My family didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up, but you could never tell if you saw us on the surface. I went to a private school with my brother and always had nice clothes to wear. I went to that school because I had good grades and a scholarship (as did my brother) and we got all of our wardrobe at Dillard’s on a crazy good discount where my dad worked part-time in the evenings in addition to his full time job. Because for a time in my life when we only had one car in the family, my brother, mom, and I would spend a great portion of our weeknights at Dillard’s. Not every kid can say that they called a department store their second home for over a decade in their life. I used to do my homework on the model beds on the third floor in the housing department. I spent a lot of time surrounded by designer men’s shoes and suits. We usually got home on these nights after 10 PM. But none of it was bad at all. There was always a lot of laughter, food, warmth, love and I feel like I never went without for the important things that mattered. Sure, at several points in my childhood we couldn’t afford certain pieces of furniture and kept our clothes folded neatly in big plastic buckets but that was hardly troubling. If anything, it probably reflects to who I am now more than ever - I will buy a lot of clothes but I won’t touch much furniture that weighs you to the ground. (And as far as things that tested us as a family, nothing, absolutely nothing, made me grow up faster or take responsibility more than when I was 7 years old when my mom had a stroke. A very defining moment in my life.)
This all being said, one of my dreams as a little girl was to become a ballerina. The problem with this dream was that I wanted it too late in life - age 10 - and didn’t have a dancer’s background. But my mom signed me up for a basic intro to dance/ballet course and on my first day, I was totally ecstatic to be there. I had on a leotard and leg warmers and these elaborate black and purple shoes with black and purple silk ribbons that tied up. (Goddamn those were some great shoes.) I fumbled a bit but overall the first class went very well and my mom actually came in at the tail end to watch me! I couldn’t wait to come back for the next class and even if I never became a prima ballerina (highly likely!) at least I could say I did what I could to get there.
That first class wound up being my last class. The very next day, I was picked up from school by my mom with my brother who told me that my dad’s work schedules had been changed around. Dillard’s would be weekends only now and we had to go pick him every night of the week from his full-time job, located all the way downtown and conveniently enough, the bus line he used to take from said job had been cut. She told me she had to drop me from the class because once it let out, it would be too long of a wait for me to sit outside in the dark alone waiting for someone to pick me up from. The ballerina dream was over and I cried some pretty ugly tears in the car ride downtown.
About a year later, I got my ballerina wish for a day with my Halloween costume seen above. It was super elaborate with a frilly tutu, tons of makeup on my face including shimmering stars on my cheeks, and a super fancy hair/veil piece from the neighborhood costume shop. I loved that costume! I think I even wore it to sleep in after.
Because that was the day where I got to not just be a ballerina but one who ate lots of brownies and candy. If that was my ultimate future when it came to dance, then I can’t argue with that kind of logic.
Historically, I have always been the worst when it comes to being athletic. (Outside of the fact that I walk constantly, an average of three miles a day, seven days a week, and at a relatively fast pace.) Let’s chart some of my greatest hits, shall we?
2nd grade: Presidential Fitness Test Monkey Bars Mishap
You had to climb all the way up the top of the monkey bars and hang on for four minutes. Two minutes with your head resting on your hands clenching the bar, two minutes just dangling. A combined fear of heights and lack of upper body strength had me crying my way out of these, but this particular test was noteworthy because a kid in my class fell off and the paramedics had to come out and take him to the hospital. THE HOSPITAL. And then my teacher being the jerk she was, continued to make the rest of us climb that damn bar and hang. She also yelled at me for trying to cry my way out of it. (Didn’t even try to hold my legs for me like my 1st grade teacher did…)
4th grade: My First and Last Ballet/Dance Class
This worked out surprisingly well but at the time my parents only had one car and my Dad’s work schedule changed so every afternoon we would drive downtown to pick him up and go home after. No dancing shoes were bought for Heather. Instead, I got to watch my brother Earl get carsick on a regular basis and the section 8 housing grow outside of my car window the deeper into downtown we got.
5th Grade: Volleyball (I Got This!)
I have a secret that not many people know about beyond my middle school class and that secret is that I rock at volleyball.
When I was in the fifth grade, my parents forced me to join an after school sport. I never forgot how they approached me about it either, sitting me down and sternly telling me it was mandatory. As though I were in trouble for an actual problem. But they told me I needed to choose between track or volleyball and since I hate running with a burning passion in my heart, I choose the one most likely to break my glasses.
I did exceptionally well at volleyball, particularly when it came to serving. I had an excellent serve. The first time the ball flew over the net, it was majestic. It was empowering. It was poetry in motion. It was something that the other team didn’t expect from me, the girl sneaking two pieces of non-allowed jewelry on the court. Because nobody expected it, nobody was prepared and the points started rolling in. Whenever I served, people didn’t know whether to scoot close to the net or get back. I never gave any indication as to whether my serve would be strong or on the lighter side either.
My method with serving was simple. I took a lot of pent-up anger out on the ball. Get a bad grade on a math quiz? BOOM! My brother stealing my GameBoy again? BOOM! Some girl in my class teasing me (presumably who was also on the team too?) Envision the ball as her head and BOOM! It was awesome. I was in the zone, man, during the practices and the games. This was my time!
And then I got kicked off of the team. The funny part here is that this wasn’t my fault, but my parents’. They found out that the game schedule was predominantly at schools in the county areas and refused to drive me. (Also a lot of the parents were pretty volatile during these games and would regularly lose their shit if their kids lost.) And I was 11. I was powerless when it came to transportation and depended on them for the rides. So I talked with the coach and I was done. Sad day. But the nice thing was that my serve would continue to come in handy during class retreats and camping outings.
6th/7th grade: Soccer Mania
In which my ex-best friend (who was a freakish sports nut) and I were really into kicking the ball around. Every girl was. It was the Brandi Chastain effect in full swing. Minus whipping my shirt off because I still had zero chest at the time.
High School: The Dead Cheerleader Dream
I really wanted to be a cheerleader when I was in high school, but my school charged each girl $500 to join the squad. Isn’t that some shit? I would have been a strange cheerleader though, what with the fact that I was going through a phase that involved a lot of black eyeshadow, fishnet sleeves, and perpetual frown on my face at all hours.
I did take an aerobics course and really liked it though. Mostly because I got to gossip with my friends and they played a lot of Seal and early ’90s songs.
College/Grown Up Life: Pilates v. Walking
I did pilates in college. I also did hot yoga for a minute there. Both of which I had the worst time with because both activities require you to be reaching into your center and discovering your own inner peace. You’re supposed to turn the world off and disappear into yourself. I could never do this. I was always “that girl” in the class who argued bitterly about not being able to bring in her phone and was daydreaming about what I’d eat next.
Walking made me find my center, funnily enough, and it still does. I’ve been an avid walker since, well, since I could walk pretty much. I do it every morning and every evening. It’s my way of focusing and waking up in the AM and if I’ve had a particularly busy day at work, it helps me to let loose any steam in the evening.
The Forrest Gump of walking,