Don't Quit the Jump Rope Team
By Chloe Jorns
I stood in a dark tunnel, baggy gym shorts hanging awkwardly from my hips. The cheering of the crowd echoed in my ears. I reached a scrawny arm over the barricade as the players ran through and halfheartedly high-fived our outstretched hands. In a series of unexpected events, my elementary school’s jump rope team, which did exactly as the name suggests, found itself invited to perform at the halftime show of an NBA game. I still remember the players, the way they kept their eyes straight ahead, their faces stoic.
I never understood why competition made people so serious; then I became obsessed with it myself. Lopsided smiles turned to tightly pressed lips. Wild hair turned to slicked back buns under silicone caps. The jump rope team ended after fifth grade, so I turned to the only other sport I knew: swimming.
Last year, I raced at the state meet. I spent twenty minutes cramped in a bathroom stall pulling on a paper-thin suit that felt three sizes too small. Jumbled conversations about who was swimming what followed me out of the locker room. I pushed my way through the crowded pool deck, dodging the arms of overzealous parents competing to see who could get their phone the highest and screaming coaches with crumpled heat sheets and stopwatches clenched in their fists.
“Take your mark.”
I pressed my goggles on my eyes until the suction became painful. My palms scratched against the coarse surface of the block. My heart hammered in my chest. I’ve never been good under pressure. The starter buzzed. My fingertips hit the water.
Clammy, like they were clutching jump rope handles at the basketball game. I messed up during the performance. My foot, far too big for that of an elementary schooler, caught on the rope. I didn’t jump high enough.
Shaky, like they were at the swim meet when I was already losing the race off the dive. Coach said I never dove far enough, said I always looked afraid.
Unblinking, like they were when I saw my face on the jumbotron in the arena. My cheeks flushed after stumbling on the rope. But then I moved on, too thrilled by the sight of my face on the big screen, even if it was just for a second.
Four-tenths of a second.
That’s how much time I added in the race. There was an ache in my shoulders when I looked up at the scoreboard. It was an embarrassment. But I’ve done far more objectively embarrassing things and never felt that level of shame. In third grade, I was on the dance team. I couldn’t touch my toes let alone move to a beat, but I liked the sparkly costume. Then there was the drama club. I couldn’t act, but I could memorize lines and sing okay for a fourth grader. So, the director thought, why not? I played Annie, wore the red wig and all. In fifth grade, I joined the sports clinic, which was essentially after school gym class. I couldn’t run, couldn’t throw, couldn’t catch, but I liked eating protein bars and sporting neon activewear.
Elementary school marks the only time in my life that I’ve been good at trying things, or rather, the only time that I’ve been good at failing. It’s easy to see my childhood self as a person of the past: a girl lost amidst hyper fixations on tenths of a second and qualifying times. But the other day I was driving home from work. I got caught in the five o’clock traffic. The light was green, but no one was moving. I turned up the music and started singing. My voice was loud, grating, pitchy. But I didn’t care. I caught my own eye in the rearview mirror. The sun hit my face, making my freckles more noticeable than usual. They’ve faded a lot since elementary school, but they’re still here. She’s still here, that girl who thought choreographed jump roping was cool. She’s still here in the fashion shows I put on for myself every time I buy new clothes, in the late-night dance parties for one, in the cheesy literature I’d never admit to enjoying more than the classics. There are those rare moments I find myself laughing, in the solitude of my room, at my own stupid thoughts, caught up so much in the present that I become the girl from my past.