Abandonment, Part 1

Zoolander and I were talking this week and he asked me a terrible question. We were talking about a 3-hour mountain bike race in April. I told him I had some anxiety over not being able to ride the technical course, over not being at the proficiency level of other racers, and that I thought it wouldn't be as much fun to be out there struggling, walking, falling behind.

ZL opposed this line of thought, and asked why. That's it. Just why.

I have avoided answering "why" questions for a long time, and this has worked out OK for me mostly. I hadn't understood the usefulness of it. Why am I the way I am? Who cares? If there's something I want to change, more direct to ask how I can change it. Forget why; why is a dead end, a curiosity.

But I was wrong to think this way. I was missing something valuable. Here is Why.

I skipped second grade. Because I was also born in late May, this meant I was one to two years younger than the other kids in my class. Academically, I had little competition among my peers. But on the softball field, on the basketball court, and in foot races, which I deeply wanted to enjoy, I was badly thrashed. I was always last, was a liability to teams, and in locker rooms, was terrified.

You know that kid in your class who was dressed funny, half-bathed at best, with boogers in her nose and who never talked to anybody? Cluelessly living in her own mental world, unable to make friends? YEAH. I was that kid. In a school with grade sizes of about 30 kids, and nowhere to hide, and reading Shakespeare, and always getting hit in the face with the ball. I didn't have friends until late junior high. I had predators.

There were no adult protectors. Who would I go to? Adults who had actively harmed me, adults who had ignored the harm, adults who had been either blind or dismissive? Adults who ignored the cruelty, threats, and teasing as long as I read at college grade level and aced tests?

Adults did not understand the world I lived in; they made that clear over and over. Life was not safe, except near my sister, who watched and understood and protected me as much as she could, though she resented it and probably needed the same for herself. I was fed, clothed, housed, and otherwise attended to, and felt incredibly ungrateful and unfair for wanting more. I felt guilty for being unhappy and afraid. That is how things were, from one angle.

It was not all bad. Being home with my sister was wonderful. We laughed a lot. There was an extraordinary access to beauty in that childhood. We had any book we wanted to read and music to listen and dance to and play. We ran around on our own, outside school's organized games.

Fast forward.

It didn't occur to me until I was 43 years old and finally participating happily in sports that maybe I hadn't been weak or slow as I had thought all those years. I had been weaker, slower, and smaller than kids two years older than me. You might think a coach would've pointed this out sometime. Oh well.

And I didn't see, until this week and that question, "Why?" that I equated not being able to keep up physically with being ridiculed, humiliated, ostracized, and scared.

I have a theory that humans are like trees. Who we are at five, at twelve, at twenty, lives in us like rings in a tree. Whatever we feed our minds filters through all those rings. We are every age we have been, all the time.

That is why going out in a race and not being able to execute at what I imagined was a minimum level of competence made me feel anxious. You might say the idea hit a lot of sensitive targets. One stood out.

What do you know. I have abandonment issues.

Which is an awful lot of baggage to carry into a local mountain bike race.

Read Part 2.