69 Inches of Awkward

Here’s the story I did at That Time of the Month. (@TTOTM_stories on Twitter)

People – well, women – always talk about being tall like it’s the ultimate blessing from heaven. I hear all the time, “You’re so lucky you’re tall!” or “You’re tall, you can hold your weight.” If by that you mean I can gain 20 pounds before I even notice none of my jeans fit, then yes. But that just means I have a lot more to lose, which I never do. So I just keep packing it on, all while still wearing basically the same size clothes. 

I’m 5’9, which is great – NOW – the problem is, I’ve been 5’9 for as long as I can remember. Not in my adult life, but my ENTIRE life. For what I can remember, I have been this height since elementary school. When I show people my grade school class photos, they ask me what I was ‘standing on.’ If you need to find me in one of those group photos, it’s easy… Back middle… Every single time.

Being tall was especially difficult for me in the 4th grade… when my mom sent me to school in a blazer. I thought I looked very distinguished, but when I went through the lunch line that day, I was charged more than usual. After telling the cashier I didn’t have enough money she asked, “Aren’t you a sub?” I was NINE! And I had been mistaken for an adult woman substitute teacher. I was beyond mortified. And I haven’t worn a blazer again since. I guess the shoulder pads weren’t helping me look any younger, but it was the 90’s.  

While I continued to grow, experiencing literal agonizing growing pains in my joints and bones on a nightly basis, my dad began having fantasies of a star basketball player in the family. The WNBA wasn’t even a thing yet, but he daydreamed about the college scholarship offers that would be POURING in my senior year, and after that, all the NCAA games he would get to attend for free. The only problem was, in my brief two year basketball career, I only managed to score one basket… off a rebound. For those of you not familiar with sports terminology, that’s two points in two seasons. Not exactly the statistics college recruiters are looking for in the next Pat Summit. I just didn’t have a competitive bone in my body. Not to mention I wasn’t a big fan of sweating, wearing shorts, or being told to “hustle.” 

I haven’t even covered my love life, which was non-existent. No boy wants to ask out the girl in class who is taller than their mom. Every once in a while, a shrimpy little guy has started crushing on me – laying the charm on pretty thick – but I made a personal rule early on that if I could: see over his head, outweighed him or could borrow his jeans, we could never be more than friends. 

I think I made this rule after being courted by a guy nicknamed “Minner” or minnow if you don’t speak redneck slang. When you already feel like Dorothy in munchkinland, you don’t want to date a boy named after the fish used for bait to catch bigger fish. He was so tiny, I would have never even attempted to put on his jeans. It would have been like squeezing a can of biscuits into a Barbie ball gown. The outcome was apparent. He was actually a really great guy. He was kind, fun, and had a retro Chevy Camaro that we cruised around town in like the king and queen of the county fair. In the end though, I just couldn’t look past his itty bitty physique. Well technically, I could look past it. I could see right over his head. No amount of bad posture and slumping over could make me short enough for him. I’m lucky I didn’t develop scoliosis and be made to wear a clunky medical back brace from all the hunching I did throughout my awkward adolescence.  

Luckily, boys started to catch up at about the same time that I shed my braces, switched glasses for contacts, and started wearing make-up. So its all worked out in the end, except I still don’t know how to walk in heals, and I was forced to develop a sense of humor from my ugly duckling (or should I say giant giraffe) years. 

Being a tall girl isn’t all terrible. I always got to turn on the projector in home room and I always get the opportunity to help people reach items on high shelves at stores. The side effects however, include obsessing about pit stains and sweat because you’re always having to lift your arms around strangers. 

It wasn’t all bad growing up this height either, especially when it came to amusement parks. I literally do not remember a time when I was not tall enough to ride all the roller coasters. Thanks to my parents’ employment at Opryland hotel, I got a season pass to the park every year, and took full advantage. My (older?) cousin and I spent countless summer days strolling through the park while my parents were working. 

The most memorable trip though was going with a group of friends from school and some of them weren’t tall enough to ride, but I just kept on truckin. I felt entitled to this privilege with all the hardships I’d endured over the years. This was my time to shine! “Oh, you were the right height to get the lead in the school musical, but not tall enough to ride the hellevator? Bummer…sucks to be you, girlfriend. Have fun on the teacups!” 

Oh! And not to mention, I also got into every single R-rated movie I could have wished to watch. Sure, I couldn’t get the child’s ticket price even though I was only 11, but throw on some eyeliner and suddenly I’m 17. 

So ladies, don’t covet another girl’s height. Not all tall girls are models, and even the models had many awkward years before hitting the catwalk. So, wear your stilettos proudly and say a little prayer for the girls who can only wear flats, because they would kill for your calf muscles.

Academia Dummy

After reading this you will undoubtedly think to yourself, “Wow, if this schmuck can be awarded a Master’s degree from an accredited university, then anyone can.”  This is true! So, if that’s one of your goals, I highly encourage you to go for it.  Sooner or later they will give you a degree, and if they don’t, you can always just print one out.  Printer technology has come a long way.

The graduate program I was in required a thesis and a comprehensive exam in addition to passing classes in order to graduate.  It was the middle of my last semester and my thesis had been submitted to the appropriate committee members and I was doing well in all my classes.  The only hurdle left was that damned comprehensive exam.  I had grilled previous students in my program and they assured me the comps were not hard.  But how could I believe that?  No grad student ever admits they had trouble or struggled on any assignment.  I personally have no problem saying, “Yeah, I don’t know what this Marshall McLuhan guy is talking about.  How can the medium be the message? Isn’t the message the message?”  Needless to say, I was still sweating balls over this comprehensive exam.  What if I got in there and didn’t remember anything?  What if I was totally incompetent and had just spend two years of night classes and being a teaching assistant to 350 freshmen for nothing?

One fine day, I got the e-mail from our faculty advisor to let us know when the comps were scheduled.  It was a six hour test on a Saturday, and there was only one other person taking it besides me.  The next day, my father called to invite me to his 4th (or possible 5th) wedding, which happened to be on the same exact day, and was three states away.  Normally, I wouldn’t feel especially pressured to attend since I don’t remember being invited to the last one, but he laid the guilt on pretty thick, asking me to drive my three younger siblings so they could also attend.  I wouldn’t just be declining my invitation, but preventing three other people from attending.  No pressure.  I finally caved and told him I would try to reschedule my comps.

When I explained the situation to my advisor, he was more than happy to oblige, which made me feel even worse about the situation.  If there’s anything I hate in social situations, it’s making people wait on me and making people go out of their way to accommodate me.  We selected a new date, the Thursday prior to the original date, and now the wedding.

Now everything was squared away and I could concentrate on studying for the test that would determine if I got a degree, if I got to be finished with college forever, if I could stop racking up student loans and start paying them off, if I got to find a real job and get on with my life.  No pressure.  My dad and I ended up getting into an argument and I decided against going to the wedding.  Luckily, my three siblings were still able to attend and had a great time.

The day of my test arrived, and I didn’t know how to tell my advisor that my plans changed yet again.  What was I supposed to say? I’m not going to my dad’s wedding anymore; I’ll catch the next one.  I would have seemed like a melodramatic bratface.  I decided to play it cool and go on with the new date as planned.  The day arrived and I showed up with every note, binder and textbook from previous coursework.  I had a bad limp because the day before I had run out of a professor’s office crying and fell into a hole.  My ankle was bruised and sprained, but as a grad student, I didn’t have health insurance.  It was also raining so I dressed as if I were auditioning to play a homeless person on skid row.  For the test, I was stationed at a desk right outside the department secretary’s cubicle on a laptop that was older than me.  I had two questions to answer; one quantitative and one qualitative.  I had three hours for each one, and could only use two textbooks for each.  With the old technology, I had to save my work as a word document to a flash drive which I would turn in.  Basically if anything screwed up with the flash drive, then I was also screwed.

With my future in my own hands, I nervously and anxiously got to work.  To make me feel even guiltier, my advisor would sweetly check on my every few hours and offer words of encouragement.  During my break, the department secretary expressed her stress over her husband being transferred to another state and how she was responsible for packing and selling the house on her own with her two teenage daughters.  I felt like even more of a brat.  I was just a dumb grad student with no real world problems.  I couldn’t handle taking a dumb test and going to a wedding in the same week, how would I ever handle a job, family, kids, any of that?

During the second part of my test, the secretary needed to leave to take care of some important adult things while I typed along on my ancient laptop.  She told me to place all my test materials on her desk when I was finished, and the door would lock behind me.  Surely I could handle this simple task, right?  In complete solitude, I finished my test, reread the questions, reread my answers, double and triple checked that I had answered all parts of the questions, and then finally saved everything and got my stuff together.  I carefully got everything together and placed it in a neat stack on her desk.  I looked around again before closing the door.  There was nothing else I could do; I answered the questions to the best of my abilities.  I closed the door, locking it, and picked up my belongings when I saw it – the flash drive was underneath my pile of textbooks.  What an idiot! In a panic, I looked around.  Could I break the lock?  Could I kick down the door?  I had one thing to turn in, and here it was in my hand.  That’s when I looked up and realized it was a cubicle.  There was a space over the wall where I could drop it into her office.  I had two choices – throw it over and hope she found it, or climb on a desk and drop it onto my neat stack of materials.  I chose the latter.  I climbed up on the rickety desk, hoping it would hold my weight.  My advisor hadn’t checked on me in a while, so I knew he could bust in at any moment, but this was my choice.  I was a grown woman standing on a desk, breaking into a secretary’s office while taking my comprehensive exams.  Maybe that would be the headline in the school paper with a photo of me in handcuffs, shamed.  Finally, I dropped the flash drive onto the stack, and it landed with no problems.  I half expected it to bounce around the room like an overinflated basketball.

With that done, all I had to do was devour a victory Chick Fil-a sandwich, and then act cool on Monday when I had the same faculty advisor as my professor….for a law class.  I’m sure someone who both practiced and taught law for many years had no experience telling when a student was being awkward and withholding information.