W. Bruce Cameron: I’ve decided that when I’m dying and my whole life flashes before my eyes, I’m going to skip the high school years. I mean, it will be bad enough that I’m dying; why make it worse?
Probably the most embarrassing experience of my life not involving slow dancing occurred during sophomore year, when the gym instructor announced we would be using a vaulting horse.
During my time there, our high school was so crowded that storage rooms were pressed into service as classrooms, and even the teachers’ lounge was appropriated – the teachers were forced to smoke in the nurse’s office. Study hall was held in the gymnasium bleachers.
The gym instructor had thoughtfully placed the vaulting horse so that to leap over the thing, the sophomore boys would have to trot right past the senior girls, who were attempting to study on the bottom row of the bleachers.
Gym uniforms at that time consisted of a white T-shirt over our skeletal ribs, white shorts over our spindly legs, white socks and white shoes. We looked like we were from the National Guard of Anorexia. Quaking, we listened in disbelief while the coach explained what we were supposed to do.
“You’ll gimp down the runway, sobbing with each stride, the girls laughing at your lack of muscles, until you reach the springboard. There you’ll bounce up with all the grace of a stork being launched from a cannon, windmilling your arms helplessly, touch the vaulting horse, and crash to the ground, all of your testosterone leaking away forever.”
These may not be exactly the words he used but it is what each of us was picturing while he spoke. I looked at the row of girls and wondered whether I could fake some sort of disqualifying injury before I was forced to leap the vaulting horse and incur a real one.
The first boy to take on the horse was shoved forward like a penguin being crowded off the ice into the sea to test for killer whales. He was so timid in his approach that his launch barely had enough momentum to push the air out of his way.
He collided with the vaulting horse with a sound like being punched in the stomach and the girls winced in sympathy, which was far worse than if they had laughed or jeered. No one would look at him when he limped back to our group.
“Cameron, you’re next!” the gym instructor called out, which was ridiculous; hadn’t we just proven we couldn’t do this?
Gulping, I stepped up to the runway, which in my estimation measured too long by a factor of six cheerleaders and a homecoming queen. The coach indicated his understanding and patience by shouting “Go, Cameron, go!” over and over, so the girls would know my name when they wrote it down on the list of Boys Who Would Never Go to Prom.
My legs as steady as a newborn colt’s, I launched myself on a wobbling sprint. My approach took approximately 19 hours. I can still clearly see the faces of the girls as they watched me because I was in love with every single one of them.
I knew right then and there that if I could somehow beat all the odds and make a perfect vault over the horse, they still wouldn’t talk to me.
I hit the springboard with such determination that I never did have a chance at touching the horse. I hurtled over the thing, madly flogging the air with outstretched fingertips, twisting my body to no avail.
I hit the floor on the other side like a man thrown from a speeding truck, and lay there hoping my injuries were fatal so I wouldn’t have to open my eyes.
As my hearing gradually returned, I could hear a sound coming from the girls. I thought at first they were running for the exits, but then realized what the pounding noise was.
They were applauding. Somehow, I had managed to take humiliation and turn it into performance art.
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