I stood on the edge of the court and watched as the volleyball spiraled towards me. I threw up my hands and covered my face with my arms. The ball hit my elbows and crashed to the gym floor. The group of nine- and ten-year-old girls groaned at me.
“Melony, pick up the ball and serve it,” the gym teacher, Ms Graham, said with no small hint of annoyance.
I picked it up, threw it into the air, flailed my arms to hit it and grazed it with my pinky finger. I watched in horror as the ball landed onto my forehead.
The frustration of the room transformed into laughter. The gym teacher blew her whistle to return to a state of calm and called Christi to my side. “Show her how it’s done.”
I watched in awe. She threw the ball straight up, jumped, and at the exact right second, she smacked the ball with her palm. It flew over the heads of my classmates onto the other side of the net.
The game continued until the whistle sounded again, only it was the period whistle to announce the end of class. Thankfully, the ball never came my way again.
I gathered my belongings and skulked past my classmates to make my way out. Ms Graham caught me as I tried to sneak past. Her hand landed on my shoulder and three words came out of her mouth I didn’t want to hear, “A word, please.”
I stopped and walked closer to her. Out of every teacher I had ever had since kindergarten, Ms Graham was the only one that didn’t like me. Aside from being able to run fast, I was perhaps the example of a bookish nerd with no skill in athletics.
“I tried,” I said, “honest, I did.”
“I know. But trying isn’t enough in my class.”
I flinched. I didn’t know how I could improve on this one thing.
“I feel I need to be upfront with you. If you can’t get this right, I will have to give you a C this term,” Ms Graham said.
A C! No, nonononononono.
“But-“ I said.
“No. Listen,” she crossed her arms for added effect. “This is how you get an A. You need to serve the ball and get it over the net. And you have to hit bump the ball, again over the net.”
She must have seen the terror written all over my face, so after an uncomfortable break, she continued, “You need to do this once before the term is up.”
I gulped and nodded before I realized what I was doing. She showed me to my homeroom and apologized to the teacher before leaving.
I couldn’t focus on class for the rest of the morning; instead, I spent my time planning. Two weeks to master these two simple little things. But first. I’d need Christi to help me.
The next morning thirty minutes before school began, I entered the gym and took a volleyball out of the equipment locker. Christi agreed to help me, for the price of a nutter butter every day.
For two weeks, I would leave the gym with red palms and fresh new bruises on my forearms from the force of the ball. And every day for nearly two weeks, I would walk away certain that the C inched that little bit closer.
When the end of the term came and I hadn’t heard from Ms Graham about her requirement, I went to her office.
“Uh, Ms Graham?” I said. “It’s the end of term.”
“I’m aware,” she said. Her eyes met mine. “I know I told you trying wasn’t good enough. But you’ve changed my mind. I’ve watched you over the last two weeks try very hard to get it. Your arms are covered in bruises to prove the point.”
I tried to hide my arms into my sides.
“We both learned a valuable lesson, I think. I’ll let you decide what that is. Anyways, you’ll be getting a B+ this term.”
I never considered fighting back. I accepted her grade and her reasoning and walked away with a half smile on my face. I would never be a natural athlete, but if I worked hard enough, I could pass as an below average one.