Stepping Out of Line

“It’s six, ya’ll! IT’S SIX O’CLOCK! I gotta lock up! Make your way out please!” I screamed desperately into the setting sun, waving my hands ridiculously over my head and trying to grab someone—anyone’s— attention.

A few assholes students looked over at my walkie-talkie wielding bellows, but they almost immediately returned their attention back to their game. The mentality I felt oozing from the Frisbee players in the far back corner of the East field was the exact same emitting from the soccer boys, the rugby girls, and the nerdy couple picnicking  in the other far corner (doing god knows what). They all acted as if pushing their focus reaaaally deeply into their activities would counteract the OPERS gym manager trying to lock up the field for the night. Maybe if we ignore her, every brain on the field said in chorus, she’ll go away.

I was tired, I was cold, I was in the middle of a goddamn double shift on a Friday— “Please get the FUCK off the field!”

I didn’t care if I cursed, I really didn’t. It was a long day and I’d already spoiled these kids more than any gym employee should have. I had run around the grass to each individual group— out of breathe, looking like a complete loser—telling each group they had 15 minutes, then 10 minutes, then 5 minutes left before I would locked for the night. It was now 6:05 and my patience had disappeared to wherever the respect these assholes students had for authority had gone: somewhere far, far beyond retrieval.

I heard one of the soccer boys drop a “Sheesh,” on my left, and an “okay, okay, chill” float from the mud-riddled guy undoing his laces, but I bit back a a response the general group had started to finally move (though I swear, in slow-motion) toward the mounds of backpacks and shoes. Instead of bitching loudly I mumbled something about murder then turned my gaze towards the rubgy girls, my fingers crossed in my jacket pocket. The rush of relief at the sight of their trudges towards the gate came so warmly that for a moment I couldn’t feel the cold air biting my face—Thank GOD I don’t have to confront the rugby girls. 

Because, side note? Nothing scares me more than rugby girls. If one of them walked over and said, “Yo, I need–”  I’d probably start crying and begin handing over my jewelry and wallet and iphone and hopes and dreams and organs before she could say “Thanks but I just need the equipment.”

So yeah, the rugby girls were leaving on their own accord, and this cushion was the only power that gave me the energy to handle Asshole #1 this one guy.

While everyone grabbed their respective bags and lumbered off the  grass, two boys sat in the middle of the field laughing and chatting as they “undid their shoe laces.” Bullshit hustle, I thought, watching the one with a white shirt pull out this phone to show the Guy With Red Shoes  something on it.

“Hey guys, I need you guys off the field.” I thought about it then (with the week’s last thrust of patience) I forced a smile and added, “…please.”

But sweetness was evidently the wrong tactic. Red Shoes looked me up and down then smirked. I knew that smirk. He was winding up for a Douche-bag FlirtI can smell his motives before he moves on them, it’s the college boy stench.

“Yeah I’ll get off,” he smirks. “But why should I?”

My smile hardens and slowly falls into a grimace,“Cuz I said so. Thanks.”

His friend is all too ready to hop in on the taunting and takes my attitude is an invitation to the confrontation. Still sitting down, White V-Neck elbows Red Shoes and goes “Listen to her man. Can’t you tell she’s important?” At the word ‘important’ he snickers, and it takes all the self-control I can muster not to glare back at his mockery.

Instead I just stand there silently— knowing that little boys have no idea how to act around silence—and do my best to make this as awkward for them as possible. I stood rooted to the spot indifferently; within just six seconds their sneery laughs crumble into discomfort with the lack of feedback. Predictable as children. They fumble upwards as I continue having nothing to say. My insides would be roaring with triumph if I hadn’t been so ticked off; I’m ready to fucking go.

But standing seemed to have rejuvenated Red Shoes, and his renewed height seemed to have puffed his efforts back up again. With that same smirk on his face, he lifts his chin and challenges, “So you call the shots around here, huh?” White V-Neck chuckles a classic wing-man “isn’t-my-dude-a-piece-of-work” sound, and I try not to gag.

“Nope, I just enforce them,” I say stiffly. I look in the direction of the gate. I sigh impatiently. I check my watch and it reads 6:14.

“Ooooh, I like that—” he starts, and I don’t even fight the visible shiver of EW, GOD NO. I find such aggressive attempts at flirtation barely tolerable when drunk at a bar, but now I just feel in the presence of a sober creep. At those words I surpass Maxed Out, blow past Had Enough, and hit Ready To Slap You.

Immediately my eyes and voice turn to ice. Before he finishes I’m saying “—So get off this field,” and turning away. I head towards the gate of the chain link fence and contemplate the best next plan of action: Lock them in? Call security? What if they don’t get off? May I beat them? Where do we keep the baseball bats? Everyone but them are off the field now.

I hear jogging from behind me. No way…

But yes way. “Hey, have we met?”

I don’t turn around. “Yep. At the soccer boy’s party last weekend on Westcliff.”

“Oh yeah?” he falls into step beside me and I turn to see White V-Neck walking just behind us. And the awkward wing-manning continues. Red Shoes sinks back into his cocky, regular tone “I hardly remember that party, I was fuuuucked up. It’s Katrina, right?”

Right then, we reach the gate. And right then, I was glad he hadn’t left just yet.

Because right then I realized something. It was the last day of Week Ten of my first quarter back at Santa Cruz… And I found myself over more than just this Friday closing shift. Red Shoes’ last comment sewed all my experiences together.

I was over this bizarre game I watched so many boys and girls play in college. Why do they go around meeting each other and then pretending they can’t remember if they did? Why do they so often save recognition for when they’re drunk? I’ve watched so many people pretend not to know each other until a Thursday night. It’s that classic “Have we met?” and I have to suppress a Yeah fool, like friggin 4 times. The culturally approved answer is “I think so? I’m not sure?” Then I’m supposed to giggle, maybe apology for being drunk all the time, then say, “But anyway hi, I’m Katrina.” Why does no one just own up to… well, themselves?

More importantly, why wasn’t I? 

And the truth was, yes, I totally recognized Red Shoes. I’ve swiped his card countless times into the gym. Had he been pleasant, smiled, and nodded when I asked if he could please get off the field, I would have been so relieved to find kindness after a long, long day that I’d probably have asked him if he was ready for finals. Maybe asked him how he got home from that soccer party. Maybe made a joke about how drunk, handsy, and forward he’d been then, too. We might have laughed, been friends.

But the boy I found on the field had been resistant, gross, and a poor liar on my bad day. The “Have we met?” paired hilariously to “It’s Katrina, right?” lead me say:

“So you don’t remember if we’ve ever met?” I look up at him before turning the key, genuinely wanting to hear his answer. His smile falters the slightest bit and his eyebrows furrow. “Um. Yeah?”

I raise my own eyebrows and return my attention to the lock; I quickly twist the metal and yank it out. “Weird, bro” (dropping a “Bro” is my favorite way to drop a “This is friendship at best”) and add “maybe you should get that brain checked out before those finals, I hear memory  is key for that kind of stuff.” I look up, checking to make the field is for sure completely empty, and repress an eye roll as I see White V-Neck watching us from a distance only a couple yards away. Does the awkward ever stop? I dismiss his D+ wing-manning and return my attention one last time to Red Shoes.

The pathetic way White V-Neck hung back to watch his friend spit game inspired a  developing sense of pity. I’d dubbed them douches, but in reality they were children. Confused, probably somehow emotionally mutilated little boys, fighting so hard to seem like men.

I soften slightly, tired. “But yeah, we met. It’s not my style to forget people I’ve met before, but I shouldn’t have held you to such a high standard. Have a nice Friday, Eli.” I walk away, relieved to hear I’m not followed.

…and then relief swiftly turns into depression as I realize I’d promised Marcus, the events coordinator at OPERS, that I would chaperone some club’s end-of-quarter party after the gym closed down for the night. I’d promised to stay another couple hours after closing. I’d signed myself off to a 10-hour work day after an exhausting week, an exhausting quarter. After dealing with boys, I was fighting the tantrum of a little girl–  I felt my eyes start to well up.

I wished Red Shoes had actually followed me. I could have really used a punching bag. deserved to be an asshole human sometimes, too, right? I wanted an enemy, someone to reject loudly, bitterly, and mercilessly. I needed to truly offend someone, and I didn’t even feel ashamed at desiring it.  

And two hours later…oh man, did I get one. And damn, did I pay the price.

I more or less got beaten up that Friday night. Maybe one day I’ll tell you about it, if you ask.

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