I dread hearing those words. My stomach tightens. My feet rivet themselves to the floor. I turn my head but not my torso and scan the room for someone--anyone--standing alone. Since I'm at the front, seeing poses difficulty.
I'm transported back to grade school. Reliving those cringe-worthy days. Again, I'm the last one chosen. I'm 56, fairly accomplished and confident. I'm a failure in this moment. The diplomas, degrees, accolades of my academic life no longer matter. Only this moment in this class at this gym possesses meaning. Even the old ladies--like me--have found a partner.
The instructor motions a middle-aged man over to me. I recognize the mortification on my face in her reaction to mine.
We had just finished the 5X5 kettle bell rotation and move on to floor exercises, which is why we need a partner. I'm required to hold the man's ankles and he mine in one exercise. I'm uncomfortable standing by his head with his hands grasping my shoes to avoid touching the bare skin of my lower leg.
During my turn, he tells me, "You can quit."
"I never quit," I retort.
And I don't. I endured the rotation.
The instructor informs me at the conclusion of the next 5X5 that I "can find a new partner" if I'm uncomfortable. Tears seep from my eyelids. I try to speak but can't locate the words I need to tell her that looking for a new partner when everyone else already has one would draw attention to my plight and cause me more duress. Only tears speak my anguish.
At the next floor rotation, the instructor motions another instructor attending the class to partner with me. This means that she'll have to give up her partnership with a strong male for one lesser than. Her original partner, a young man in his 20s, is assigned a somewhat geriatric, flabby man in his 50s.
I am incompetent. I am rejected. That's how I felt. That's how I feel.
The change takes another route. A gracious woman of my generation approaches me and says she's partnering with me because she can't keep up with her first partner. We give one another an understanding look that says, "We may be old, but we're not dead, and we're doing the best we can do."
The class proceeds with my new partner taking a restroom break during one floor rotation.
There's a deja vu quality to this class, both in terms of its internal structure on this day--five kettle bell exercises repeated five times with the 5X5 rotation repeated five times after each floor rotation, which are all different--and its ability to transport me back to my childhood where I relive being the last kid on the playground picked for all team sports.
At the end of class, the instructor approached me: "Thanks for sticking it out. How did it end up working out for you?"
"I almost didn't," I respond. "It was like being back in grade school."
"Well, I'm sorry. I really am." She walked away. I followed both her departure and her pained expression through my own tears.
*Side Note: Last week I read a professor's post on FB about her son's AR reading program and the way it marginalizes some readers. I thought about the pain children experience when we turn reading into a playground competition that chooses some kids and leaves others standing alone. Then Friday I attended kettle bell (my favorite class w/ my favorite instructor, BTW) and had the experience I wrote about today.
As I return to school next week and greet students August 26, I want to remember that no kid deserves to be the last one standing and searching for someone with whom to learn and talk and share.