The familiar oil-drenched scent that lingered. It had been a Trying morning. More mental than physical, I was sick of feeling outcasted. I remember the girls whispering among themselves before warm up. One of them showed the other, palms up. I later realised they were all in cahoots to show the same side of the palm so that should I show palm down, I’d have to lead warm up. I left after training ended. I couldn’t bear the thought of possibly being lied to about everyone going home straight when I knew they’d eat together. I followed the scent of oil and landed at KFC. It had started drizzling. I ordered 2 boxes of large wedges. By the time I collected my order and headed to the bus stop, it was pouring. I was drenched and to add insult to injury, a car drove pass a puddle and well, my wedges were now deemed inedible. I can’t remember much of my bus ride home, but I remembered crying in the shower. I had enough of feeling bullied and outcasted. I’m no angel, I may have been the gossipy one in the group seeking to find an alliance but neither of both groups accepted me. That afternoon, I decided to quit.
Breaking the news to the group, everyone feigned concern, telling me I could tell them if I had problems. But how could I dare tell them that they were the reason why I quit?
I never stepped on court again. It didn’t help that I was weak at catching the ball, I couldn’t run and catch at the same time. Add self esteem as a teenager with short hair and glasses to a lack of talent and a dose of secondary school madness (bitchiness I guess), and you’d get me.
I wanted to be part of the team. I wanted a group of friends, I guess, somewhere where I wanted to feel like I belonged. I guess everyone does.
Every time I saw the group in group photos way after we had graduated, I’d have a pang of sourness and bitterness in my heart. Imagine longing to belong but knowing you never would. To cope, I deleted and unfollowed them on social media. Perhaps avoidance is my way of coping.
A week ago, I was asked if I’d like to play. My mind froze because all the nastiest memories came rushing back and crippled me. It had been a good 15 years since I touched the ball, much less practised.
I was apprehensive. Both my wrists are permanently injured, I can’t do push-ups or bend my wrists 90 degrees. I remembered being bad at passing the ball, receiving the ball, basically would be the last anyone would want on a team. But more than that, what if everyone knew, and didn’t me want on the team? Where nobody would pass me the ball because I couldn’t be trusted. Where they’d ignore my existence.
Still, you have to face your demons, right? I was assured that everyone was nice, nobody really cared if you made a bad pass, everyone would laugh and clap whenever someone scored. Regardless of which team you were on. Heck, nobody ever kept score.
I guess I’ve been running away for so long I no longer felt that I had the right to say I once played the game.
Today, the rancid smell of oil filled the air once again. I ignored the smell and focused on practising my passes with my sister.
It was a group full of strangers, I grabbed a bib that matched my sister’s. I wanted to feel safe. That even if I failed to make a catch of pass, I’d have someone who had my back.
In the first round, I ran for my life, determined not to be that loser I was when I was 13. I panted, caught, threw. I gave everything in that timeframe, I was so close to puking. Not from nervousness, but perhaps lack of intense cardio.
Who’d have thought my sister praised me for my skills, with added tips on how to improve. Perhaps positive reinforcement really worked (I need to work on that), I found myself wanting to push even harder. But with that cane concentrating on passes, not focusing on running like a raving rabbit. Nobody passed the ball to me? It wasn’t that they didn’t like me, I wasn’t in the right position.
During break, everyone would just sit. Make small talk, catch their breath, whatever. Nobody was gossiping. I ended up playing every alternate round. It didn’t matter that there were people who were better or worse than me. The only thing mattered was that I wasn’t that bad of a player I expected, that I had conquered my fears of even hearing the word and remembering all negative memories associated with it. The one thing that mattered: I had fun. I am more than happy to sit by myself during break, perhaps growing up has taught me that it is ok to be alone, that having nobody but yourself for company can feel refreshing.
They say scents trigger memories, what they don’t say is that when you give it enough time and allow it to happen, the scent can change your impression of said memory.
Perhaps one day I’ll look forward to that familiar scent of oil and form brand new memories. But for now, I’m glad I took the step forward in hopes of battling my inner demons.
Here’s to more disgusting buttprints (=