Nerd (from the autobiography, “My Name is Ned”)
…In 1982 I won Grand National Solo once again. I was the first athlete in the sport to win 2 consecutive years. That is because I broke the sacred tradition of sitting out a year as a courtesy. I was so young it would have been athletic suicide to stop my training regimen. Besides, I was fairly attached to that Diamond Cup and I didn’t want to give it back. More than a few people were unhappy with my decision but nobody ever sat out again.
Becoming a champion was validating. In the gymnasium I was a star. Outside the gymnasium I was an unusually small, skinny, socially backward teenager with an overbearing mother. I was petrified of attending public high school. Since the pressures of competition were so absurd it was decided that the best thing to do was opt for home schooling. This would allow me to practice even more and completely avoid socializing with my peers. My mom ordered a series of Christian Home School text-books and the fiasco began.
Now I had no reason to interrelate with other teens who may ridicule me for my diminutive size and corresponding fashion sense. At 14, I wore a size 6 from the little girls department. The size wouldn’t have been so outstanding had I not had such affection for Strawberry Shortcake brand clothing. My mom chuckles over having never won anything in her life aside from prizes from the “guess your age booths” where she confidently placed me in front of the expert carnie workers and walked away victorious every time.
When I did return to public High School as a 4”11” 68 pound Sophomore I was far more withdrawn. Teachers adored me because I was very bright and only spoke when I had the correct answer, silently hoping for a prize. I probably could have lived out my days as a secluded hermit if it weren’t for one very motivating factor . . . Jason Ames.
Jason Ames was a gregarious young man with a megawatt, movie star smile. He was a grade or two ahead of me. His locker wasn’t far from mine and observing his sociable demeanor caused me to fall madly in love. In my 68 pound world that meant that I would daydream about marrying him so I could hold his hand.
I overheard Jason speak about working at Bowinkles, the greasy burger stand in downtown Rio Linda. Although I rarely went anywhere unrelated to school or training I began to accompany my mom when she went to the bank. I would wait in the car and stare at Bowinkles.
One day, I built the courage to creep over to the stand and lurk behind a post with hopes of catching a glimpse of my crush. Unfortunately, I was not quite thin enough to be hidden by the 4 inch post and soon I heard his amicable voice. “Hi Annetta, how ya doing?” I was stunned and didn’t fully comprehend that his greeting was addressed towards me. I looked around for the other Annetta he must be speaking to. He continued. “Hey, come on over! How ya doing?” He was looking right at me. I hesitantly came out from behind the pole and stiffly began my doomed march towards the shack window. I could barely see over the counter and Jason leaned out the window and continued his friendly banter. “Man, I sure am glad this week is over! Do you have any cool plans for this weekend?” Every sentence he spoke was met with my utter stone-faced silence. My eyes were unblinking as I stared at Jason’s mouth and my mind turned flip flops like a surfer pounding on the ocean floor, caught by a steady set of 60 foot waves. I wasn’t breathing. I was in a full blown comatose panic. He finally asked something he probably figured I’d have an answer for, “So, what can I get you?” . . . . Silence . . . Now my mind really began working. I had just been asked a simple question. I knew I was capable of responding but I had no money and not the slightest possibility of ordering unhealthy food even if I did. After a very uncomfortable 20 seconds I had an answer. My voice was unnatural. “MAYONNAISE” I barked. Unsure if he understood me Jason replied, “what’s that?” I now stared at his throat to avoid eye contact. Another long silence ensued as I decided I would go with this topic. It wasn’t the best choice but I had nothing else. “MAYONNAISE”, I managed to squawk once again. “Just mayonnaise Annetta? You haven’t ordered anything yet, right?” This threw me off of my game. Now I was going to have to come up with more than a one word answer. Another painful 20 seconds passed as I thought of my brilliant response. “I only eat MAYONNAISE.” Now Jason began to laugh good humouredly and replied, “you’ve gotta be kidding!” I thought quickly this time and devised a brilliant come back. As I said this last witty sentence I finally looked Jason very seriously right in the eyes, “it’s for training, I only eat MAYONNAISE . . . goodbye.” With that I promptly bolted from the shack and hid in the back seat of my mom’s car.
For the next two or three weeks I would sneak off to private areas in the house and hit myself in the forehead with my palm while repeating, “STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! NERD!”