Picked by Default

I can picture it all. Nearly the same, every day. Year after year.

Once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and once at lunchtime.

Recess.

Maybe you have good memories of school recesses.

I don’t.

I prayed daily for the (disappointingly rare) “indoor recess” which would protect me from having to reveal any further my painfully evident dearth of kinesthetic intelligence.

Reading, playing board games, assembling puzzles, even joining a friendly game of “heads Up 7-Up”… These were my preferred pastimes in my most advantageous milieu: Indoors. No feats of strength, skill, or accuracy required.

I didn’t do sports things well.

At all.

I still don’t, but now, at fiftysomething, I possess (occasionally) enough mental and emotional acumen to deflect or compensate for the unpleasant feelings of inadequacy and incompetence that arise from the inability to throw or catch a ball.

Or even a goddamn frisbee (ask my kids. or my neighbor. or anyone at that one picnic that one time).

But I still desperately want to be picked.

“We want Ben on our team. Pick him before someone else does.”

That never happened in the 1970’s.


I’m standing on the wall with the rest of the kids. We’re playing Red Rover. You know the one – two teams, each with arms clasped, taking turns at “calling” someone over. If the called person is able to break through your team’s clasped arms, they take one of your team members back with them. If they fail, they stay with you.

Some schools have banned it.

People get hurt.

I got hurt. But not like you think. My injuries are not why the game is banned some places. My arm was never broken, nor was my elbow pulled out of its socket.

No, I survived countless games of Red Rover physically intact. But my sense of worth, my confidence, my self-image… they took a beating. Over and over and over.

And that was before the game even started.

As I said, we’re all lined up on the wall of the school. This ingrained and oft-repeated memory is probably outside Mrs. Crosby’s room, which means I was likely in third grade.

For this memory. Other years, I’m sure we were lined up on other walls, each befitting our grade.

Really, though, it doesn’t matter which wall I remember.

Some walls never change.

I said, “all lined up”; that’s not exactly true.

Two people stood out and away from the wall from the start:

The captains.

I was never a captain.

Who the fuck chose the captains? Did they choose themselves? Did the athletically-abled, popular, beautiful people give off some sort of pheromone that silently said, “I AM THE CAPTAIN” and the rest of us just lined up on the wall without any kind of deliberation or official selection?

That’s probably it. Pheromones. I’m going with pheromones.

A pheromone I clearly did not emit.

If I had any kind of invisible marking system. it was one that left me to wait on the wall.

Always on the wall.

Never the one who got to pick; just the one waiting to be picked.

Over and over and over.

Ultimately, it would come down to two of us left on the wall.

Then just me.

And I was picked by default. Because I was the only one left.

It hurt.

A broken bone or dislocated shoulder might have proven preferable.

At least I’d have had a reason to stay away from the wall altogether.


Lest you think this is (just) a pity party, I have a happyish ending.

Or at least a happy story of… progress. Toward… something. Nothing ever really ends.

I get “picked” a lot these days. By some of the most wonderful people on the planet. For some of the most wonderful reasons (and for no reasons at all, which is THE. BEST.).

And it is enough, even when it doesn’t feel like enough.

Because I’ve been chosen. I’ve finally been chosen.

And not, thank God, by default.

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