They stand and wait. Some of them are laughing, whether it is at me or just at something else I can't tell. Some boys are bored and starting to scuffle and rough house. The teacher glances down at the stop watch doing his best not to look visibly annoyed. No one seems out of breath.
I glance ahead at the lap of soccer field left before me: The rest of the daunting one mile run.
It isn't as if the rest of gym class was a cake walk either - it is the dreaded Presidential Fitness Test day.
I've already put up the lowest number of situps. I couldn't do a single pull up. I stretched so far my legs burned on the Sit and reach but short arms still make that "score" seem too low.
People glance away when it is my turn, they don't want to show that they are embarrassed for me, but I know. I know that I am the last. The weakest. The slowest.
And then it begins. The mile.
We trudge out to the soccer field to run our laps around it in the grass. We all start at the same time and I valiantly try to run, but without fail I'm winded by half a lap. As if I have no control of my limps I slow to a walk, a hand on the stitch in my side.
As I keep trying to push my speed other kids start lapping me, laughing as they run effortlessly by.
I wish I were invisible.
But I'm not, the passing continues until I am the last one on the course. I bravely try to run it in, afraid if I don't keep going I will collapse in a puddle of tears.
I cross the line, with my eyes only on my feet, afraid to meet anyone's gaze. The teacher turns and starts to bring the class inside. We're running late, because of me. We head inside with me at the back. There is no time to catch my breath so I huff and I puff and try to keep up without people knowing how tired and winded I am.
I try not to take the numbers in, I don't want to know. I'm good at
math. If I know the numbers I can calculate how much slower I am than
my peers. First by just the easy math, later by percentages and medians
and bell curves. No matter how I manipulate the data the truth is that
I am the slowest.
As horrible as the experience is there is part of me that is gleeful in that moment. For the fact remains that I am now another year away from repeating that whole experience yet again. It never gets any easier, but at least I can block the horrible memory out until next time.
Now I'm 32. The mile stands in front of me like a beacon of failure. But I'm not waiting for another year, and another horrible realization of my weakness.
I am stronger than I think and this year the mile is going down.