For All the Girls on the Schoolyard

Beautiful morning, out running the streets of Phoenix, fantasizing about the Zombie Apocalypse because those wide, eerily empty and silent streets always make me imagine hordes of zombies are about to burst around a corner (I love my imagination).

Anyway, as I ended with some jump squats, two men on bicycles, decked out in bright blue helmets and tight spandex outfits that showed off their paunches, whizzed by yelling “ribbit, ribbit!” and laughing obnoxiously.

Suddenly, instead of the Zombie Apocalypse, I was someplace far worse: back on the schoolyard with all those entitled boys, and me wanting to join in the dodge ball, basketball, and handball games and them pushing me out.

“Why can’t I play?”

“Cuz you’re a girl.”

I pushed back and got in those games, and I was as good and most times better than those boys. It makes me mad to this day that I had to “prove” myself. In fact, I realize now that they were intimidated by me. I was taller than all of them. Maybe not always as strong, but a whole lot more focused and generally more coordinated. There were a couple of boys who gave me respect, but even they never gave up the distinction that I was a girl in a boy’s game. I got made fun of constantly. I was called all kinds of derogatory terms, but the one I remember is “Mommy Long Legs” which I would now consider a compliment, but they didn’t mean it that way.

The school bully was named Bill. I know it sounds cliché, but that was really his name. Even more cliché, he had a blond buzz cut, was meaty, and turned pink under the hot sun. Bill would stand at the end of the street, just beyond the school, and demand money from everyone who needed to walk home that way. In the private world of children, where real monsters are always more prolific and scarier than imagined ones, no one said anything to the clueless adults about this.

I never gave Bill a penny. It was one of those important life lessons where I learned how to get out of a sticky situation by using my  brain and not giving in to fear. Bill was lazy and hid his own fear inside his big body, preying on the weak. Except that he was really weaker than everyone else. I always managed to talk my way around Bill, confusing him with language, until before he knew it, I was gone.

You learn to pick your battles.

As for the incident this morning, if I’d been a hefty guy doing those jump squats, or if a guy had been jumping with me, not a peep would have come out of those smirking, lily-white mouths.

I envisioned chasing after them, pulling them off their bikes and grounding their smirking mugs into the pavement. Making them apologize, not to me because what do I care, I’m a fighter who can well defend myself, but to all the little girls they must have intimidated on the schoolyard and then the women in the workplace and just generally in everyday life that they must somehow feel they have the right to lord it over.

Ah, the satisfaction of making them grovel.

I used to train with some British Kyokushin men who would come to Los Angeles every summer. I was the only women “allowed” to train with them. These guys were tough, seemingly oblivious to pain. The workouts were grueling, probably the hardest I’ve ever experienced. That’s why I liked them. It was freeing to train like that, to have all thought of differences in sex or ability fall away. I do remember one time when the guy who led the class, a scrappy fellow with a heavy cockney accent, tough as nails, half my height, yelled out, “Come on, don’t fucking hit like a bunch of girls!”

I was right in the front row, in the middle. No one reacted, I didn’t think anyone but me  realized he had made a faux pas. But then, maybe to them I wasn’t a “girl.” But then, what was I? Should I have taken it as a compliment that they didn’t put me in that category? Of course not. Still, I didn’t say anything. I didn’t throw a fit, demand an apology, or walk out in a huff. I just kept on training.

Again, you pick your battles. I was already doing something that most women never get the chance to experience. My actions spoke for me because afterwards, a couple of the men came up to me and apologized, explaining their fearless leader came from a rough background and wasn’t all that educated in proper etiquette.

“He didn’t mean it that way.”

I didn’t want to say, “What way?” I just left it at that.

As I did with the twerps on the bikes. I didn’t attack. I continued to jump my way home. Ribbit, ribbit….

And then, I did the same I did with Bill. I used my brain and wrote these words.

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