I can be a wee bit of an overachiever. While this may appear like competitiveness to some, I am trying to reach a standard rather than beat an opponent. It is all about my performance, not anyone else’s. (I guess I am a wee bit of a solipsist, too.) While I certainly take some pride in achievement, the driving factor for me is earning my place on the lifeboat.
By the quirks of youthful social structure, the most popular kid in school during my pre-teen years was the principal’s son. He had a next-door neighbor the same age (who attended the public school) with whom we spent a lot of time. By the quirks of pop culture, roller skating rinks were all the rage at that time. The local rink was Skate Junction, originally conceived during the urban cowboy phase but soon redressed with just brown shag carpet. One weekend the neighbor invited some of us kids for an afternoon at the roller rink.
I was never much of a roller skater. As a nine-year-old I remember a teacher heckling my strange style of resting my weight on my left leg and pushing with my right leg. While it did work well with the convention of turning widdershins, I suppose they considered its asymmetry unorthodox. (I would use that style to great effect in a few years when I started skateboarding.) Of course the reason for this strange style was that my left leg was already noticeably shorter than my right leg.
The most dreaded part of any trip to the roller rink was when the DJ would turn down the lights and replace the disco with a ballad for the Couples Skate. As being short, round, and smart is not a recipe for romantic success, I knew my place when he announced the couples skate. I pushed my way off the rink and found a corner in which to hide my ignominy.
The next door neighbor had brought his sister, Margie. The combination of being a few years older, Nordic heritage, and fortuitous genetics produced a curvy, ginger, “older” woman, a combination for which I have a particular weakness. I am sure it was obvious to everyone but me that I was quite charmed by her. I can only hope that I kept the bug eyes and drooling to a decorous minimum.
Imagine my surprise when, while I am holding up a carpeted half-wall, Margie leaves her group of friends and skates up to us. I assume that she wants to speak with her brother but, to my utter surprise, she talks to me! With a sweet smile, she asks if I would like to skate. One would think that I would have jumped at the chance, told her that it was a dream come true, and skated off into the sunset. (Metaphorically as I presume Skate Junction would want their skates back.) There was a part of me that screamed for it but I said no.
I thought she was making fun of me.
I felt like I had not achieved that level of acceptance. If I could not even be good enough to not be abused, why could I think that I was good enough to merit the attention of a dream girl like Margie? I overachieve not because I am trying to beat out someone else. I overachieve because I am still trying to earn my place in the family.