Love and Affection
She is the tallest one of her class. The tallest of the girls, and almost the tallest of all. It is when they have to stand in line in the gym that she feels it most. In the class room, when everyone is sitting, it isn't that obvious. But here, on the green floor, in her training shirt and training shorts, there is no place to hide the fact.
You might think that the tallness is an advantage for her, that it makes those sports classes easier for her. Not so. She isn't good at catching balls. Maybe it would be different if she would be in a sports club. Like Ellen, the teacher's favourite, the one who can walk on her hands and wears Orlando Magic shirts she borrows from her older brother. Or like Antje, the one with the blonde hair and the small feet, the one with the white sneakers with golden stripes.
When it comes to forming teams, it's mostly up to them. Standing on either side of the net, they take turns in naming the next to come to the field. Marion to the left, Daniela to the right, Elke to the left, Karen to the right, Susi to the left, Anja to the right. All the others first, until it is only Tanja and her left to choose from, until it doesn't matter any more whom to take.
Another thing she isn't good at, at least not at that point of time: running. The day they do the four thousand meter run is a summer day. She will remember the heat in the bus, on the way to the stadium, and the way her training clothes feel sticky when she changes into them, as if they know how much she dislikes them. Then out and to the training court, to find that another class is already there, staring at the newcomers, making her feel even more ill at ease.
The others are smiling, for them sport classes are a break, something to look forward to. The teacher stands at the start line, stop watch in his hands, shouting GO. Nothing left to do now but to follow. And so she tries to at least keep up with the last ones of the others. But her body has a mind of its own, it lets her fall behind, step by step, while her teacher shouts at them, at her, while the other class stares. She thinks about ending it, she could give up and walk away, she could pretend she is sick. But she doesn't have the strength for it, and so she simply moves on, knowing that she isn't even running any more.
Antje with her gold strip Adidas sneakers and Ellen with the Orlando Magic shirt are finished long before she reaches the line. Her teacher just jots down her time, says something to her she doesn't want to hear.
Only once are things different. It's another summer, an afternoon lesson, at the end of the school year. She takes the route through the fields to get to school. Her walkman plays Def Leppard, and one of the Hysteria songs keeps playing in her head after she puts down the walkman. Gimme love and affection, I got the heart, you got the beat, Joe is singing inside her, invisible for the others, for the teacher, for Antje, for Ellen, I got the heart, I got the dream. His voice takes her through all, through the changing into training clothes, through the warm up, through whatever stupid move she has to make in that lesson, all the way to the moment she changes back to herself, to Jeans and T-shirt, I don't need your understanding, we got the dream, oh imagine it.
It is only years later, when she can speak English well enough to reach the end of a sentence without stumbling, when she can do the whole training circle in the forest behind the town without running out of air halfway through, that she meets her sports teacher again.
“I go jogging regularly now”, she tells him. “I can do four thousand metres now easily.”
He doesn't react.
“I was in your class once, the one who almost didn't reach the finish line”, she explains.
He doesn't remember. He is pleased to hear the news, but he can't remember the day back then. To him, her failure had meant nothing. A thought that is relieving. They chat some more minutes, about school, about music, about nothing of importance.
Back home, she searches for the old Def Leppard cassette. It is still there, stored away in a box, forgotten and now found again. She puts it into the recorder, and it happens there, while listening to the tunes of her past, that she realizes the two mistakes she had made.
It hadn't been the day at the stadium that her teacher couldn't remember. It had been her that he hadn't any memory of. And the other thing: she had got the lyrics wrong. Def Leppard, love and affection. The refrain actually started with Don't. Don't gimme love and affection, Joe had always said. Don't gimme love, the wrong reason, it don't matter to me.
words: Dorothee Lang, Germany (oil on copper)
picture: Efrat Havusha, Israel