Waiting on the Sidelines

By: Ginger Scott

1. Trying Out

I live in a trailer. A double-wide manufactured home, to be more accurate. But those are just semantics. No matter how pitched the roof, how long the living room or how fancy the lattice-covered deck is that surrounds your manufactured home, because it is positioned atop giant cinder blocks with a river-rocked driveway, it is, unarguably, a trailer in the eyes of every person fortunate enough to live in a home with a foundation poured directly on the ground.

My trailer is the last one on a long dirt road just on the outskirts of town. We live in Coolidge. It’s a small town in Arizona about an hour outside the greater Phoenix area. That means it’s about an hour away from anything truly relevant.

Our biggest store is the K-Mart, one of the classic ones with giant orange and yellow toy airplanes by the front door with quarter slots and runny-nosed children begging their parents to let them have “just one ride.” The chalky white floor tiles are scuffed with dirt and blue Icee so badly that the daily mopping only moves the filth around, thinning it out with the water rather than actually making things clean.

From the time I started kindergarten my family planned an annual trip to the K-Mart for back-to-school shopping. My family isn’t poor. We’re comfortable. Lower middle class, sure, but we can afford to buy new clothes at the mall in town, which my parents do from time to time. We usually settled for the K-Mart because of the hour-long drive that a trip to the mall entailed. Our family car is a hand-me-down Oldsmobile from some great aunt I’m pretty sure I never met. It has black vinyl seats and a very sketchy air-conditioning system. Coolidge is separated from town by a lengthy stretch of desert, and one busted radiator hose or a faulty click of the air conditioning control meant we were rolling the windows down. Not a disaster in the winter, but in August, a situation like this almost guaranteed that the striped pattern of the vinyl seats would create a bright pink series of indentations on the fatty parts of the back of our legs, like singe marks on a barbecued hotdog. It is for this reason mostly that all back-to-school shopping is done at the K-Mart in Coolidge.

Up until this year, I had always looked forward to this outing. When I was 5 or 6, I would delight at the latest cartoon-character T-shirts that hung on the walls of the children’s department. Those, and the brightly colored soccer shorts in the boys section. A bit of a Tomboy, my wardrobe now consists almost entirely of cut-off jean shorts, tracksuit sweat pants, soccer shorts and sports logo T-shirts. My brother’s Nike jacket, made of maroon nylon with sporty white racing stripes down each sleeve, gets me through the winter. Fitting for a girl named Nolan. My dad was a huge baseball fan, and when I was born, his favorite pitcher was Nolan Ryan. Nolan’s real first name was Lynn, which of course I got for a middle name. Nolan Lynn Lennox. Not very girly, but I can throw a perfect spiral with the football and my curveball ain’t so bad either.

Things like clothing, makeup and hair were always an afterthought. Even during my last year of middle school. I chose my outfit each morning based on whether or not I had P.E. that day or if I had planned on playing kickball or soccer with the boys on the field before the morning bell. I rarely wore a dress, and when I did, I most certainly remembered to put shorts on underneath so I could run without fear of flashing my underwear.

“Dress up,” as it were, was reserved for 8th grade graduation and the few school dances we had. And even then my long brown hair was almost always in a ponytail. I found that was the easiest thing to do given the 100-degree temperatures outside and my insistence on playing every sport available. I had a permanent wave in my hair from the spot where the rubber band pulled my hair together.

My life’s purpose was to be part of the background. Lightly dusted freckles on my face, brown eyes and a bit of a lanky build, I was too tall for my gawky legs and size 9 feet that were always getting tangled up beneath me. I always wore tie shoes, like Vans or Converse, unless I had my running shoes on. I even convinced my mom to let me wear Converse to my 8th grade graduation – they were pink, which I think is what helped me win my argument.

My daily school outfit was thrown together in seconds every morning; often mismatched, but always clean. That was all I cared about.

Then Monday happened.

I’m a freshman. And on Monday I went to the Coolidge High School gym to try out for the school’s volleyball team. The concept of tryouts is really arbitrary at the freshman level. Everyone makes the freshman teams; they take as many people as they have jerseys. In fact, the year before they had 26 girls try out with only 25 uniforms. The parent booster club rushed to the rescue with a white, long-sleeved T-shirt (from the K-Mart, of course) and an iron-on number 26 from the craft department.

When I showed up to the gym, most of the other girls had already ran their laps and stretched. I could see them through the doorway window. They were sitting in a circle listening to three older women with clipboards talk, no doubt about the importance of teamwork and the winning record the school was coming off of from the season before. I intended on sneaking in behind them, but the humidity outside was so high that the paint on all of the doors was sticky. As I pulled on the gym door, it made a loud popping sound and an equally awful snarl from the hinges. As it slammed to a sticky close, my cheeks began to burn. The women I intended on sneaking in behind were resting their clipboards against their chests and staring at me with that look that I knew read “we’re going to make an example out of you.” A group of about 35 girls, many who were there trying out for the varsity squad, stared, too. The two closest to me were definitely juniors or seniors. Their fluffed, curly ponytails and perfectly manicured eyebrows were trademark of high school cheerleaders. And I would have quickly assumed them to be so, except that before I could excuse myself for being tardy, the tallest of the two yelled out ‘Ten laps on the stairs, freshman!’ before I could utter a word.