Dear High School P.E. Teachers,
Let’s start with having to borrow a dirty P.E. kit as a punishment for ‘trying to get out of P.E.’ Firstly, polo shirts, in general, are a crime against humanity. Secondly, you should have believed me when I said my P.E. kit was dirty, that mum really wasn’t coping at home, and that if I had brought my P.E. kit in, it would have been covered in dogshit.
I want to thank you for giving me a chest infection in November. It was raining, a winter downpour that feels like ice cubes pelting your skin. You stood in your coat, hands in your pockets, blowing your whistle and yelling for us to run faster around the astroturf. Or how about that time I fell off a trampoline and landed on my neck? My P.E. teacher at the time—Mr. Longley—stood me up, rubbed my neck, and told me in front of everyone I was lucky I had all that extra “padding” to cushion my fall. Or when I had to beg to go to the nurse after a classmate whacked me in the face with a tennis ball, blood gushing out of my nose.
Dear P.E. teachers, you were always the reason I was late to Spanish class. Señora Costilla would always shout at us. ¡llegas tarde! Even when we were out of breath and drenched in sweat. We’d always finish a game of rounders or netball or whatever pointless sport right at the last minute. Then it would be a mad dash to throw on our school uniform and leg it through the corridors to Spanish or music while avoiding the crush of kiddie commuters all rushing to their own classes. All while dodging teachers on uniform-inspecting duty for askew ties and untucked shirts—which would make you even later and could land you in detention, if you weren’t scolded for running in the corridors.
Dear P.E. teachers, kids are human, too. Girls are taught to hate our bodies, to compare them to our peers. The changing room was the perfect hunting grounds for the mean girls or even the kind girls who—with the right peer pressure—could turn on you with cruel snickers and laughter. Of course, girls would hide my uniform after hockey. Of course, when I was dissociating and struggling to comprehend my newly formed curves and breasts, all the girls would whisper and scowl at me. Of course, the trans girl you forced into the boy’s changing room would opt for changing in a bathroom stall instead.
I used to like badminton and hockey and martial arts. But you always screamed, ‘you’re not playing it right!’ You let the boys aim for my groin during dodgeball and shrugged it off. You let my teammates jeer at me, call me fat, tell me to run faster, fatty.
P.E. teachers, you made me ashamed of myself. I’d watch the boys and girls with their toned thighs and their long hair and their freckled skin. There was an intolerable longing in it. No one could know the fat girl was in love, especially not with other girls. It would be used against her.
Dear P.E. teachers, you were the first to make me contemplate death. Like when my P.E. teacher committed suicide in Year 7 and everyone just said she moved away. And after a while, all the P.E. teachers pretended she never existed. But I remembered her talking about her niece and nephew, who she adored and took to the beach and spent all her money on. Why did she not matter? Why did you tell me to get over it and go back to running laps?
Dear P.E. teachers, I breathed a sigh of relief when the government decided the core subjects mattered more and so I got out of P.E. by going to extra science classes. Chemistry is easier to understand than P.E., it’s easier than falling in love with your classmates, easier than hating your body and easier than accepting a death no one ever let you process.
Now that I don’t do P.E. anymore—since I’m a lazy writer who spends most of her time in the default horizontal position in bed—I sometimes wish I could go back to the days of weird martial art instructors and pretending to do long-jump with friends. Then I remember all of the above, all of the humiliation and comparison and ugliness, and I’m glad I don’t have to live through that again. Though I occasionally miss a game of basketball at the end of a long day, in those rare moments where you’d make a shot and everybody on your team—friend or foe—would cheer you on.
With love and hatred,
Sarah Loverock is a writer and poet from England. She holds a BA in Creative Writing at the University of Derby and is currently studying towards her MA. She has a great love of witchy content and spirituality, history and mythology, cute animals and kickass literature. She is available on Twitter @asoftblueending