me like I was a two-year-old holding an inflatable beach ball for the first time. Because that’s how easy this should have been.

“Throw it granny-style!” one of you said.

“Just back up a little and give it all you’ve got!” another offered.

And, most embarrassing of all, “You can do it!”

I know you thought you were being encouraging, but it only served to deepen the humiliation. What had been at the level of “I’ll laugh about this later” was now approaching, “I will push this memory into the recesses of my brain, alongside the time my dad found that magazine with the sealed section of close-up penis pictures in my luggage.” (Side note: I just bought that magazine as a joke, to show my friends how racy British magazines are, okay? It was a statement on cultural juxtapositions or something.)

Nevertheless, I accepted your ball-throwing advice, backed up, rocked back and forth a little, took a deep breath and let it fly.

It hit the rim of the fence and bounced back to me.

I surprised myself—and I’m sure you as well—by letting out a guttural, “DAMN IT!!!” I then willed myself to have a heart attack and pass out in front of you just so I’d be put out of my misery. That way, you could attribute my utter and complete lack of throwing skills and subsequent meltdown to clogged arteries and poor genes. “She was so young,” you might have said. And, “She probably couldn’t throw the ball on account of the shooting pains in her left arm.”

Alas, the heart attack didn’t happen, and you continued to look at me expectantly, like you were content to do this all night. I had become a sort of spectacle for you. I could feel your collective thoughts drifting through the chain-link: “Can she really not do it? But I mean, really?”

Unfortunately for you, I wasn’t really game to continue your experiment. Three failed attempts at a simple task in front of a group of people in a two-minute period was just enough degradation for me for one night. I picked up the ball one last time, approached the fence and grumbled, “Please just come get the damn ball.”

And you did. And thanks to you, I resolved at that very moment to never throw anything ever again, except disdainful glances at people who play sports.

Sincerely,
Jen Cordery