A rather unfortunate acronym for Physical Education Independent Study. This was a program my high school offered to seniors who had passed all seven previous semesters of physical education classes. All you had to do was write an essay per term about the given topics, and you could avoid gym class altogether for your last semester of school. Of course, already in the lazy throes of senior slump and having an intense hatred for gym class, I took this option. Here is the result:

A Detailed Description of a Memorable Experience During a PE Class

I trotted outside one day in mid-October, wearing thin sweatpants and a short-sleeved T-shirt. Boy, I was sure glad that my PE teacher had forced my class, against all of our complaints, to run around outside instead of in the decently-heated gym. Those goosebumps on my arms must mean it was pretty cold out! And of course, everybody knows that weather cold enough to turn the mucus inside one’s nose into ice is really healthy.

With the invigorating weather quickly seeping into my bones and threatening to break down my immune system and cause pneumonia or hypothermia, i was pretty motivated to start running around the track to warm myself up. But before I got there, I had to pass by my PE teacher -- to whom I was utterly grateful for having generously given his class the opportunity to exercise outside in the middle of October-- in order to be marked down for attendance. At that point, I was letting my blue hair fade out so that I could dye it another color, and it was becoming dull and grayish. My teacher, eager to encourage the individuality and personality that my choice of fading blue hair represented, gave me a great compliment. “You look like my grandmother,” he said. Boy, was I excited! Most people would have taken his comment to mean that I looked old and unattractive, but of course I realized that he was only saying that his grandmother was a wonderful person and I should be proud of myself for my choice.

Well, after that compliment, I could hardly wait to start running so that I could perpetuate the spectacular image my teacher already had of me. And I wasn’t running only to please my teacher, of course; I also was running for myself. After all, who doesn’t like to go around and around in circles, the same scenes flashing by like a particularly mundane video loop, specifically in order to put pressure on the numerous parts of the body which were quite content to be relaxing in their respective places? I darned well do! So, with that encouraging thought, I started off.

I ran and ran, and sure enough, I saw that video loop of tedium circle by. What scenery there was! There was the brick wall of the school, a building which was apparently designed to have the classic, elegant shape of a cardboard box. There was the concrete “atrium,” decorated with so many potato chip bags and dirty napkins like confetti. And there was the sports field, which, out of the corner of my eye, seemed to contain a herd of cows or sheep, but turned out to be filled with fellow PE students when I got a good look at it. My heart surged with a sense of elation, or perhaps the beginnings of an exercise-induced heart attack.

Well, that was certainly all the exhilaration I could take for one day. My legs felt like they were just about ready to fall off and lie bleeding and twitching in the middle of the track as a testament to all of that exhilaration! Now, I’m sure not the best runner in the world, so of course it was only fair when my teacher said he was looking forward to seeing me improve and become more a more healthy, happy person. I could tell just from the way he talked to me about it that he really supported me and wanted me to reach my fullest potential. He said, in a voice which some people might have misinterpreted as a fierce bellow, but which I understood to be a life-affirming cheer, “Why are you stopping? YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO DO THIS WITHOUT STOPPING!”

“Well,” I said, beaming from the encouragement, “maybe i should, but I just can’t make my body do it.”

“WELL,” he replied with the comforting shout that only a gym teacher can provide, “YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO!”

That moment was a turning point in my PE career. When my teacher screamed those heartening words at me, I realized the entire purpose of the physical education experience at Newton North High School. It wasn’t, as I had thought for so long, to reach my own personal goals of physical fitness! Gosh, I had been so silly! The point, of course, was to fit myself somewhere into the bell curve of other students of physical education. The more physically fit I was in comparison to them, the more I would be valued as a human being. I felt about to explode with this new-found knowledge. I would have to completely reorganize the way I thought about my school and my life. I skipped joyfully off of the track at the end of PE class, prepared to spend an exhilarating year basing my self esteem on the accomplishments of other people.