A Memory: Inner Strength, Outer Wimp

When I graduated college, I had to be difficult and graduate about a week before Christmas. (I actually managed to make that happen twice. My apologies to my family for the inconvenience. For the purposes of this story, however, I’ll be referring to my first holiday season graduation. It’s the one where I thought I knew everything, for future reference.)

My last experience with playing in the college pep band was a very memorable one. I remember lots of stuff, so I have to distinguish from different levels or memorability. This one qualifies as “Very Memorable” on a scale from “Memorable” to “I-Desperately-Wish-I-Could-Forget.”

As I took my place in the stands one final time and looked out across the basketball arena, I decided to live for that moment and enjoy the rest of the crazy ride. I didn’t know that by the end of the night I would have conducted the band in which I was playing…and made an utter fool of myself on the basketball court in the presence of a few thousand witnesses.

Let’s start with the high point of the afternoon, shall we?

The student conductor knew it was my last game–indeed, I believe I was the only December graduate in the group that semester–and she called me down to the front to conduct a simple tune. I grinned from ear to ear the entire time.

But…you didn’t come here to read a story about the stuff that went well. No, no. Everyone wants to read about the stuff that went wrong.

I’m not, nor have I ever been, anything other than petite. In college, I was extra petite. The so-called “Freshman Fifteen” had been more like five for me, and my arms have never exactly looked like anything other than sticks.

Self-Portrait, The College Years.
Self-Portrait, The College Years. Note the lack of muscle tone. It’s important to the story.

But, being as stubborn as I am to prove that I can do anything anyone else can do, I jumped at the chance when someone from the event staff at the ballgame found out it was my last game and asked me to volunteer to throw out free t-shirts to the crowd from the basketball court.

So, I followed the bubbly young lady down to the sidelines as she handed me a gray t-shirt tied into a knot.

“Okay, your job is to pump up the crowd and when they start waving their arms like crazy, throw this t-shirt. Oh, and throw it as far as you can.”

“No problem!” I said, looking at the shirt in my hands and thinking that I was going to send the thing sailing. After all, it had a big knot in it, so I was going to have no trouble launching it to the cheap seats.

When the buzzer sounded, I followed the other volunteers down to the court, grinning like crazy and yelling like a fool while waving the knotted t-shirt over my head. I spotted a gentleman about ten rows up who seemed really interested in winning a t-shirt for the child who was with him. I looked around. All of the other volunteers had thrown theirs already while I was still trying to make a decision.

“Hey! Over here!” yelled the man in the crowd.

With all the strength I could muster, I pulled my arm back into my best major-league windup.

And I threw the shirt.

As hard as I could.

And then the knot broke free.

The t-shirt unfurled, waving through the climate-controlled breeze in a manner that would have made an American flag jealous.

(I could swear I watched this part in slow-motion.)

I saw it sailing majestically through the air, doing its awe-inspiring dance as it fluttered towards the stands…

…falling gracefully to the floor a whole three feet in front of me.

The man in the crowd started laughing hysterically.

I shook my head, pouting as I reached for the shirt and half-heartedly tossed it towards the first row.

I received my degree for Christmas that year, but, evidently, there were still a few things I needed to work on. Inner strength counts for a lot, but upper body strength had suddenly moved much higher on the list.