*Featured Artwork: “Every Time I Turn My Back I’m Tapped Upon The Shoulder” by Sophie Braxton
by Julie BeneshIn gym class I am always picked last. I’m bad because it’s pressure and the pressure is because I am bad, while unused to the pressure of being bad, a closed circuit. In bombardment, I end up the last girl standing because I am so evasive; I all but cower. (“Benesh, you chicken!”) In volleyball my teammates yell at me: “You are SUPPOSED to…” I know—I’m smart. But this must be what it feels like to be dumb, to not be able to read big words or analyze a poem. I sit down on the volleyball court saying, well, if you don’t appreciate my efforts I will just let the ball bounce off my head.
It’s better to be nothing than to be worse than nothing.
Outside for softball in right field I limp after foul balls worrying more about my menstrual pad falling out of my shorts than about helping to get someone out. I’d have to transfer schools, and better the devils I know.
In my distraction I break multiple fingers, toes, and twice my left wrist. Thus (loud) words, actual and anticipated, do break my bones and always hurt me. I hate being startled and refuse to draw attention to myself, zoning out and losing interest in situations likely to result in pain or discomfort.
Teaching me to drive my dad yells at me to hit the brake. Startled, I hit the gas, a tree, the windshield, ribs, forehead, end up in the emergency room and miss picture day the next day at school. I don’t want to learn to drive. I get my license because I’m not afraid with the dual control in the drivers ed car and I pass the test, but I don’t want to drive for real. People yell at drivers, and when I am yelled at, I break bones and bleed. And what if, in my incapacity, I hurt someone else? My parents fret. Years later I make one more attempt in the parking lot of my husband’s job. When the security guard says we can’t practice there I burst into tears.
My career is also like being smart in school and also being picked last for gym class while avoiding driving. I divorce, move to Chicago where there is public transport, and take jobs that are better than nothing and eventually hone one, over more than a decade, becoming virtuosic, a star player, the Michael Jordan of my job.
Then we get new leadership and I get yelled at, break, bleed, zone out and end up unemployed.
Thus I am walking on a county road next to Arlington Park Racetrack in 85 degree sunny heat after bombing an interview. I would have taken a bus from the train but they don’t run this time of day, and Uber has not yet been invented. I have already stopped at Starbucks to change from pumps to sneakers. Whatever happened in the interview swims by like a confusing dream, one that makes you weak with relief on waking like those terrible airplane flights that are actually really good because they don’t literally kill you.
Maybe I will luck out and be the least worst candidate? Slightly better than no one?
It is only a 31 minute walk to the Metra station, which if I could somehow cut through Arlington Park would be more like ten, but I can’t because there are fences and gates and something obscures my vision and brushes the left side of my hair, a screech pierces my ear… a starling dive-bombing my head and calling her sisters to join the mob as I twirl and fling my briefcase against the cloudless sky, the last girl standing in bombardment. Sweat is trickling down my back, and I fold up my black blazer and put it in my briefcase. My neck hurts. I try to imagine walking this route in the snow, in rain. Could I afford a car service?
What if I get this job? Is it better than nothing? Crap.
Fifteen minutes in I turn on Wilke Road, flushed and tousled and relieved to be away from the birds. But now there is traffic and every car that passes slows dramatically and honks. There are no sidewalks but I am as far from the road as I can be, and on the left. They are trying to tell me something, but what? I peer down at my modest interview shell and classic black pants to make sure there’s no wardrobe malfunction, nipples, bird poop, blood. Nope. I watch the cars as they pass. It’s all young-ish dudes, usually more than one, probably on their way to the track to work or to bet. Smiling. Not in a friendly way, nor, exactly, smirking, but more like a neutral, amused, “hey, what have we here?” kind of way. I am over 50, feeling 70 and used to being semi-invisible in big, sexy Chicago and currently dressed for something as far from clubbing or prostitution as anyone could. But here I am flashing shoulders, arms and hair like some kind of suburban if not eye… candy, eye… cornflakes? Eye… sugar-free gum? Eye celery, dunked in eye peanut butter?
Something benign, wholesome, better than nothing.
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