The Girl Who Can’t Play Ball
How a simple request to throw a ball turned into a moment of profound mortification
Photographed by Erin Patrice O'BrienDear Guys Who Kicked the Soccer Ball over the Fence and Asked Me to Toss It Back to Them, Thus Scarring Me for Life,
I’d like to talk to you about the two minutes of sheer humiliation you subjected me to last night. Let me first refresh your memory: You, a group of fit, young men, were playing soccer on the AstroTurf field across from my apartment building. I, a better-than-average-looking young woman, was walking by with my groceries, whining silently to myself about the pain the half gallon of milk was causing my nonexistent arm muscles. That’s when your ball came flying over the fence and landed at my feet. One of you approached and asked politely if I would toss the ball back to you. Fighting the urge to flee screaming down the street, I agreed.
Before I continue, let me shed light on something that I didn’t have a chance to mention last night: I hate sports. More specifically, I hate baseball, soccer, Ping-Pong, Quidditch—anything with a ball. This stems from my lack of natural ability when it comes to throwing, catching, and hitting. I’m bad at aiming, too, and also general hand-eye coordination.
However, wanting to appear agreeable, I put my bags down, picked up the ball, and, grimacing, eyes half shut, threw it as hard as I could.
It hit the middle of the fence and bounced back to me.
Trying to act nonchalantly, I chuckled and muttered something about being out of practice, then picked up the ball again. If you’ll recall, at your behest, I agreed to try throwing underhand. I thrust the ball upward with all my might, at first thankful that your anticipatory applause stifled my involuntary grunt, then horrified by what happened next.
The ball hit slightly higher up on the fence and bounced back to me.
Photographed by Erin Patrice O'BrienThis is the point where I start to take issue with you. Wouldn’t it have been a better use of your time, and mine, if you had just walked around the fence and retrieved the ball then? I was clearly struggling: My smiles were more and more forced (no, you can’t normally see my wisdom teeth), and I had turned an unhealthy shade of scarlet. And yet you all just stood there, transfixed.
Seeing that you weren’t going to let me off the hook, I became desperate. Memories of middle school softball came flooding back. Being picked last. Always assigned to the outfield. That one time when someone hit the ball out to me and I was forced to run to it and throw it toward first base. Then, when it landed only eight feet in front of me, having to run to it again and throw it again, this time toward second. And, when it again went only eight feet, deciding to pick it up and sprint with ball in hand to third whilst exasperated 13-year-old boys screamed at me.
Being a big girl now, I pushed those memories aside and picked up the soccer ball for the third time. I forced a good-natured and slightly too-high-pitched chortle while crying inside as you patiently lobbed words of support over the fence at me like I was a two-year-old holding an inflatable beach ball for the first time.
“Throw it granny-style!” one of you said.
“Just back up a little and give it all you’ve got!” another offered.
And, most embarrassing of all, “You can do it!”
I know you thought you were being encouraging, but it only served to deepen the humiliation.
Nevertheless, I accepted your ball-throwing advice, backed up, rocked back and forth a little, took a deep breath, and let it fly.
It hit the rim of the fence and bounced back to me.
I willed myself to have a heart attack and pass out just so I’d be put out of my misery. Alas, the heart attack didn’t happen, and you continued to look at me expectantly, like you were content to do this all night. I had become a sort of spectacle for you. I could feel your collective thoughts drifting through the chain link: Can she really not do it?
Unfortunately for you, I wasn’t really game to continue your experiment. Three failed attempts at a simple task in front of a group of people in a two-minute period was just enough degradation for me for one night. I picked up the ball, approached the fence, and grumbled, “Please just come get it.”
And you did. And thanks to you, I resolved at that very moment to never throw anything ever again, except disdainful glances at people who play sports.