Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Rope

It must have been around late 1984my first year of high schoolwhen I first saw that rope hanging from the gym's ceiling beam. I weighed at least 250 pounds by then. I seem to recall a few more rope-climbing days during the next few years, so it's safe to assume I weighed over 300 pounds during at least one "attempt". The quotes are there for the same reason that I remember the experience so well. The handful of moments I spent with that rope weren't my most humiliating--not by a long shot. But they made a singular impression.

Pretense. That's what made those moments unique. I went numb trying to pretend that there wasn't a whole gym class full of boys standing in a silent circle, looking at me, waiting for the inevitable. I played along with the pretense of trying to climb the rope when I knew just as well as they did what was coming. There was an inexorability in seeing the moment in the near future when the misery would be over, and knowing that between me and it there was one path and zero choices. I had to play along with the absurdity. I had to pass through that eye of the storm of eyes.

The pretense was necessary. Grades in gym class were based on effort. I didn't have to climb an inch. I just had to try my best. So I was grateful for that pretense. And I felt pathetic for feeling grateful for the protection that pretense afforded me. I was a freak who was lucky not to suffer more than humiliation for not being able to climb a ropea matryoshka of gratitude and shame.

So when I stepped up to that rope, I knew I would do my best, and I knew I wouldn't climb it. I had seen the other boys climb it--seen one or two of them reach the top. I dreamed of being like them. I knew I never would. I knew I'd never climb a rope to the top.

Today I climbed a rope to the top.

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