— Gymnastics in the Outfield —
THE FOLLOWING is a PERSONAL ESSAY
Memoir excerpt, Gymnastics in the Outfield (2016)
Read at The Book Lady in Savannah, GA in March, 2016
It was time to dismount.
I moved to one end of the beam and did a split jump, landing with my feet perfectly placed. The crowd went wild at the sight of such elegance. As I began my cartwheel-into-dismount, I made out my dad’s voice in the audience. I was so excited! He came!
“You got it, Big Guy!” he cheered.
I landed my cartwheel off the beam but didn’t stick my landing. Fuck.
I stepped out too soon and the judges didn’t appreciate it. Not sticking a landing is like getting an 89 on a midterm. It says, “almost, but you still suck.” I was mortified. I turned to face my parents, at least they would be proud. I found my dad’s face in the stands and saw an expression of frustration. I assumed he was also upset I stepped out.
Just as I was about to make out what he was saying—Focus, Cam, focus—I tripped over my glove and face-planted into first base.
“Oh yeah,” I remembered.
When I was six years old, months before I got sick, I was on a tee-ball team, The Thunderbirds. Other than the obligatory trophy every player received at the end of the season, there was nothing in it for me. Sure, I loved a good trophy but our team never won and everyone knows first place trophies are the best. Tee-ball was lame. I couldn’t wrap my head around the relevance of hitting a ball off a tee. I still can’t.
“So it’s like tall golf?” I’d ask. I was such an asshole.
But really, the game is pretty silly. For one, it’s sensible. Which is just a fancy word for ‘no fun.’ When you think about it, all you really need to do is use your hand-eye coordination to hit a ball that, for a six-year-old, is basically held right in front of your face. Pretty easy. Pretty miserable.
Copyright 2016 Cam K Johnson