This one time in 4th-grade gym class we were all told to do a Frogstand to close out the day. A Frogstand is where you tripod yourself on your head with your elbows touching your knees. We were told to hold that position for as long as possible and when we failed we had to go sit on the bleachers and watch until there was only one person left, the class hero.
Instantly my heart started to race because I knew I could win this competition. I knew this because I would often Frogstand at home for hours. Sometimes I would flip my TV upside down and I would watch G.I.Joe cartoons while Frogstanding in my living room. It just came naturally for me. It was the fetal position that I went to for comfort. And being one of the least athletic people in the class, I had very few ways to distinguish myself in front of my peers.
So, I effortlessly got into position, and the timer started. Just seconds in and I could already see people falling down all across the room. But, I was like a rock. I was an inverted Buddha of pure jade. This was my moment. I was glowing and white hot.
I closed my eyes and pictured it. Everyone would be impressed with me. Karina would think I was cute again like she had in 2nd grade; in 3rd grade, she had cornered me near the coat racks and told me I wasn’t the cutest anymore. Now she thought Keith was the cutest. But today I would change her mind. I would change everyone’s mind. People would respect me now. Keith would stop picking on me for having eczema on my wrists. Our gym teacher would stop forgetting my name all the time. Never again would he look at me and hesitate before calling me “Stringbean”. It was going to be a new world. All I had to do was hold this position for maybe 5 minutes, and that was like asking me to sit in a chair for 5 minutes. Easy.
A few minutes in I realized that everyone I could see had already fallen over. No one in my field of view was still standing. I could count 20 kids, including Karina, stacked up on the bleachers watching and cheering. How many of us could possibly be left? I could see from the gestures of the kids that there was someone else, someone next to me, and we were probably the last two frogs standing. But who was it? And were they about to fall? I wished I could see them struggling. I wanted to watch their arms shake and the sweat bead on their forehead in my moment of victory. Maybe I could make eye contact with them and smile nonchalantly just to make things go a little bit quicker. “Oh, what’s that? I fell asleep. Are we still upside down?” I would say, “I didn’t even notice.” Then I would yawn and everyone would laugh as they crumbled into dust. My classmates would be quoting me until high school. It was going to be glorious. So, I carefully turned my head to see who it was that was next to me.
And that was my mistake. Because when I turned my knobby little head 30 degrees to my left it upset my balance and I immediately felt my center of gravity shift back, away from my tripoded hands. I made a strangled gurgle and overcorrected, rocking from side to side, then with a sputter, I stuck my legs straight up and bicycle kicked the air in a futile attempt to climb back to vertical. But it was too late. I hit the mat with a loud flop, completely spread eagle, flat on my back, like a fly smashed on a windshield.
Everyone in class cheered when I hit the ground. It was suddenly obvious that they had been hoping all along that I would lose. They rushed in to congratulate the winner, stampeding over my body on their way. To my horror, I saw who it was. The class hero. Keith. He rolled out of his Frogstand and pumped his fist in the air like he was Karate Kid just before the end credits rolled. I saw him lock eyes with Karina and the two of them smiled at each other. The crowd continued to step over and around me in their rush to lift Keith up onto their shoulders. No one helped me stand back up. No one even looked at me.
“When I thought up this competition I knew you were going to win,” my gym teacher said, giving Keith some sort of secret handshake. I mixed into the crowd and slowly walked back to my shoes. I couldn’t find them at first because they looked exactly the same as everyone else’s. Nothing special about them except for the holes in the toes where I would kick at the dirt on the corner of the playground.
It has been nearly 30 years, and every single day I still think about failing that Frogstand. It reshaped my life, really. But was it for the better? Did I learn not to compare myself to the guy next to me? Did I learn to rate my self-worth on my own standards and my own achievements and not on the accomplishments of some guy named Keith? Did I learn to patiently stick to my strengths and consistently perform in a way I know I can without the fear of having to answer to someone else? Or is this my super villain origin story? Did I learn that Keith will always be better than me, and as long as Keith still exists out there, somewhere, I will always be overlooked, forgotten, and burdened with failure?
Well, I’ll keep the answers to these questions to myself. But I will say this. Keith, if you are reading this, you should know that I’ve been standing on my head for the past 30 years. I’m more powerful now than you could possibly imagine. If you ever want a rematch, I promise you: You will be destroyed. I will Frogstand you into the ground. I will Frogstand on your grave. You, your precious Karina, your crowds of cheering fans in the bleachers, all of you. No one will survive the Frogstand Apocalypse. All will shrivel like flowers in a burning field at the might and tyranny of The Frogstander (I’m still working on a name, to be honest.)