The basketball jersey we wore had always been blue with white numbers. Passed down from grade to grade, it was a blissfully baggy rag we schlepped around the court every Saturday morning as our parents gossip-watched from the bleachers.
The ref whistled us to attention. We passed, we shot, we traveled and got caught. Meanwhile, the ball seldom reached the basket, which nobody seemed to mind too much. Scuttling up and down the weathered boards of the gym, we didn't need to be good. We simply needed to be there. And that's the way I liked it.
Back then we wore white t-shirts under our jerseys, soft hugs against the tug of blue mesh. That is, until we didn't. Sixth grade for the brazen, seventh grade for the rest. Girls stopped wearing that protective layer and started baring their arms, their shoulders, and their newly acquired Old Navy training bras. I held out as long as I could. The last white shirt on the court until our coach pulled me aside. It's the rules, she said. Everyone has to play by the rules.
Changing in the bathroom stall took longer than changing out in the open. I had to wait for a free stall, dash in, and juggle my clothes to avoid death by toilet. No longer in the fray, I missed both the chitter and the chatter. By the time I emerged from my hiding place, all the other girls were gone.
What happened to the basketball jersey happened to the volleyball uniform, only worse. Baggy mesh togs became short spandex underwear. Curves that were mere suggestions in my basketball jersey now required road signs, they were so treacherous. There was no lollygagging in volleyball either. Three shots to get it right and then, if you failed, you could be benched, plucked, tarred, feathered. The new coach expected the team to win. So, I did my part. I stayed away from the better players, the net, and the ball. Might as well have been at home reading a book on my green plaid quilt, fully clothed and happy.
My mother didn't believe in quitters; I remained on the team. Good game, good game, good game, I said, as we high fived the other team; perhaps it had been a good game that day. I didn't pay attention. No, each Saturday I waited on the bench for the match to end, tugging my shorts down as far as they would go, willing my hips to recede and my face to narrow, while one court away the younger children billowed, white shirts and all.
Mary Liza Hartong is a writer and artist from Nashville, Tennessee. Her work has been published in StyleBlueprint, the Portable Stories Series, the Lascaux Review, and many more journals. When she's not writing you can find her combing the local thrift stores for treasures and spending time with her five adorable nieces.
Art by Dave Gregory