Thursday, June 29, 2006

Touched by Mary Gross

When I was fifteen and in sophmore gym class, I decided to give jockdom another chance. I had recently broken up with my first real boyfriend, and was in the mood for a change. Previously I had avoided gym class, and when I couldn't avoid it, participated as little as possible.

I didn't start out that way. When I was about nine, I really wanted to be a jock. I joined a girls softball team and went from bad shortstop to semi-adequate outfielder. My team, the Bensalem Doves, was actually good in spite of me - we won the division championship both years I was on the team, and the second year we were undefeated. So I got two trophies just like everybody else. But the only way I could claim credit for our record was, maybe, that I psyched the other teams out by making the sign of the cross when they came up to bat. I was very religious as a kid, ironically.

I don't think I ever actually learned all the rules of softball while I was on the team, and I spent most of my time on the field hoping that the ball wouldn't come to me. So in spite of my proto-feminist belief that it was important for girls to play sports as much as boys I was a lousy jock. And after the second year in softball, I admitted it and didn't try to fight it any more - until I was fifteen and depressed and looking for a way to redefine myself.

Bad move.

I don't know why they allow kids to play field hockey without helmets. They didn't provide helmets in my day, and I'm told kids are still not required to wear them. Who the hell thinks it's a good idea to distribute long heavy wooden sticks to a group of adolescents wearing nothing more protective than gym shorts and t-shirts and tell them all to try to hit a tiny ball at the same time?

Now I know even less about the rules of field hockey than I did the rules of softball when I was a player, but I'm pretty sure it's not considered good form, at the very least, to raise your field hockey stick over your head and then slam it down on the ball like you're playing golf. But nobody told Mary Gross.

So there I am, back on the jock trail, chasing after Mary Gross, who was controlling the ball. She decides to go for a hole in one. She swings her stick violently up and back and connects with my face, knocking me out for maybe five seconds. The next thing I remember was the gym teacher quickly hustling me off to the school nurse, more annoyed that I delayed the game slightly than worried about my welfare. I ran with the blood streaming. The field hockey stick had rammed my lower lip into my upper right tooth, ripping a big gash in my lip. I had to have a bunch of stitches - big long black ones that protruded straight out from my lip, just in time for a Halloween party - and yes, my ex-boyfriend was at the Halloween party.

After it was all healed, my lower lip was uneven - the scarred side was slightly lower than the other. This was bad, and at first I thought that was the only permanent disfigurement. It took me years to realize that my nose had been broken. I had always had a small hump on my nose, but now it was also out of alignment from left to right - and got worse over the years. My septum was deviated. Eventually I had rhinoplasty. That was ten years ago.

Even more slow to develop, but just as ugly, was my discolored tooth. When Mary Gross literally hit me with an ugly stick, she also killed my upper right tooth. Over the decades it slowly, steadily became discolored. I tried various whitening schemes until a dentist finally declared it dead and said no amount of topical treatment would lighten it up.

So today, finally, all these years later, I have corrected the last effect of the touch of Mary Gross. I had a nice white veneer placed on that tooth. Now I'm ready to get back in the saddle again - I'm ready to give physical fitness, at least, a chance. But nothing that involves free-swinging wooden sticks, that's just madness.