My parents moved me to a new city during the summer before fifth grade. They thought the public school there seemed “too rough” so they scraped their pennies together and enrolled me in private school. I tried to ignore the ominous name – Cape Fear Academy – but it was clear to me from the first second that we drove into the parking lot, past the line of Mercedes in our Toyota minivan, that I was screwed.
These kids hung at the country club after school. The boys played golf in plaid pants and the girls lay out by the pool in pink bikinis. They were tiny versions of their parents, who were, of course, all friends. Everyone had a least one building in town named after their family.
There was no uniform required at school; no need, I guess, since everyone already dressed the same in Duck Head shorts and Polo shirts. The boys wore loafers. The girls wore pristine white Keds. I never uncovered the mystery of how they kept their shoes so clean. I suspect they bought a new pair every week. Gym class saw the advent of Umbro shorts and fitted tees with perfectly cuffed sleeves. I can’t bear witness that everyone wore a stick in their ass, but it seemed to come standard with the outfits.
I was a pale, chubby, hot mess. My clothes looked like a Lisa Frank ad. My frizzy hair framed my purple plastic glasses and freckles. I had been popular at my previous school, but I don’t know why. I had never thought about it before. Was it my winning personality and razor-sharp wit? Whatever it was, I left that mojo in El Segundo.
I formulated A Plan For Popularity. Everyone at Cape Fear played basketball. I will join the team! Genius! I will wow them with my athletic prowess and draw them in like a moth to a flame. They will find themselves powerless to resist my sporty magnetism and we will all celebrate with milkshakes after the game! Well they prolly don’t drink milkshakes but whatevs, wheatgrass shots! Brandy! Rich folk beverages in crystal goblets!
There were, of course, a couple of potential problems with my plan.
One, what if I didn’t make the team? Luckily, as if Ryan Murphy himself had scripted it, the basketball coach was my next-door neighbor, who was a part-time police officer and a full-time lesbian. Lesbians weren’t exactly the beloved mascot of that small Southern town. I’m pretty sure she looked the other way during tryouts for the sake of her already fragile status in our neighborhood.
Secondly, oh, right, this might be important: I am not in the least bit athletic. I was tall for my age, but I was also nearly blind and completely un-coordinated. Basketballs flew at my face and broke my glasses on the regular. There were several visits to the optometrist that involved my mother writing checks and asking me why I seemed intent on making her life hard.
The day of our first game arrived. I was so excited that I didn’t even hide in a bathroom stall to change; I actually took my clothes off in the locker room. Some gorgeous My Little Pony type of girl with horsey legs and a mane of silken locks asked me if I was an albino, but nothing could spoil my mood. There was a stereo for a little pre-game amp up, “Shooting Star” by Bad Company, and we all sang along. Well, I didn’t sing, exactly, I hummed and pretended I knew the words. I didn’t see that one coming; these chicks had memorized song lyrics from 1975? Weird.
Game time. Complete chaos. What? This isn’t like practice at all, it’s way more intense, and I wasn’t good in practice. There are people in the bleachers! There’s a lot of noise! That buzzer sound hurts my head! Wait, this isn’t my goal? We’re shooting down on the other side of the court? That is new information! Why is everyone yelling at me? I feel like I’m under water. Everything is in slow motion. Hmm. A whistle. People are looking irritated and ushering me to the line. Free throw! I must have been fouled!
This. Is. My. Moment.
Cape Fear Academy teaches through the twelfth grade. I may be here for the next eight years of my life. If I sink this shot, I could turn a corner and become That New Weird Girl Who Made The Free Throw instead of Fatty Orphan Annie.
I looked to my parents in the stands and loved them for loving me. Hope beamed from their eyes and I knew in that moment that I could do this.
I focused on the goal. Dribbled the ball. Took a deep breath. Put the ball in between my legs. And tossed it, underhanded.
AKA Granny Style.
It hurts to type those words since that, predictably, became my nickname.
I’ll never know what made me go with the Granny Style and miss the goal by a mile on that cloudy December evening. The hoop seemed far away, my nerves got the best of me, whatever. Ultimately, I just wasn’t meant for greatness amongst that circle of Buffys.
My parents were cool enough to transfer me to public school the next year, and I happily accepted the torment of middle class kids like every other real, normal, awkward-looking girl.