Grade school was an experience for me. And I mean that in the worst possible way. Like most people who grew up to be computer geeks, I had an unfortunate childhood, replete with classmates who taunted me just because they knew it would get a rise out of me. Every classroom, it seems, needs one boy to be the foil for all their pent-up nastiness. I was it.
I don't explain this out of self-pity, mind you -- I'm twenty-six now, and I've long since moved past those years. It's simply the way things were. I was never that competent at sports to begin with, and the fact that no one at recess really wanted me on their team to begin with made it worse. To this day, I still don't know how to contribute to a basketball team with any degree of, well, teamwork. I just never actually learned. You'd be surprised how many things need to be taught to you while you're still young.
But I was determined not to let them grind me down, so regardless of their attitudes I worked my way into every softball, four square, kickball, soccer and football game that they played at recess. It was a parochial school, and my particular grade was comparatively large with about sixteen boys and girls combined, and that made it easier. I was picked last every time, of course. It stopped bothering me sometime around third grade.
It was in sixth grade when "the catch" happened. I had to pick up the rules to American football from the games I played, since I didn't care to watch NFL games on television and asking any of my peers to explain them was out of the question. Someone shouted "Hike!", the other team counted to five, and the guy with the ball had that long to either run with the ball or throw it to someone else. My objective was to be one of those someone elses, which is easier said than done when you're gifted with the hand-eye coordination of a blind cave snake. My teammates knew what a lousy catch I was. Every once in a while, though, I got a chance to try, if only because the opposing team also knew what a lousy catch I was.
It was a perfect sunny day early in spring. Our class was being visited by a small group of kids from some other school, and we were all playing football together on the field. Someone said "Hike!", I ran dutifully toward the fence that represented our end zone, and made ready to catch. The ball was thrown to someone else on my team, who tipped it up into the air instead of landing the catch himself. It tumbled through the air toward me. I put my arms out. It landed right in the middle of them.
I had just scored a miraculous touchdown for our team.
I was in shock, really. But my team immediately started cheering and shouting and applauding. I stood where I was, looking around, taking it all in. The boys who had always laughed, mocked, hit, and derided me were now slapping me on the shoulder and congratulating me. It was amazing, my very first fifteen minutes of fame. I glowed inside for the rest of the day. I couldn't wait to tell my parents when I got home what had happened at recess that afternoon, it was so wonderful. For just a few minutes, I was the most popular kid in the class.
The next day everything was back to normal, of course. Except for me. Even though I never caught the football like that again, I still kept ahold of a little bit of that inward glow. For just one tiny part of the school day, I had been just as cool as everyone else.
For an eleven-year-old, nothing in the world could have been better.